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Sallal nixes future water hookups for now

NORTH BEND - Those hoping to build in unincorporated King County near North Bend bristled at the news of a moratorium placed on new water connections by the Sallal Water Association last week. The water utility cooperative servicing 19 square miles of land north and south of North Bend is operating at about 80 percent of its water rights capacity and decided to place the emergency interim moratorium to make time to write a new plan for coping with its many requests for service.

President of the co-op, Don Klausing, said even though the association has plenty of water and none of its current customers will suffer from the moratorium, Sallal would be "in trouble" if it granted all the service requests queued.

"Every year we're dealing with potential customers," Klausing said. "If we served all the people requesting service, we'd be going over our limit. We decided to draw a line in the sand to stop and get input from our members and make a plan for doling out water."

Sallal doesn't need more water - it just needs more water rights. The state of Washington distributes water rights (how much water each city or co-op is allowed to pump) based on how many customers want service. Sallal was formed in 1969 and is governed by its members, 1,500 commercial and residential users that include 3,500 people. The association has had the same number of fixed water rights since 1969. Sallal still has to use up its remaining water rights (about 15-20 percent of its existing rights), but is not authorized to exceed them. The association is currently at 80-percent capacity based on the usage ratio of 241 gallons per day for a family of four.

Dan Swenson, regional director of the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE), said Sallal hasn't been given any additional water rights due to the fact that while its customer base has grown, it hasn't grown enough.

Under state-issued water rights, distributors have to be mindful of two limits: the quantity instantaneous (Qi), or how many gallons one is allowed to pump per minute, and the quantity annual (Qa), or how much water one is permitted to pump from the aquifer per year.

"It's not an issue with not having enough water or not being able to pump it," Klausing said. "The only issue is how much we are allowed to pump. We're trying to reassure existing customers that everything is OK. Every residence and business can still be served."

For now, Klausing and the association are seeking input from existing and potential customers to try to form a plan for how to delicately make use of the rest of their water rights without surpassing them, and to figure out how and when Sallal will receive more rights from the state.

A public meeting will be held June 22 in North Bend. At the meeting, the association will accept oral and written input regarding how it should move forward with the moratorium, including whether or not it should be made permanent until additional water rights can be obtained.

Once the association has gathered input, it will create a set of rules to govern the process of allotting memberships.

"We want to take a time out here to build a plan to take care of everybody. The big issue is getting more requests than what we can serve over the next few years," Klausing said. The association adds about 10-20 connections per year.

Sallal Water Association has been working with its equally-troubled neighbor, the city of North Bend, over the years to obtain more rights from the state.

Though Sallal has a water rights application pending with the state, it still has not received much feedback. This is because the application is considered too "junior," meaning there are several other applications ahead of it. North Bend has a separate and more senior application filed with the state.

"We've been working the last five years with North Bend to find a way to meet the needs of North Bend and Sallal at the same time," said Swenson.

Ron Garrow, public works director for North Bend, said the city has been working with Sallal's consultant to secure additional water rights that would serve North Bend and its urban growth area, which includes a portion of the Sallal service area, but not all of it. "The Sallal deficit is only in part satisfied by what they're doing with us," Garrow said.

North Bend has been in a building moratorium since 1999 because in the past the administration inadvertently issued building permits and water availability letters in excess of what rights the city had, Garrow said.

When administrators found they had exceeded the annual flow level, they established a building moratorium. That, coupled with the city's water moratorium, has put a significant drain on businesses in North Bend. Revenue from new construction has dropped and the impact has not been good for the town's financial situation.

"Oh yes, most definitely," Garrow said. "There has been a desire for businesses to come into the community, but they haven't been able to. Growth has been stymied to no development of additional residential areas so that property owners would like to develop, but can't."

In 2003, House Bill 1338 for municipal water rights was passed with the help of North Bend city government and Cheryl Pflug, state senator for District 5. HB 1338 contained important water rights certainty and flexibility provisions for municipal water suppliers. As a result of this legislation, North Bend finally had a way to pursue the much needed expansion of its water rights, which it is still waiting to receive, said Pflug in an e-mail last week.

The bill also required municipalities pursuing new water rights to create a viable conservation plan, and directed the state Department of Health to adopt new water conservation regulations by Dec. 31, 2005.

"The provision of adequate water for our community is critical. The DOE needs to move quickly to approve this new water right, which is critical to the economy of North Bend," Pflug said.

North Bend's application is still in negotiations with Seattle and the DOE.

If successful, the outcome will mean more water rights for both North Bend and the portion of the Sallal District that lies within the area's Growth Management Act (GMA) boundary for urban growth.

Having a reliable source of mitigation water will help the North Bend application meet four tests for water rights approval, which could lead to the moratoriums being lifted so the area can grow as planned under the GMA.

"With adequate mitigation [likely one bucket back into the river for every bucket pumped from a well for municipal use], the answers should be 'yes' - allowing DOE to grant the right," Pflug said.

Sallal's water comes from two wells that were drilled in 1983 and 1985 in conjunction with the city of Seattle. A third well was drilled near the Edgewick Interchange on Interstate-90 in 1987.

The aquifer lies under the Snoqualmie Basin, a tributary to the Snohomish River.

Some in the community believe the state's stinginess with water rights is politically motivated and aims to slow growth. Swenson said he was puzzled by the rumor.

"I don't know where that rumor comes from. Some people may believe that, but the Growth Management Act is a creature of the state," said Swenson. "This just happens to be an area where there are limitations on water availability because of concerns about in-stream flows from the Snoqualmie River."

Pflug also believes the DOE is doing its best to liquefy the rights issue.

"In the past there have been concerns that water was being withheld to prevent growth, some of which is mandated under GMA. Today, I believe that the DOE is earnestly working to solve the problem, understanding that there is a real need," Pflug said.

* The Sallal Water Association does not regulate private wells on personal property. If a piece of property is a certain size, owners can drill on it. Check with King County for specific qualifications.

The public meeting for the Sallal Water Association will be held at 7 p.m. on June 22 at the Sallal Grange Hall, located at the co

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