Who Owns the Water?
Though thousands of us use Kootenai County’s lakes and rivers each summer and enjoy them all year, many of us take them for granted. We assume they are clean. We forget they are public property and their water quality needs protection.
Amid the vocal claims about the sanctity of private property rights, public property rights sometimes get drowned out. They are just as important, especially where waterfront properties border lakes and rivers.
Currently the county is struggling to redefine shoreline development setback distances in the new land use code. This is not easy. The current standard of a 25-foot no disturbance zone is woefully inadequate. It is not based on scientific studies which generally recommend even greater waterfront setback distances. Twenty-five feet is not nearly enough distance to absorb and neutralize contaminants flowing downhill off the land. Moreover, not allowing any disturbance in this zone prevents property owners from performing routine maintenance.
The varied terrains surrounding many of Kootenai County’s publicly owned lakes and rivers need an assortment of approaches to protect water quality. These include employing a range of setback distances suitable to actual waterfront conditions, landscaping with low-impact, non-fertilized plants, and installing engineered solutions that need regular maintenance. Continuing to allow an inadequate twenty-five foot setback to be used everywhere and enforcing a hands-off policy are not adequate solutions. They are outdated, ineffective remedies that don’t work in complex situations.
Kootenai Environmental Alliance believes most lake shore property owners are responsible stewards of the public’s water. They have to be if water quality is going to be protected. However, as population density around waterways increases, the inadequate, inflexible 25-foot setback rule will not come close to protecting the public’s lakes and rivers.
We believe the county needs to establish setback distant standards that comply with sound scientific findings and are suitable for varied waterfront terrains. We also support the use of natural systems for water treatment and engineered solutions that are simple to monitor and maintain.
As citizens, it is our duty to look beyond our private “rights” and support the adoption of the best practices available to protect the water found in our public lakes and rivers.