Next step in North Bend water plan approved

NORTH BEND - City Council has approved the funding for a $918,000 sewer treatment update, a move that will help pave the way for lifting a construction moratorium if North Bend is given water rights in the future.

In 1999, North Bend entered into a self-imposed water moratorium when it was discovered that the city had used all of its water rights. Since then city officials have been working to find a solution to the problem.

The current plan, under review by the state Department of Ecology, calls for the city to essentially pump water from the Snoqualmie River, treat it and send it to its customers. That water would be replaced with mitigation water purchased from Seattle Public Utilities. Eventually the city would replace that purchased water with raw water taken from its own well. Currently tests are being conducted on possible well sites.

The city's sewer system is running at full capacity, and without improvements could not handle the increased usage if the moratorium were to be lifted. The approval of the contract at the Oct. 5 City Council meeting will ensure that if the city was to get water rights - some speculate that could come as early as next year - that the sewer would handle the initial push of usage. Additional updates are slated in the upcoming years.

Although he voted to support it, Councilman Mark Sollitto said he won't approve more funds until the uncertainty regarding the water rights application is cleared.

"This is as far as I'm going to go on this until we can get [approval] from the Department of Ecology," said Sollitto.

Councilman Bill Wittress, the lone dissenting vote, said he could not support the issue because it was a "philosophically and economically" bad decision. Wittress said the $918,000 allocated, on top of the $1.7 million already spent on the project, combined with a projected $2.9 million needed in the upcoming years, didn't show enough return on the investment to support it. Wittress has been vocal in the past about finding alternative solutions to the city's water problems.

Councilwoman Karen Tavenner said she'd like to see the council revisit the issue soon to prioritize which areas would get first crack at sewer rights. That list would include old Si View, the Si View Metropolitan Park District, Silver Creek and the downtown business area.

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