Guemes Island water rights

Guemes Island resident Steve Orsini shows two of his five water storage tanks that work in conjunction with a sophisticated system he built to collect rainwater after the well at his beachfront home failed.

Advocates of changes to water policy on Guemes Island spoke Tuesday evening during a public hearing in front of the Skagit County Planning Commission.

Because of the increasing threats of limited groundwater and seawater intrusion in wells, members of the Guemes Island Planning Advisory Committee has proposed amendments to the county’s comprehensive plan to relax regulations on using rainwater as a domestic water source and to enforce county code that requires pre-approval to dig new wells.

In late December, county planning staff recommended against approving the two proposed amendments, instead suggesting tweaks or re-interpretations of existing code.

Hal Rooks, president of the committee, said the staff recommendation achieves most of his goals.

If the county follows this recommendation, residents on Guemes Island won’t be required to attempt to drill a well before applying to use an alternative water source such as rainwater.

However, it would not remove a contentious requirement that an engineer approve the design of rainwater catchment systems. This adds thousands of dollars to the price of a system, according to members of the Guemes Island committee.

Others speaking at the hearing took issue with the county staff’s response to their request that the county require a permit for a new well. According to the planning staff’s report, staff believe the county does not have the legal authority to do this.

Patty Rose, another member of the committee, said her issues with seawater intrusion have gotten noticeably worse as new wells have been drilled.

“We’ve spent over $30,000 (on mitigation) and at the end of the day we still have seawater intrusion,” she said.

Because the island has limited groundwater, the county has an obligation to be more strict on drilling wells, Rose said.

“Continued drilling in sensitive locations can damage the aquifer,” she said.

In February, the planning commission will provide a recommendation on all proposed comprehensive plan amendments to the county commissioners.

Written comment on the proposed amendments will be accepted through 4:30 p.m. Friday. More information is available at

— Reporter Brandon Stone:, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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