New utility to oversee water on Camano, Whidbey

COUPEVILLE — People on Camano Island and unincorporated Whidbey Island have a new utility to pay for this year.

Following several public hearings last month, Island County Commissioners voted unanimously Dec. 20 to approve the establishment of a clean water utility to fund the management of storm, surface and ground water on the islands.

Most people in Island County depend on ground water, which needs to be protected to make sure that drinking water is in good shape and that there is plenty of it, health department officials told the commissioners. Rainfall replenishes the groundwater, but flooding, erosion, sea water, septic systems, animal waste and chemicals can harm aquifers, officials said.

The county’s annual $62 septic system inspection fee has been eliminated with the new utility.

Owners of any size residential property are set to pay a flat rate of $24 this year. After next year, the rate is scheduled rise to $39 per parcel per year. Rates for farmers, commercial and industrial property owners and those who live in diking and drainage districts would vary. People who live in Oak Harbor, Langley and Coupeville aren’t included in the utility.

As Island County grows in population, the pressure on clean drinking-water aquifers increases, said Aaron Henderson of the county health department.

The threat of seawater getting into dry wells and harming other ground water resources is looming, Henderson said.

Outgoing Commissioner John Dean said owners of some homes on Camano already have water supply problems.

Taking care of drinking water protects property values and the county’s economy, Dean said.

The county’s newest commissioner, Kelly Emerson, in November sent a letter to the board of commissioners asking that consideration of the new utility be tabled until she was sworn into office this month. Emerson objected to asking property owners to pay for a new utility in the current economic downturn.

Emerson defeated Dean in his bid for re-election to the Position Three seat on the commission.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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