Department of Ecology News Release - November 9, 2012


Ecology approves major new water sources for communities served by Clark Public Utilities, City of Ridgefield

OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has approved significant new sources of water for the Southwest Washington communities served by Clark Public Utilities and the City of Ridgefield.

Ecology issued a water right permit this week for Clark Public Utilities to develop a new well field near the south end of Lake Vancouver.

The annual supply equals 20,000 acre-feet – roughly equivalent to 6.52 billion gallons of water or the amount used by 60,000 homes in a year. It’s enough water to accommodate planned growth throughout the utility’s Clark County service area for the next 40 years.

Last year, Ecology approved a water right that increased Clark Public Utilities’ ability to serve future growth in the central and northwest areas of Clark County. In that decision, the utility gained rights to 11,200 acre-feet of water per year – roughly equivalent to 3.65 billion gallons or the amount used by 33,000 homes in a year. The wells associated with that decision are expected to come on line over the next eight years, and are located near the confluence of the North Fork and East Fork of the Lewis River, just west of the Interstate 5 Bridge.

Wayne Nelson, Clark Public Utilities general manager, said: “This right is a critical piece for the future sustainability of our system and will ensure safe, reliable water supply for our customers for decades into the future. Securing access to this water source is a significant achievement and was made possible only through ongoing collaboration with the Department of Ecology and the Port of Vancouver over many years.”

Nelson added that developing these new water supplies will provide ongoing construction jobs as Clark Public Utilities’ water infrastructure is improved during the next 20 years. The water right permits also ensure that water supply will not be a limiting factor for future economic growth within Clark Public Utilities’ water service area, specifically the Interstate 5 Discovery Corridor and for those communities obtaining water from Clark Public Utilities. 

The wells associated with the newly approved water right will be located on a 22-acre site off Fruit Valley Road, about one-half mile south of Lake Vancouver.  Wells will tap into the Pleistocene Alluvial Aquifer -- an important municipal and industrial water supply source in the Vancouver Lake lowlands area.

Ecology also approved a significant new source of water for the City of Ridgefield this month.  This new water right permit authorizes the annual withdrawal of 483 acre-feet, or 157 million gallons of water. That’s enough water to supply 1,450 homes. The new water will help accommodate Ridgefield’s anticipated growth for the next several years.

Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow said: “This new water source will greatly enhance the steady growth of the city. Ridgefield has worked with Ecology since at least 2005 and we welcome their approval.”

Granting water rights today is often complicated by the complex interplay between aquifers and surface water, and the need to maintain levels of stream flow to ensure  healthy habitat and fish runs. Local watershed plans are critical in informing Ecology decisions on water rights.

Ecology Southwest Region Director Sally Toteff said: “These water right decisions demonstrate just how important it is to have locally developed watershed plans that lay out the priorities and other information Ecology needs when considering new water uses. There is a wide range of land uses in these watersheds, from public and private resource lands to rural mixed use lands to suburban and urban lands, so locally crafted plans to balance these interests are key.”

In the case of the Clark Public Utilities water right, contamination from industrial sites in and around the Port of Vancouver created another potential complication. Fortunately, innovative and proactive cleanup efforts by the port have successfully addressed concerns about the possibility of contamination reaching the utility’s water supply. Ecology and the port continue to work with the utility on this issue.

Rebecca Lawson, Southwest Region section manager for Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program, said: “This newly approved water right is possible, in part, due to a cooperative process that began a decade ago between the utility and port. The agencies built a regional groundwater flow model to evaluate the potential for contamination to move from the port area toward the new municipal wells. Liable parties have been taking continuous action to reduce contamination levels in and near the port. Such action is important for preventing the spread of contamination.”

For example, the port has used a groundwater extraction and treatment system since June 2009 to reduce contamination. Since startup, the system has pumped approximately 4 billion gallons of groundwater, removing 693 pounds of contaminant and significantly reducing concentrations of solvents in the groundwater.

Todd Coleman, executive director for the Port of Vancouver said: “Even though contamination occurred many years before the port owned the properties, cleanup of the sites has been a top priority for the port. We took a proactive approach, and thankfully our cleanup efforts have been very successful. We’re also extremely pleased that the strong, ongoing partnership between the port, Clark Public Utilities and Ecology has helped make the new water right possible.”

All of the planned wells are located in areas recommended by the locally developed Salmon-Washougal and Lewis Watershed Management Plans for future regional water supply development. Ecology uses the plan as the framework for making water use decisions in the watershed. Ecology has determined that the wellfields associated with the newly granted water rights are unlikely to impact protected stream flow levels thanks to the multiple aquifers that border the Columbia River, which provide a more sustainable water supply than many other areas in the state enjoy.

Both the Salmon-Washougal and Lewis Watershed Management Plans allocate “reserves of water” to provide enough water to meet community 20-year growth projections. Extensive work with interested parties including citizens, agricultural interests, cities and the county, and industry resulted in reserve quantities that represent a balance between the projected needs of people and business and minimal impacts to stream flows, which provides needed protection for fish. Threatened species in this area include chum, coho, and Chinook salmon and steelhead.


Media contacts:

Linda Kent, Ecology media relations, (360) 791-9830,

Erica Erland, Clark Public Utilities, (360) 992-3238

Steve Wall, Ridgefield Public Works Director, (360) 887-3557,

For more information:

Ecology’s social media (

Clark Public Utilities Website (