Letter to the editor: City must reverse critical aquifer recharge area decision


The City of Edmonds has just adopted a new critical aquifer recharge area (CARA) ordinance in spite of scientific evidence from the Olympic Water District about the presence of forever chemicals (PFAS) in stormwater. The changed CARA code will allow contaminated stormwater to infiltrate into the Deer Creek drinking water aquifer in southern Edmonds.

PFAS can pass from pregnant women to their infants, cause cancers, liver disease, etc. I would recommend that you not take my word for it but (1) Watch the 2019 film Dark Waters available on Netflix about lawyer Robert Bilott’s successful battle against DuPont for contaminating the groundwater in West Virginia, and Ohio with PFOA (their PFAS was used in Teflon) with tragic results to the residents. And (2) read the article “How 3M Discovered, Then Concealed, The Dangers of Forever Chemicals” in the May 27, 2024 New Yorker, available online.

This city decision must be reversed. The risks of these chemicals entering the aquifer are just too great.
Robert Chaffee
  1. As a citizen, and not as a representative of any government or group, I would add “Troubled Waters, PFAS on Spokane’s West Plains” as a resource providing a glimpse of the personal impacts of water contamination issues. The video is available on the home page of the West Plains Water Coalition, a citizens group, https://westplainswater.org/. The website has links to amazing resources, and under the news/blog tab also includes a video of a citizen point blank asking an elected official why officials knew about the contamination in 2017 but didn’t tell the nearby residents. (About the 8 minute mark). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09eUTKgmFWU.

  2. The City of Edmonds has for years now, been tricky and dishonest in its treatment of Esperance customers that are City residents via annexation, but Olympic View customers. They have some kind of vendetta (?) against Olympic View Water and pull everything they can ( and DO get away with) to squeeze extra money from above mentioned residents, and no one has attempted to correct it since it was brought to their attention in 2013, by myself and a few others. When I read about this latest plan of theirs, that by the way only Olympic View Water had , i could see the writing on the wall and thought here they go again! Nothing they do surprises me, but the fact that they pull this AND get away with it DOES. I expected it would bring MORE charges to Esperance residents by City of Edmonds (we all
    know they NEED money) but the dangers of destroying water, no, thats a new one, even for them! This is outrageous what does it take or will it take to get Edmonds to operate with common sense and honesty, and not be ruled only by whats in it for THEM?

  3. The irony here is that while the City was drafting the amendment to the critical area ordinance to allow infiltration of stormwater into the Deer Creek drinking water aquifer, the federal government – – Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – – was setting a new extremely low limit on the amount of PFAS (a forever chemical) that would be allowed in drinking water due to the severe health effects. Further, in February 2024, BEFORE the City adopted the ‘flawed’ ordinance, they were alerted to stormwater samples collected at Madrona School that had 32ppt of PFAS – – EIGHT TIMES the federal limit of 4ppt.

    Repeated comments and concerns by the Olympic View Water District (the “experts” on drinking water quality), about the danger of infiltrating stormwater into the Deer Creek drinking water aquifer were ignored by the City. And to top it off, the City’s Citizen Planning Board, who recommended restrictions on stormwater infiltration into the Deer Creek aquifer in 2023, were told during a secret meeting (a so-called Executive Session which doesn’t apply to a citizen group) that the Board had to change their recommendation in 2024 to “rubber-stamp” the City’s flawed code. I can only speculate this was because the City didn’t want stormwater restrictions on development in an area targeted for increased housing in the Growth Alternatives being considered.

