This was originally posted to: Guemes Island Planning Advisory Committee

Summary: GIPAC Focuses On Groundwater Protection

GIPAC Focuses On Groundwater Protection—
A Summary

The Guemes Island Planning Advisory Committee (GIPAC) is an elected community group recognized by Skagit County as representing the island’s interests in implementation of the Guemes Island Subarea Plan. Because protection of island groundwater resources is a primary concern of the subarea plan, GIPAC has committed to focusing on water issues as a top priority in its current work plan.

GIPAC recently published a background paper reviewing the current status of Skagit County regulations and programs that affect the drilling of new wells on the island and the impact of wells on the island’s aquifer. In addition, the paper outlines strategies that GIPAC proposes to undertake to protect our aquifer. This summary is designed to provide an overview.

Protecting Guemes Island Groundwater  [PDF]

GIPAC always welcomes community input and attendance at its monthly meetings—the first Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the Guemes Island Community Church.

Code that Impacts the Use of Guemes Groundwater
Problems with Guemes Island groundwater supplies are well documented dating back to 1987—with wells going dry and/or being contaminated by saltwater intrusion, particularly on the north end of the island.

Guemes Island has a federally designated “sole source aquifer” because most islanders use groundwater for their water supplies. All of Guemes Island is designated as an “aquifer recharge area” and a “seawater intrusion area.” Because of these overlapping features, the island is considered a “critical area” that needs special requirements for wells and development in order to protect our aquifer. Skagit County’s drinking water and zoning codes identify areas where drilled wells may have water quality or quantity problems; prohibit accessory dwelling units where wells are indicating seawater intrusion; and encourage the use of alternative water sources such as rainwater catchment systems for potable water where seawater intrusion is already a problem.

Gaps in County Code and Enforcement
GIPAC has identified a number of gaps in county code and code administration that limit the effectiveness of the code in protecting our groundwater resource. For example, there are complicated and expensive regulatory requirements for installing rainwater catchment systems that could be simplified. Also, Skagit County does not always review new wells for “critical area” restrictions that would require a hydrologic impact assessment prior to drilling.

GIPAC Strategies: A Comprehensive Approach
GIPAC has developed the following comprehensive strategies to address water issues on the island. They range from public education and data collection to stricter regulations and enforcement. This set of strategies is envisioned as a multi-year effort in response to a very complex issue.
Ask county planning staff to immediately enforce the Critical Areas Ordinance that requires hydrologic review prior to drilling any new well.


  • Continue to seek a code amendment to emphasize new wells must be approved by the county in advance of drilling.

  • Work with the county to develop better data on island wells in order to identify acute problem areas and monitor trends.

  • Seek funding to study aquifer recharge on the island and better identify key areas that need protecting.

  • Work with the county and its Western Washington University research team to achieve a template for rainwater catchment systems that can streamline the design and approval process.

  • Modify code, as needed, to remove barriers to rainwater catchment systems.

  • Undertake community outreach to educate islanders about the need for water
    conservation and to generate community dialogue about aquifer protection.

  • Work with county planning staff to improve code administration of variances that can harm the public welfare by enabling greater water demands in areas that are already suffering degraded water supplies.

Draft 2-3-2018