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Originally published Friday, August 5, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Washington Voices

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  Water's a problem under   the ground, too;   we need fixes — soon   One thing about a drought year: It does...

Water's a problem under the ground, too; we need fixes — soon

One thing about a drought year: It does bring it home that water is a finite resource when there's not enough to meet all the demands routinely made of it. Beyond that, this year's dry spell reminds us that we're short of water both above and below the ground — the latter a source that's too often taken for granted as a backup when above-ground reservoir supplies won't stretch.

Not enough surface water to meet irrigation needs? No problem, just drill a well.

Trouble is, that is its own problem — and from all appearances, it is getting worse.

Some 22,000 wells are believed to exist in the three-county Yakima River Basin, with the most intensive drilling of large wells occurring in the 1970s and 1980s in response to drought. There are still more thousands of domestic water wells for which no state permit is necessary.

The problem, as reported earlier in this newspaper, is that no one knows how many wells are actually being used, how much water they pump from the ground, how much less groundwater is reaching river systems that supply surface-water needs, and what the impact would be if they were all pumping at once.

What is known is that there is a pronounced impact on underground aquifers in the area, particularly in the drought years that are occurring with alarming frequency. Of the four major aquifers in the basin, the Ellensburg aquifer is the most shallow, followed by the Saddle Mountain, the Wanapum — a major groundwater source in the Valley — and the Grand Ronde.

A graphic example:

A well used by the family-owned Martinez Livestock Co. of Moxee has experienced a decline of more than 200 feet since 1980. Where the static water level once stood at about 50 feet, it is now 280 feet to water.

Since the early 1980s, the state Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Geological Survey before it, have checked well levels and found declines that averaged 60 feet in a number of Wanapum wells since that time.

What to do?

The Geological Survey is working on a study of wells in the basin that is an outgrowth of a settlement among Ecology, the Yakama Nation and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The Yakamas challenged Ecology's having issued groundwater rights in the Moxee Valley in the early 1990s, contending the agency hadn't taken into account the impact that groundwater pumping has on the Yakima River.

To perform the study, Ecology imposed a controversial moratorium on allowing new wells until the study is complete. Delayed by funding issues, the study — originally scheduled to be done in 2005 — won't be completed until 2007.

In the meantime, Ecology continues to grant emergency well permits in this drought year, while domestic and city and county wells remain exempt from the moratorium.

We have this uneasy feeling that we're gambling with potential disaster here, and we're pleased the appropriate officials are seriously attempting to quantify and regulate groundwater supplies.

Recurring dry years and their impact on both surface water and groundwater also gives a renewed sense of urgency to providing more water-storage capacity in the Yakima basin. Two possibilities now being studied by the Bureau of Reclamation are the Black Rock reservoir east of Yakima and a reservoir at Wymer in the Yakima River Canyon north of Yakima.

Adequate water supplies for all the demands made of them is, of course, not a problem peculiar to Central Washington. It is one that's evident throughout the western United States.

But it is a problem of particular concern in this area as we see surface water and groundwater supplies shrinking and a water-storage system that hasn't been expanded since the early 1930s.

Studies to define the problems are useful, but the bottom line is that they must be followed by action plans that stress conservation and expansion of existing supplies — above and below ground.

And soon.

— Yakima Herald-Republic, July 29

Drug-tunnel bust may deter smugglers

Whatcom County made the news nationwide recently when federal agents busted three men who crossed into the United States through an elaborate tunnel built under the border.

If anyone needed more proof that the drug trade from British Columbia into Whatcom County is a serious thing, this is it.

There have been all kinds of outlandish busts in recent years. Border agents have caught smugglers using semi-truck shipments of beer, pine shavings, raspberry puree and even live bears to try to hide marijuana. Smugglers have also carved "hidden" areas in pickup trucks and cars to hide the drugs and tried to walk and drive across the border in agricultural areas near Sumas or hike across in the wilderness of eastern Whatcom County.

But the tunnel? Well, the tunnel outdoes them all.

The 360-foot-long tunnel was noteworthy mostly because of the intricate work that went into making it.

Using a pulley-and-winch system to move dirt and lift it into one of the openings hidden in buildings on either side of the border, criminals built a tunnel big enough for a person to walk through hunched over and reinforced on all sides by rebar and wood — more than 1,000 2-by-6 planks. The tunnel had ventilation and electricity.

The tunnel stretched from inside a large metal shed just inside Canada to a living room of a house at 151 E. Boundary Road, north of Lynden.

Wow. It's amazing what these crooks will do to get their illegal "B.C. Bud" into our country.

We are glad to see the tunnel busted quickly. As we are always glad when someone arrests the criminals who use Whatcom County as an entry for their illegal drugs.

It seems that they will stop at nothing. Remember, just last March, two Blaine High School students were arrested on suspicion of smuggling marijuana across the border on the bus from their homes in Point Roberts to the school.

And long-time Blaine residents will recall that in 1996, Blaine sports star Willy Wright was sentenced to seven years in prison for leading a drug- and currency-smuggling ring in cooperation with B.C. dealers. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to import and sell more than 220 pounds of marijuana over two years.

Not only do the drug smugglers use our children, but they drop bags in berry fields and cross over into people's yards in the middle of the night.

Increased border security in our area, thanks to increased homeland-security efforts since 9/11, has significantly increased the number of arrests on drug charges.

We hope the notoriety given this latest bust will discourage other criminals from crossing in Whatcom County.

— Bellingham Herald, Aug. 2

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