    1. Why we would even think about risking known sources of pure drinking water anywhere for any reason is just beyond belief in itself. Yet our City Council and Mayor get sold a bill of goods by our expensive planning department staff that injecting polluted storm water directly into the major source of Woodway.s drinking water supply (up to 100% of their winter supply according to OVWD Management – stated at a Woodway CC meeting I attended) is just a swell idea in the interest of more “affordable” housing in the Firdale Neighborhood of Edmonds. If this water supply gets polluted OVWD will have to purchase water elsewhere rather than just having it available out of Deer Creek. Just another example of Edmonds City Government placing the non-essential over the essential which is a major reason that the city is now basically broke. I would think Woodway residents would be up in arms over this development. Why would we listen to actual scientists when our City Staff and State Legislators have all the answers to our problems? Still wondering when we “stop the crazy,” Mayor Rosen.

    2. Mayor Rosen ran on an environmental platform; yet he allows his administration to give Council biased packets and is following Nelson’s playbook.

      Council asked for the CARA Code in 2021 and funded it in 2022; yet the Nelson administration dragged its feet. Because the tree code was never completed despite being promised in 2022, our attorney now uses the “threat of lawsuit” as a means to not pass a CARA code that PROHIBITS digging of these shallow wells.

      In addition to BAD code, Rosen continues to allow the sequencing of the environmental aspects BEHIND the zoning strategies for the comprehensive code update. The Council has yet to even obtain the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). This EIS should have been completed 2022 but instead staff was paying consultants for “branding” and a “vision statement”- BOTH NOT NECESSARY.

      Now there is no money to have a comprehensive DEIS with three scenario forecasts. Since it’s now July, staff will probably push the DEIS through without proper vetting just like they did the incomplete Climate Action Plan that does not address adaptative measures.

      Citizens MUST pay attention to these environmental issues and write council@edmondswa.gov or we will be the next Seattle proper with affordable housing everywhere and our pure water supply tainted.

      It’s a shame our Mayor has FAILED us when it comes to our environment.

  4. This comment adds to Joe Scordino’s point about the planning board executive session possibly discussing the conflict between supporting housing growth and preventing stormwater from contaminating my drinking water. A member of city council told me that the reason the city didn’t work to reach consensus with the Water District on the CARA code this year is that the water district had the privilege of following the science on the topic of contaminated stormwater, but the city had the risk of being sued by a developer who asserted that the allowed stormwater mgmt methods added too much to their project cost. I say – let them sue the city. And Let the court decide. I expect the city to protect my drinking water source today, and stop fretting about the theoretical risk of being sued tomorrow by someone building a duplex in south Edmonds. City of Edmonds- you aggressively pursued a court case for years about your rights in an easement on a very short route to walking the beach. But you won’t bring the same righteous sentiment to a theoretical future legal dispute with a small home builder. I think City Council and the Planning Board got legal advice that put the emphasis in the wrong place. I want a re-do on the CARA code. I want the litigation risk brought in the open

  5. Thanks for the additional information Joe. Very helpful.
    Could this possibly be that the Edmonds Planning Board is just not aware of this?
    I find that very had to believe.
    The City Council has to rely upon, and trust the recommendations from the Planning Commission and information from professional staff. If staff is not providing well researched information, and recommending best practices, then the Mayor should replace them immediately.
    Underground Injection Control wells that inject untreated stormwater directly into the soil should NEVER be allowed in any CARA. Making this even more dangerous, the Deer Creek or 228th St Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas have mapped areas where there is no top layer of soil to naturally filter surface water. Any untreated stormwater will flow directly into these aquifers. Once an aquifer is contaminated with these “forever” chemicals like PFAS, it permanently destroys them as sources for drinking water.
    Please, come to your senses! Do the responsible thing and DO NOT allow UIC wells in any CARA.

  6. Did the law trump science? In the grand hierocracy of all things health and public safety related, I would trust the science more than any “legal” advice. And in this case the science is pretty clear. The closer you put a contaminant to an aquifer suppling drinking water, the quicker the water itself becomes contaminated. Even I can understand that!

    I too urge the city to reverse course and amend the CARA.

  7. Clean, safe drinking water, especially for our children and grandchildren is THE MOST IMPORTANT function of our city government and must be protected at all costs.

