Ecology can (and has) affected development

by Dave LeRoux
Discovery Trail Farm

I’m a developer who has been impacted by the Department of Ecology’s archaic water mentality.


I purchased 65 acres of farmland that had been short-platted into 5-acre ranchettes.


Some people think dividing land into 5-acre chunks is development. It isn’t. It is a waste of farmland and a travesty.


I reconfigured my 65 acres so all the development would happen on 15 acres, with the remaining 50 acres dedicated farmland, forever off limits to development.


I also developed covenants that conserve water provided by our community water system. Residents of my development cannot use potable water for landscape and they must install low-flow plumbing fixtures.

Their water bill starts going up after they use 200 gallons per day.


My development is a model for the conservation of farmland and the conservation of water. The county thinks this type of development is a good idea and, as an incentive to encourage this type of development, allows a housing bonus. The housing bonus allows developers to recoup part of the cost for the extra expense of a development like this. So far I am the only developer that has done this in the county.


The infrastructure in my development cost about a million dollars. In my case the bonus gives me the right to build 19 homes instead of 13.


If I had left my 65 acres in its original configuration and sold it off in 5-acre chunks, there could be 13 homes with 13 wells, each drawing up to 5,000 gallons of water per day. And I wouldn’t have had to spend a million dollars developing the property.


However, because I have a passion for farmland I chose to develop the land in a way that saves most of the farmland and conserves water. I also developed covenants that conserve water.

A surprise awaits

I thought the Department of Ecology and environmental organizations would jump up and down with excitement when I proposed this development. I was wrong. DOE has terminal myopia when it comes to their water laws.


DOE has said I only can withdraw 5,000 gallons of water per day from one well for the entire development and I can only build 14 homes. I get no credit for the 60,000 gallons of water the property was entitled to. I also get no credit for one hole in the aquifer versus the 13. I don’t want the extra 60,000 gallons — I only want 9,500. (That is 500 gallons per house, but remember — my covenants are designed for 200 gpd).


When Representative Van De Wege tried to introduce legislation that would have given me 500 gpd DOE, Seattle environmental groups and the tribes (including the Jamestown Tribe) vigorously opposed and killed it. In fact, the legislation made the Environmental Hot List of the Washington Conservation Voters — a list of legislation to oppose.


By their actions they have made developments like mine financially unworkable. I could have sold off the farmland in 13 5-acre chunks without investing a nickel in the project. Instead, after investing a million dollars, I can sell 14 lots. Thanks to the DOE this project of mine doesn’t make any financial sense.


I am proud of what I have done. I have saved 50 acres of farmland without any fundraisers or government grants. However, if I ever get the chance to buy more farmland, I will sell it off in 5-acre chunks.


I don’t know where DOE is going with the legislation they are about to propose. If they wanted to save water, they would require new homes to hook up to community systems like mine — systems with water conservation requirements and a billing schedule that penalizes excess water consumption. Instead they are emphasizing that there will always be water for new single-family construction with the proviso that the wells will have meters. However, there are no plans for water police or enforcement, so what good will meters do?


The two things that will certainly come out of this legislation are pages of new regulations and more government jobs.


I went into this process as an environmentalist concerned about the loss of farmland. I wanted to be part of the solution. I never thought the government and environmental organizations would be part of the problem.


I have come out of this process critical of government and skeptical of environmental organizations.



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