Has growth become more important than clean drinking water? Our government has a duty to protect us and especially our children, the elderly, and other vulnerable groups from exposure to polluted water sources. Clean water is finite and precious. We should not be reluctant to protect it.
The City of Edmonds is one of the few cities in Snohomish County not 100% reliant on Everett or Seattle for its drinking water. Edmonds/Woodway already has Deer Creek Springs and now the 228th Street Wellfield will be coming online to give residents in south Edmonds and Highway 99/Esperance areas clean, uncontaminated drinking water.
Edmonds’ city administration, staff and the Planning Board are currently deciding what the city should do to protect these two existing clean drinking water sources in Edmonds. One way to do that is to recognize and protect what are called “CARAs” (Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas). From the Edmonds Development Code (EDC) 23.60: “CARAs have prevailing geologic conditions associated with infiltration rates that create a high potential for contamination of ground water resources or contribute significantly to the replenishment of ground water.” Currently this code provision states that there are no CARA areas in Edmonds. Two CARAs in Edmonds have now been accurately computer mapped. In fact, states, cities and counties have a recognized legal duty to acknowledge and protect identified CARAs.
From the Edmonds Planning Board packet dated 7/26/23:
Critical aquifer recharge areas (CARA) are being established to protect public groundwater drinking supplies from potential contamination and to ensure adequate groundwater availability. The proposed code amendment would revise Chapter 23.60 EDC to regulate CARAs in the City of Edmonds, based on the identification of CARAs in proximity to aquifers utilized by the Olympic View Water and Sewer District (OVWSD).
These CARA protections are finally catching up with science by targeting the need to keep PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” out of our drinking water. Cities are being asked to be intentional with these new codes to prevent this toxic contamination of drinking water supplies, including limiting stormwater runoff. These “forever chemicals” are being considered as potentially cancer-causing and are linked as well to a decreased immune response, with babies, immunocompromised people and elderly at highest risk. The hard truth is that if we do things that allow pollutants to drip into these areas, it will pollute these clean water supplies.
Currently, there is no known contamination of these two drinking water aquifers here in Edmonds. We are lucky, but new threats are looming on the horizon.
At the July 26 meeting, one planning board member asked a very good question: How is it that these CARA areas are contaminant-free without any past CARA regulations? Staff answered that it was most likely due to these areas being zoned mostly single-family. Clearly, then, there is a relationship to this land being used less intensively and the amount of hazardous runoff being produced. It is vitally important that we protect these CARAs from huge increases in density.
The 2023 state-mandated housing bills, HB 1110 and HB 1337, both include doubling or quadrupling the impervious housing surfaces on a single-housed lot as well as forcing parking from private property garages onto our city streets. This would greatly increase the likelihood of contaminated runoff in the aquifer areas. This type of mandated upzoning density and restrictions on adding onsite parking requirements for vehicles should be exempted from these CARA areas.
Now that CARAs in Edmonds have been identified, the “Buildable Lands Report” should be adjusted to exempt them from population growth mandates such as those found in recent state housing bills. We advocate for the strictest possible protections for these areas.
A first step is for the Edmonds Planning Department staff to add language to our “CARA Code” that states CARAs in Edmonds should be exempt from HB 1337’s requirements for upzoning. Section 3 of that bill states that the act does not require cities to authorize construction of ADUs “where development is restricted under other laws, rules, or ordinances as a result of physical proximity to onsite…critical areas…”
You might be asking yourself, “what can I do?”
An effective way to make your voice heard is to email the Edmonds Citizens Planning Board, which will be holding a public hearing this Wednesday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. and making recommendations to the city council on the new CARA. Collective voices are compelling. Join your voice with other Edmonds residents and email your thoughts and ideas on protecting our CARAs to the planning board at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
— By Dr. Michelle Dotsch
Michelle Dotsch is president of the Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds (ACE) and has authored this on behalf of the board.