  8. Drinking water is important for all.

    Clarifying some key context here missing in some of the comments in hopes to limit fears:

    1. There was no code regulating CARA’s in City of Edmonds prior to the recent code adoption
    2. The city’s code automatically gets updated when Ecology issues more relevant Best Available Science
    3. Deer Creek CARA specifically is predominantly RS zoning (low-impact)
    4. We do not have 3M-type manufacturing that are disposing of chemicals in landfills near bodies of water like in the movie, “Dark Waters”
    5. Madrona School incorporated and was allowed to use “deep” class V UIC wells because the city did not have a CARA code in place that covered the 10-year zone. Deep UIC wells are prohibited under the adopted code regardless of zone
    6. “Shallow” UICs for stormwater are permitted, but must be registered and follow basic treatment BMP’s prior to infiltration, and enhanced treatment BMP’s for critical areas
    7. Filtration technology that are effective at reducing PFAS are: carbon, reverse osmosis, ion exchange resins, thermal treatment. Natural filtration of stormwater via surface only infiltration or treatment as part of shallow UICs do not remove PFAS
    8. Boards and commissions may have Executive Sessions per RCW 42.30.020 under definition of “Governing Body” in conjunction with RCW 42.30.110 where there’s a potential for litigation

    1. Jeremy – the “FEAR” that has been created is the FACT that the federal government announced new restrictions on PFAS (a forever chemical) in drinking water due to its serious impacts on human health.

      AND . . . .the levels of PFAS in stormwater (which percolates into groundwater) in Edmonds (YES – in Edmonds, not some abstract area using firefighting foam) was scientifically determined to have PFAS levels (IN Edmonds!!) of EIGHT TIMES the new federal limit.

      In knowing this, WHY did the City knowingly approve infiltration of potential PFAS contaminated stormwater directly into the Deer Creek drinking water aquifer? Was it to allow housing development where it shouldn’t occur without use of PROVEN environmental safeguards?

      And regarding the State Dept of Ecology guidance, did anyone in the City BOTHER to read and present to the public the Dept of Ecology’s 2023 Report titled “Guidance for Investigating and Remediating PFAS Contamination in Washington State”. That report makes it very clear that yet to be determined restrictions on stormwater are imminent, especially over drinking water aquifers. WHY would Edmonds violate its own critical area ordinance that says “No activity or use shall be allowed that results in a net loss of the functions or values of critical areas.”

      I don’t believe anyone, who cares about human health, would argue in support of the City’s action.

      1. In my opinion, if the City goes forward with this ill advised CARA change, eventually Citizens will get sick and the legal costs could will be incredible as both 3M and Dupont discovered. They would amount to a lot more than any suit from a developer. Unfortunately for the City, it doesn’t have the kind of money that those two companies have.

    2. Members of a “governing body” may meet in Executive Session during an open public meeting, for specific reasons only (RCW 42.30.110).

      I believe the Governing Body in Edmonds is our City Council. I don’t think the Planning Board is a committee of the City Council. My understanding is that the Planning Board serves in an advisory capacity but doesn’t act on behalf of the Edmonds City Council.

      City Employee Mike Clugston stated during the February 14th Planning Board Meeting that meeting in Executive Session is not something that the Planning Board has done before and that he wasn’t familiar with that process. He went on to say the City Attorney would guide us through that process and make sure we did it right.

      I’ve submitted a Public Record Request for Planning Board’s February 28, 2024 Special Meeting Minutes. One reason I’ve done so is to find out who all attended that Special Meeting.

      This all seems strange to me. Following is an excerpt from my Audience Comments made at last week’s Council Meeting:

      On February 28, 2024, our Planning Board convened in Executive Session to discuss pending or potential litigation. I’ve never seen such a thing before. Please ask the City Attorney tonight how that works – can the Planning Board convene their own Executive Session to discuss pending or potential litigation?

