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Aquifer Protection Area - FAQ's

What is an aquifer and the purpose of the Spokane County Aquifer Protection Area program?

The purpose of having an Aquifer Protection Area is to provide a financing method to preserve, protect and rehabilitate the aquifer. Directly below the ground surface of the metropolitan area of Spokane County lies an enormous water-bearing layer of sand and water known as the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer. This aquifer serves as the only source of drinking water for more than 400,000 people.

Expanded growth has led to concerns regarding the future quality of this resource. Several water quality studies have been conducted over the last 15 years. Results of these studies prove conclusively that there is a continuous gradual degradation of the Spokane area's drinking water in unsewered areas. The major source of this pollution comes from the daily disposal of several million gallons of wastewater directly into the aquifer from on-site sewage disposal systems, i.e. septic systems, cesspools and treatment plants.

Revenue collected from the Aquifer Protection Area is used to help offset the homeowner costs for connecting to an approved sewer system. By providing sewers to homeowners with on-site systems, Spokane County is able to divert this contamination source to a suitable regional treatment plant, thereby protecting this area's drinking water.

What is the history of the Spokane County Aquifer Protection Area program?

In May 1985, the Washington State Legislature approved a bill giving counties the authority to create an Aquifer Protection Area. This measure was passed in the House by a vote of 96 to 2 and in the Senate by 44 to 3.

In July 1985, the Spokane County Commissioners passed a resolution creating the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer Protection Area. The resolution allows for the collection of fees for water withdrawal and on-site sewage disposal.

In September of 1985, this measure was approved by the voters who resided within the designated area. The voters authorized the collection of aquifer fees for a twenty-year period. The Aquifer Protection Area billing commenced in 1986 and the last billing year was 2005.

In November 2004, a ballot measure to collect Aquifer Protection Area fees for twenty more years was approved by voters. The approved measure includes most of the Aquifer Protection Areas from the previous twenty years, but excludes areas in the City of Spokane. Voting precinct changes over the last twenty years also resulted in some minor adjustments of the Aquifer Protection Area boundary.

How are Spokane County Aquifer Protection Area revenues used?

Money collected from the Aquifer Protection Area are used to help offset the homeowner costs for connecting to an approved sewer system. The ballot measure approved by the public does provide other funding opportunities including: 

  1. The construction of facilities for the removal of water-borne pollution, sanitary sewage collection, disposal and treatment, and stormwater or surface water drainage.
  2.  Paying the costs necessary and incidental to the collection of the fees.
  3. Monitoring water quality. 

Why are we charged two different fees?

The Washington State Legislature passed legislation in 1985 giving counties the authority to create aquifer protection areas. Further, the state authorized the imposition of two fees for aquifer associated impacts. First, a fee for the withdrawal of water and second, a fee for sewage disposal. The water withdrawal fee is charged to all citizens residing in the aquifer area who use the water. This charge helps insure that the water you drink will remain clean. The second fee, the sewage disposal charge, is charged to those citizens who dispose of their waste through any ground disposal method that may impact water quality, such as septic systems.