New committee targets island’s water supply

Group aims to educate and influence island water policies.

Summer’s heat has set in, and water use is up.

It is during these months that some of the island’s spotty water problems begin to surface; shallow wells begin to go dry, and over-pumping can increase chloride content in sea-level wells in the Seabold area, and can exacerbate the limited water supply in the Eagledale area.

For concerned citizens, it is the perfect time to begin an all-island effort to monitor and educate islanders on their most precious resource.

“A lot of people are unaware that the water they are using comes from aquifers that have a limitied supply,” said Wayne Daley, of the Water Resources Committee and the Watershed Council. “And there isn’t a lot of education about how water gets into their wells and where that water comes from.”

The Water Resources Committee (WRC) was recently convened by a group of geologists, water purveyors and concerned citizens to educate islanders about their water supply and work with the city to develop strategies for water resource development.

“We have a lot of folks that are retired professionals, scientists and some hydrologists on the island, and it’s foolish not to take advantage of that,” said Sharon Gilpin, a communications officer for the group.

Organized by the Association of Bainbridge Communities earlier this year, recently WRC released its mission statement stating in part that the group’s goals were to work “to understand and to educate citizens about Bainbridge Island’s water resources.”

One of the main objectives of the group, as outlined in their statement, is liaising with the city on the upcoming U.S. Geological Survey groundwater model.

That model will thoroughly map the island’s aquifers, groundwater flow and recharge and can be used as a complex computational tool to determine how things like development, climate change and deforestation will affect the island’s delicate water supply. WRC is hoping they can help develop the scenarios that will be assessed by the USGS model.

“We’re evaluating the possible scenarios and we have some questions about the model and we want to get our questions in order and raise some issues that folks may not have seen yet,” Gilpin said.

A main concern is how continued development on the island will affect aquifer recharge areas and increase water consumption. There are also concerns about the effects of a growing downtown population on aquifer recharge.

“We have to make sure that we have carefully assessed where we are with the water we have available for use as the population grows,” Daley said. “Septic systems serve a critical importance in aquifer recharge. In places like Winslow they are taking water out of aquifers and dumping it into the Puget Sound through the sewer.”

Moreover, there is a continued focus on educating the population about where their water comes from and the sustainability islanders must practice to keep aquifers healthy.

In the future, WRC is planning to call meetings with City Council members and employees of the city to gather their input on local water issues.

There is also a tentative plan to convene an all-island water summit this September to discuss water resource issues.

In the meantime, the group will focus on ways to expand well monitoring, potentially by offering private well operators equipment to better gauge the health of aquifers around Bainbridge.

According to Doug Dow, a hydrogeologist, member of the WRC and a recent addition to the city’s new Utility Advisory Committee, there are isolated seasonal problems around Bainbridge that warrant everyone’s attention, especially now that summer has set in.

“Overall (problems) are very localized and not widespread,” he said. “We’ve had a very dry spring and now it’s hot out and people are using water more, so some of those wells that are on the edge for a long time are starting to dry up quicker.”

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