    3. Jeremy, just because there was no CARA code it equates to adopting a BAD code that does not rely on science!?!? We didn’t have a code as Earling vetoed a previous code. Look at the environmental history of this City, it was a challenge getting through the Shoreline Master Program and Earling also vetoed that document once a new Council was seated. The minority Council, along with Earling wrote the DOE in protest! Fortunately, Joe Scordino helped me with the new language and DOE had published new standards so Council was able to utilize their legislative authority and correct the buffer and setback recommendation by staff.

      Many have provided new science in testimonies – yet planning board and council receives biased data to push for housing. Had Council approved a complete Climate Action Plan with adaptative measures and we had a new non-biased Environmental Impact Statement – chances are these document could help support our concerns.

      But since staff has been spinning the money wheels for professional services ($1.6m in professional services spent by one director exceeding her budget by $700k) for Landmark, “branding”, “vision statements”, “green street”, etc. – our code updates have suffered and our CARA code is one fatality.

      Volunteer citizens ARE NOT officers of the Corporation (city) which means you can individually be named in a lawsuit without City help financially.

  9. Jeremy, the only thing that makes any sense in your comment is your first sentence. The rest is rationalizing for ignorant past governing and bad advice from professional planners and attorneys. This isn’t about fear or scaring people. It’s about not allowing dumb policy, ignoring science, to promote mostly unwanted and unwise types of new housing where it shouldn’t go and protecting the environment. If this building practice is allowed it’s quite possible expensive filtering devices may be required after people invest in this property. Instead of protecting people you are promoting growth. Stop talking to us like we are idiots.

  10. I don’t have the technical expertise in chemistry or physics to understand much of the details here~ I just think the wisest, most prudent thing to do was to partner with the water district and work to find a consensus, something agreeable to both parties. The CARA area is only a small fraction of the City of Edmonds. There are better places to build high-density housing and meet the zoning demands imposed by Olympia.

    1. Roger, that’s part of the beauty of this issue; it’s only about as complicated as you make it. There is a reason why my ancestors in Nebraska dug their farm drinking water wells on high ground and built the outhouse on low ground as far from the well as possible. They were not scientists either, just smart people. This is essentially the same concept. You just don’t take any risks with clean water that you don’t have to unless you are Edmond’s City Planning Staff and/or the Edmond’s City Council – then it’s, “what the heck, we don’t have to drink it and we need the tax money from development.”

    2. I agree with Roger Pence, and I would like to know exactly with a map with large enough type to show exactly where this area CARA area is. It may be a small fraction of Edmonds, but all people matter. Where is it exactly. Thank you to anyone who know the answer. I do know that the science says These forever chemicals and plastics are real and I know that the Fed governments numbers are different than the old numbers listed here in the comments. This is unacceptable for our PB to ignore this issue. Like many things here we should not jump before we make sure we can make it to the other side. As far as a lawsuit well one contractor who wants to build and doesn’t care if he sells or rents property with bad water to others??? Your citizens here could very well do a class action lawsuit. Big time attorneys like those a lot. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but ya know anything is possible/ Call your Governor and tell him he needs to change the percentages of housing in areas that do not have the infrastructure to support them safely. Does he care? Mr. environmentalist?? I say put your money and ideas where your mouth is. BTW our Salmon are in trouble and the STATE doesn’t care!

      1. Debora:
        There is a map of the CARAs in the Agenda packet for the City of Edmonds from March 19th, 2024.
        You can find that on the City of Edmonds Website.
        Page 493 is the map.

        I tried to post a link in a reply but it seems it was rejected.

        1. Thank you John Brock. I downloaded it and it did take a bit of time. It was the scrolling down 493 pages that was the worst part. HA I am dizzy haha. Ok well I see it, but it would be nice to have actual streets in all of these areas identified. I see the large streets and roads etc. I am familiar with those. I do thank you that was kind of you. Deb.

