Working together, we can figure out Vashon’s water resources



For The Beachcomber

Water is a powerful issue on Vashon. The Island is served by a sole-source aquifer, which means we’re dependent on whatever falls onto the ground, seeps into the earth and builds the supply that we can pull up from our wells. If we use too much, we run out, a scary prospect for Islanders.

So there has been endless debate about our water supply. How much is there, really? How much development can our water resources support? What will be the effect of climate change on our water supply? How do we tell if the water is running out? Indeed, lack of adequate water has shut down the development plans of not a few homeowners and businesses.

Part of the problem is that we don’t have really good data on how much water there actually is and how fast we are using it. Public water systems are required to meter their water usage. There are more than 1,000 exempt wells on the Island that provide no data on water levels, usage or water quality. It’s hard to figure out what’s going on if you don’t have adequate information.

Now there is something Islanders can do to help solve the mystery. King County, in cooperation with the Vashon Maury Island Community Council’s Groundwater Protection Committee, has developed a program for monitoring well levels and water usage on Vashon. It’s a volunteer program, and I have participated in versions of it since 2001 and have found the information invaluable to me and my family as well as to the public. The county provides the equipment, and I generate the data. The simple process doesn’t take more than about 15 minutes a month.

The program’s purpose is to gather data from a number of exempt wells, to help get a picture of overall water levels and usage from these largely undocumented sources. The information gathered goes into a computer model of water flows on the Island, to help figure out how things really work. Reports and data from this model are presented to our Island once a quarter at the regular Groundwater Protection Committee meetings and can help guide decisions and recommendations of that group.

If you’d like to participate and provide data from your own well, contact the county’s Eric Ferguson at He has a dozen water meters available that can be installed on your exempt well free of charge to give you a count of the gallons that you use each month. He also has equipment that can be used to measure water levels in your well. You must agree to provide data to the county on a regular basis to qualify for this equipment.

— Steve Graham heads the Groundwater Protection Committee.