Tulalip Tribe contends North Bend water plan

NORTH BEND - North Bend's efforts to get itself out of a water moratorium took another hit when it received a letter last month contending the city's plan to pump water from the Cedar River into the Snoqualmie River watershed.

On Oct. 30, the city received a letter from the Tulalip Tribe that stated a "highly infectious fish pathogen" called Infectious Hematopietic Necrosis (IHN) was located in the Cedar River and should not be introduced into the Snoqualmie River watershed. It said IHN is a virus that spreads quickly in juvenile salmonoids and is responsible for huge losses of salmon and steelhead every year.

The city of North Bend has been in a building moratorium since 1999 when it found that it had been using more water than was allowed under state law. Recently, the city had been looking into a plan where it would pump water from the Snoqualmie River watershed and replace it with water from the Cedar River watershed, which is maintained by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU).

The letter, written by the Tulalip Tribe's Fisheries and Natural Resources Commission, stated it had informed SPU in the past about the problems of introducing water from the Cedar River into the Snoqualmie River watershed. In 1991, the Tulalip Tribe successfully intervened to stop a SPU plan that would have diverted water from a Cedar River hatchery into the Snoqualmie River watershed.

Members of the North Bend City Council, while discussing the letter at their Nov. 1 meeting, were dismayed that they had not heard about the problem before. Councilman Bill Wittress said he was not surprised there was a challenge to the city's plan, however, since any project involving riverways in the state is going to be faced with legal issues.

Lamenting the amount of money the city had already spent on its water rights problem, the council was cautious not to get into any problems. Councilman Mark Sollitto, who was informed of the letter before it was sent over to the city because of his involvement with the Snohomish River Watershed Forum, said it would behoove the city to take some time and work on the legal problems it has been presented with.

At the Nov. 1 meeting, the council directed city staff to look into the issue and check with an attorney it had hired to work on its water rights problem, Thomas Pors. In a letter responding to the Tulalip Tribe sent on Nov. 2, Pors stated that the city had already checked with SPU about the IHN issue. According to Pors, SPU said the IHN virus could not make it upstream far enough to be an issue for the city.

City Administrator George Martinez said the city will be meeting with the Tulalip Tribe later this week to work out any problems. He reiterated the point made in Pors' letter that the city had considered the IHN virus and was convinced it would not be an issue with its water mitigation plan.

He said the city wants to work with the Tulalip Tribe on the problem and assure them it means no harm to the river.

"We see it [Snoqualmie River] as everybody's watershed," Martinez said.

Representatives from the Tulalip Tribe did not return a phone call for comment.

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