Politics & Government

Benton County's out of water. Growth should be frozen, group says

Improperly planned growth in Benton County could overtax the Yakima River and other water sources, harming fish, wildlife, waterways and senior water rights holders, says an environmental watchdog group called Futurewise.
Improperly planned growth in Benton County could overtax the Yakima River and other water sources, harming fish, wildlife, waterways and senior water rights holders, says an environmental watchdog group called Futurewise. Tri-City Herald

Improperly planned growth in Benton County could overtax the Yakima River and other water sources, harming fish, wildlife, waterways and senior water rights holders, an environmental watchdog group says.

Futurewise, formerly 1000 Friends of Washington, is asking the Growth Management Hearings Board for Eastern Washington to review the comprehensive plan Benton County commissioners approved in February, saying it fails to comply with the state's Growth Management Act on several fronts.

In a petition filed last week, Futurewise claims Benton County didn't properly analyze the effect 6,800 new people in unincorporated areas over 20 years would have on the county's limited water resources.

It also says Benton County also failed to analyze the effect of growth on state roadways and work with the state to mitigate them.

Both are requirements of the 1990s-era growth management legislation.

Benton County officials said they have not scrutinized the Futurewise appeal, but said the process is fairly quick.

An appeal does not stay the county's planning process, so business will continue as usual. The county oversees planning and permitting for unincorporated areas.

Most cities have their own planning departments, and their comprehensive plans and are not affected by the Futurewise petition.

The petition triggers a three-person review board, with at least two Eastern Washington residents. A hearing will likely be held in late fall, and the board has 180 days from the April 19 filing date to issue a binding decision.

Either side can appeal the outcome to the Washington court system.

The county didn't tie planned growth to available water resources, said Tim Trohimovich, director of planning and law for Futurewise.

It cites state and other studies that show all water in Benton County already allocated — meaning withdrawals will harm fish and wildlife and encroach on senior water rights.

In-stream water flows in the Yakima as well as Columbia rivers would be affected, it said.

Futurewise also says the county failed to analyze the effect so many new homes would have on state highways and to work with the Washington Department of Transportation to mitigate it, another requirement of the law.

Washington law requires counties to update their comprehensive plans every eight years to reflect anticipated growth and resources. The Benton County Commission approved their latest plan following a lengthy review.



Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514; @wendyculverwell



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