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Park district files for fields water right

With the Northwest’s dry season approaching, the Vashon Park District has applied for a permit for a water right at the Vashon Fields Project, and a public comment period on that permit request is set to begin soon.

By law in Washington, entities such as the park district can irrigate fields a half-acre or less without a water right; the fields project is 5 acres.

News that the district did not have a water right first became public late last summer, when a tip to The Beachcomber prompted a call to the State Department of Ecology, which issues the permits.

After that inquiry, Doug Wood, a hydrologist and permit manager with the department, said he began working with the district to bring it into compliance. In a recent interview, he noted that he expected the permit request in March of this year, and that while it did not come until early this month, he saw no evidence of park district officials trying to circumvent the law.

“They have been very accessible,” he said.

Last week Wood said he believes the water right will be issued within six months and that a temporary permit will be issued in the end of June, after the park district publicizes its permitting request and a 30-day public comment period ensues.

With the newly planted sports fields at the complex thinning and turning brown, Mike Mattingly, the fields’ site supervisor, said he wanted to begin watering and fertilizing and, in fact, began watering when park district commissioner David Hackett sent the application to the state last week. Fertilizing was planned for this week.

Recently, Hilary Emmer, a member of the park district’s Oversight Committee, said that earlier this spring, the committee’s chair, Janet Quimby, assigned her to look into the water right issue when it became clear a permit had not yet been obtained. Emmer contacted Wood in late April, she said, and he sent her the permit application, which she then forwarded to park commissioner David Hackett, who completed the task.

Emmer noted her frustration that it was well into spring before the commissioners acted and that until they receive a temporary permit, watering will be done outside of the legal water code.

“Once again, we’re playing catch-up because we have no planning, and we are in a crisis and are watering illegally,” she said. “Yes, the state is looking the other way, but that does not make it legal.”

When asked about these watering concerns, Wood said the state’s stance is that it wants the park district to be in compliance, which would mean not watering until a temporary permit is in hand. But he tempered that stance by saying he expects there is plenty of water at the site and given the usual weather this time of year, he does not expect the district to use much water between now and when the temporary permit is issued. He also said he would not like to see project lose its grass fields now for lack of water.

“We do not want to compound the mistakes that have been made with a hasty decision,” he said.

Some people closely following the park district have also expressed concern that the delay in securing a water right has been a costly mistake for the district.

This is not the case, Wood said. The district is seeking to secure its permit through a Cost Reimbursement process, which relies on outside consultants, instead of state employees, to do the necessary field work for a water right. The process will likely cost around $10,000, though it could be less or more, Wood said. Some government information about this option sounds as though it is only for people who need their water right quickly — and then pay for it accordingly.  However, Wood said, since at least 2007, except in Island County, all applicants for new water rights — such as the Vashon Park District — have had to use the more expensive Cost Reimbursement process rather than an inexpensive state process.

At the fields, one of the other hurdles to watering, permit or not, is the lack of power, according to commissioner Hackett. The site has a generator, but it can only be used 12 hours a day, Mattingly said. Bringing power to the fields is costly, but he noted last week that he has been working to lower the cost and hopes to have power to the fields soon.

Last week Hacket expressed optimism that the necessary pieces of the project will come together soon.

“I am hoping too see a lusher field of grass by the time soccer season opens,” he said.

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