By Marcy Stamper

The Okanogan County planning director has issued a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for changes to the county’s zoning code that concludes the county’s regulations are adequate to prevent significant environmental harm or impacts to water, agriculture and critical areas. It also finds there is enough farmland to maintain a healthy agricultural industry.

The EIS looks at water quality and quantity, air quality, population trends and wildfire protection and assesses the impacts of other county regulations on the environment.

The proposed zoning code updates and clarifies land uses and other controls on specific parcels of land based on policies set out in the county’s new comprehensive plan.

The zoning code will be used along with the comp plan and ordinances that protect shorelines and critical areas “to provide flexibility, opportunity and protection for a variety of uses on lands in Okanogan County,” according to the environmental review.

County planners anticipate the county’s population will grow by 4,500 people over the next 30 years.

The EIS points to the county’s requirements to review any new development for surface-water and shorelines protection. It notes that most rural development relies on exempt wells, which limit how the water can be used. Before any projects are approved, the applicant must demonstrate a legal and adequate water supply, it says. The EIS notes there are limits on water availability for new development in closed basins in the Methow watershed.

All public lands — 72 percent of the total county acreage — are included as agricultural resource lands. The EIS states that some public lands that had historically been managed as large ranches or farms are not available for agricultural production because water rights have been diverted to salmon recovery. Agricultural leases on other parcels exceed the market value, making them financially unfeasible for farming, according to the environmental review.

The Okanogan County planning commission will conduct a public hearing on the proposed zoning changes on Monday, March 28, at 7 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room in Okanogan. People can provide up to three minutes of verbal testimony at the hearing and can submit written comments to ldavidson@co.okanogan.wa.us.

Information about the zoning code is available from planner Angie Hubbard at (509) 422-7160 or Planning Director Perry Huston at (509) 422-7218. The draft EIS and appendices are available on the Planning Department website at www.okanogancounty.org/planning.

The working draft of the zoning code and maps are also on that page. Click on the link for “Draft Zoning Code document 10/16/2015.”

The 30-day comment period on the environmental review ends April 4.

The county commissioners are expected to review the final EIS and the zone code with any revisions that come out of this process in May.