  11. South Edmonds, including the Esperance neighborhood, gets all the red-light cameras and density housing, so not surprised at all to hear that we can now add contaminated drinking water to that list.

  12. Right on Brad, you hit the nail on the head. BUT they like our money & squeeze out all they can, however they can. But never fear the City attorney will “guide them through it” and THAT’S the biggest joke of all. The City is in a mess and has been for some time and doesn’t look like there is any hope of improvement in the near future. Lots of irons in the fire working on “maybe’s” and no one really has a clue who will get burned. However, thats just insignificant details, first you JUMP, then you look. So, why would this latest fiasco be any different.

  13. Sometimes desperation or greed make peculiar decisions. The city’s top responsibility should be the safeguarding of its citizens. This includes the absolute protection of safe drinking water, the aquifer, and environmentally safe keeping.

  14. With all the folks we are planning to add in South Snohomish County in the next few years we are not likely to have enough water from our current sources. It is time we evaluate our current sources: rain, snowpack, and wells and see when the current sources will no longer produce the amounts needed. We likely will need to capture and store more water that we currently let flow to PS. That infrastructure will be costly. Planning should come from All the cities and the county and not just our various water districts.

    The population growth and state water discharge laws will outpace our ability to treat sewer and stormwater systems. Unfortunately for Edmonds we are “downhill” from the source of the untreated sewer and water. Do we even have the space to build the additional capacity? Or should we treat it closer to the source?

    Both the clean water and dirty water problems demand new costly infrastructure. We should consolidate our thinking for all of South Snohomish County and not act as individual cities.

    Police, Fire, Roads, and Parks should also be thoughtfully planned by all or South Snohomish County. Consolidation should be more cost effective.

    New times, with new problems, demand new thinking to provide the “Best Possible Services at the Lowest Possible Cost.”

  15. Good thoughts, Darrol.

    While we’re at consolidating, we should consider consolidating our City Council and Mayor to this regional model as well. After all, the State has already taken over our ability to plan for our growth and zone appropriately. Pretty soon there won’t be anything else to govern.

    The question we should ask ourselves before we start any further consolidation discussions is, what makes Edmonds, Edmonds? What’s our identity? Rampant consolidation without thought may lead to unintended consequences.

    I guess the ultimate consolidation would be for us to just turn in our city charter since we seem to be unable to do the hard work and solve our own problems.

  16. I say we petition Woodway to annex us and let their Mayor, Council and City Manager (they actually have one) solve our problems since we can’t seem to. They already got our High School and use our downtown as their actual town business center; why not the whole “enchilada?” The name “Mountlake Terrace” has a ring to it too. That town seems pretty well run. Or we can just combine the four cities for the sake of consolidation and saving money and call it “South County Town,” with one Council, Mayor, City Manager, F.D., P.D., Parks and Rec. Dept., Public Works and Planning Dept. All for one and one for all! Oh “Deadmonds” where art Thou? So many of us want you back just like you used to be – warts and all!

  17. What makes Edmonds Edmonds is the waterfront. in our country there is only so much waterfront and easy to access beaches. This is why Edmonds is so expensive. This is why all of Edmonds is expensive. It’s no different than any other area with water and beaches. FL. NC for instance I lived in Maderia Beach 52 years ago and there was very little built on the gulf there were only a few small motels. I managed one of them for a year. Now that same area is full of 6 7 story apts. Condos, hotels all of it. And a tiny little place a small condo is well over a million and that is the gulf side and has hurricane’s all of the time. This is a big state. We should be allowing and encouraging density all over our state and in towns and cities less than the what 40,000. pop. Many areas wanted it but no said our legislature. Maybe we should concentrate on some manufacturing jobs N and East and let those areas flourish. This way maybe we can spread the water around better and not just have cramped housing etc. We can’ build huge manufacturing plants on this W side. No room. Some people could sure use jobs and nice place to live. Not everyone is into being a computer person.

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