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September 29, 2016
Specialty: Integrated water resources management, water rights and groundwater development
Management: Sheryl Wilhelm and Chris Pitre, principals and owners
2015 revenue: N/A
Projected 2016 revenue: $200,000
Projects: Water rights audit for a mid-sized city; solving water issues for Taylor Shellfish; helping Sundale Orchards change its water rights to allow expanded use with water saved from irrigation efficiency
Chris Pitre, co-founder of Coho Water Resources, answered questions from the DJC about his firm’s activities and what’s around the corner for the sustainability movement.
Q: When did you start your firm?
A: My partner and I founded Coho Water Resources in October 2015. After more than 15 years with Golder Associates, it felt like the perfect time to take things in our own direction.
Coho’s projects involve integrating technical, legal and policy aspects of water resources management.
We focus on water rights and groundwater management, but also have projects doing watershed planning for a Puget Sound tribe, facilitating development of additional water supply for a joint private-tribal partnership, identifying and accessing new water supplies for public and private clients, and planning for drilling a large municipal well in Eastern Washington.
Q: What are trends and issues in your industry?
A: The Department of Ecology manages water in Washington and has worked hard to develop creative approaches to water management. However, recent court decisions have severely constrained Ecology’s discretion, making it very difficult to get water availability certificates to start housing construction in some areas, such as in Skagit County.
“Regulation by litigation” is not efficient, but I believe it will prevail for the foreseeable future. In this environment, protection of water right assets is a must, developing mitigation packages for new water rights is becoming more difficult, and water markets involving the exchange of rights between private entities are developing.
Q: What is your outlook for Puget Sound?
A: Puget Sound is blessed with water, but population growth and climate change are causing a general tightening up of water availability. Though most people intuitively understand the predicted impacts of climate change on snow-pack dependent surface water supply, the 2015 drought summer severely impacted groundwater supply. Rising sea levels will also increase the risk of saline intrusion into water supply wells near the coast.
While climate change may seem gradual, the impacts are already happening and it is advisable for water managers to start taking or at least planning action now.
Q: How can the Puget Sound region become more sustainable?
A: Its cities have done much for sustainable water resources management. Seattle has implemented a successful water conservation program. Tacoma is building a second water supply pipeline that includes water delivery to the Lakehaven Water District for an underground water storage program called Aquifer Storage and Recovery. The LOTT wastewater consortium (Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and Thurston County) is at the forefront of reclaimed water use in Washington, producing and delivering high-quality treated water.
These projects are possible due to the significant political and financial resources these entities can mobilize. Smaller towns and agricultural interests need support to get into the game. Making the permitting process easier and more responsive is the first step in that direction.