Critical areas – critical takings.
Kittitas County has recently released its updates to a document called a Critical Areas Ordinance, or CAO. Basically, the GMA (Growth Management Act) requires that local governments identify and protect areas that are deemed ‘critical’ – wetlands, critical potable water recharge sources, fish and wildlife habitat, frequently flooded areas and geological areas.
If you are thinking that these requirements might attract those who want to stop development in rural counties, you are spot-on. This is how this story goes.
In terms of water, we are a particularly sensitive area in Kittitas County, prone to a lot of regulation and legal action because we are the headwaters of the Yakima Basin and everything that happens downstream of our reservoirs depends and the availability and quality of the water we supply to the Yakima drainage basin.
Picture this. The Yakima basin, if you stand it on its head, kind of looks like a big tree with the Yakima as the trunk and the many branches as the tributaries. A quick glance at a Google Maps overview will give you all the information you need to follow this analogy. The big branches feed the mainstem, the creeks feed the big branches the tiny streams feed the creeks, the rivulets feed the tiny streams and so on down to the twigs. It is not disingenuous to think of a river drainage in this way, it is rather handy considering what follows.
The entire drainage of the Yakima has been mapped and given relative importance, from seasonal flows to full flows, from fish-bearing to non-fish bearing, and to complicate matters a recent groundwater study has confirmed that surface waters are interconnected with subsurface water, giving rise to the necessity to purchase a ‘senior water right’ in order to use a well.
All those branches are looking a lot like a net, aren’t they?
Enter the new Critical Areas Ordinance and its insistence on two things. First, stream setbacks, where most activity is prohibited within those setback boundaries, and a set of land uses that are assigned relative intensities in order to assess their environmental impacts. Land uses that will add to an existing setback.
Given the above, it is entirely possible that every waterway in Kittitas County will be assigned a no-use zone (depending on a proposed use) that might extend as much as 500 feet on either side of any regulated waterway, and folks, consider this – the definition of “streams” in the new CAO –
“Streams” means all segments of natural waters of the state within the bank full width of defined channels in which surface flow is present during some part of the year in most years.”
And, in one final knife in the eye, it is up to anyone who proposes a use within these setbacks to prove that they do not have to conform to those regulations!
If you want to see the end of all development outside of a city’s Urban Growth Area, well, there you are.
Gone. Shut down. Finis, kaputt, no longer in existence, eradicated, snuffed out, relegated to the ash-heap of history.
Get used to million-dollar bungalows here in the not-so-affordable Upper County, ‘cause houses? Well, they ain’t making ‘em anymore.