We have a hard time understanding why Benton County commissioners don't think they need to be involved in a developing water crisis at Red Mountain.
The problem is getting so bad that state Department of Ecology officials warned the commissioners that water on the north side of the mountain could dry up in the near future, especially as further development takes place in the area.
Complaints about wells going dry temporarily near Red Mountain are increasing and the depths of new wells are up to 400 feet to access adequate water volumes.
The 4.3-square-mile area has 265 existing wells, and plans are for enough subdivided lots to add 128 more wells. The increased demand will cause the water table to drop even farther, compounding an already critical problem.
But two commissioners said it's not the county's job to regulate water.
"I don't have the authority to stop someone from developing because there isn't enough water. (We require) only that water is available," said Commissioner Leo Bowman.
And Commissioner Jim Beaver concurred: "I don't think I'm going to be a water cop."
So, it appears they are content to let people build on lots that may or may not have adequate access to potable water in the future.
That sounds like a major headache for the county in the long term, and one that could be avoided if action is taken now to address the problem. The state didn't come to the commissioners meeting because everything is fine.
And the Ecology representatives didn't just come with a message of foreboding -- they brought ideas for potential ways to ensure the water supply meets the anticipated demand.
Commissioners were asked to consider permitting restrictions that would limit the demand for ground water at future developments. Conditions could be placed to limit lawn sizes or require xeriscaping, a method of landscaping with limits or eliminates the need for irrigation.
A grander solution would be to extend water from West Richland to the dry spot. But the land would have to be included in West Richland's urban growth area for that to happen. And that would take action by the county and the city.
Bowman did come around some on the issue, saying the warning from the Ecology folks may force them into uncharted territory when it comes to water issues. Why the commissioners didn't immediately see their role is vital to the welfare of a portion of the county is troubling.
Health is an issue when wells run dry. It also is an issue when homeowners have to drill deeper to find water.
Studies show that deeper wells at Red Mountain produce hotter water with levels of chlorides, methane gas, fluorides and hydrogen sulfide that are higher than they should be.
Red Mountain doesn't get much rain, and because of the very nature of the slope, most rainwater would flow away and never make it to the aquifer, so there's no hope of it recharging on its own.
It's clear the water problem is not going to get better on its own and that the Department of Ecology wanted commissioners to know the urgent need to take action on the issue soon.
The commissioners should make finding a solution to the looming crisis a top priority.