County & Tribe to Start Watershed Planning

Mason County and the Squaxin Island Tribe have signed a non-binding “letter of intent” to initiate cooperative watershed planning for Water Resource Inventory Area 14(a) (WRIA 14), which includes the Goldborough Creek and Johns Creek watersheds.

“We are very pleased to be working together as a team with the Squaxin Island Tribe, in a positive direction,” said County Commission Chair Randy Neatherlin.

“This is a small step, but a significant one,” agreed Squaxin Island Tribal Chairman Arnold Cooper. “The water and the salmon are scred to us, and we are happy that the County is listening to us and that the Commissioners are working with us to address the Tribe’s concerns.”

Recently, Mason County, which has land use regulatory jurisdiction over a large area of south Puget Sound and Hood Canal watersheds, updated its comprehensive land use plan under the Growth Management Act and the Tribe appealed the update. However, the parties have agreed to a temporary stay of the Tribe’s appeal while they develop a process to engage in watershed planning.

In the letter of intent, the Tribe and the County pledge to initiate work immediately to develop a “memorandum of agreement” as a framework for the planning effort.

“We need to include other stakeholders,” explained Commissioner Neatherlin. “We intend to move quickly to help implement the new statute. Our goal is to find wasy to provide a net ecological benefit for instream resources, as the law requires, while at the same time respecting and protection the rights of private proerty owners.”

The Washington State Legislature enacted ESSB 6091 which imposes requirements on counties to protect water resources. Under the new law, the Washington Department of Ecology is obligated to form a watershed restoration and enhancement committee for WRIA 14, and include as members representatives of state and local goverments, tribes, water users, and environmental interests. The law also directs Ecology to prepare a watershed restoration and enhancement plan for WRIA 14 by June 30, 2021 and to implement the plan. If the committee fails to meet that deadline, ESSB 6091 directs Ecology to submit the final draft plan ot the State Salmon Recovery Funding Board for its review.

Under the terms of the letter of intent, the County and Tribe agree to initiate work early to support the planning effort.

“Ideally, those of us who live and work in the watershed can come together to find solutions we can all live with,” suggested Chairman Cooper.

“I am confident we will suceed,” predicted Commissioner Neatherlin. “This is a great opportunity to work together as a team, in a way that respects the sovereignty of both parties. An agreement for the County and the Tribe to work together, respecting th esovereignty of each goverment, is a win-win for everyone involved.”