Program could lead North Bend to water

NORTH BEND - For the first time in a long while concerning North Bend's lack of water rights, there is hope.

But city leaders are remaining cautiously optimistic, keeping in mind years of running into dead ends with the state Department of Ecology (DOE). They will continue being patient, although their resolve now carries with it an expiration date.

City Council members discussed the ongoing effort to obtain more water rights at a work study Tuesday, May 28. City Administrator Phil Messina informed them on the status of recent developments, including a meeting with DOE employees, city officials and the city's consultants April 25.

At that meeting, Messina, Mayor Joan Simpson and Public Works Director Ron Garrow explained a proposal that would allow North Bend to use a well that has been potentially operational since 1995 to draw water from an underlying aquifer.

According to the city, the aquifer is not connected with the Snoqualmie River, but a second pump and pipeline could be used to divert water from the aquifer to the river and Silver Creek to offset low flows.

"They were cool to the mitigation program at first," Messina said, adding that Larry West, a hydrogeologist with HWA GeoSciences Inc., stayed after the meeting to answer additional questions.

"Larry says by the time they were done, there was a glimmer there," Messina said.

In addition to the mitigation strategy, city and DOE officials discussed North Bend's using the "cost-recovery" program to help speed along the water-rights process. Under that program, North Bend would pay an outside consultant to review the city's application and mitigation strategy.

The consultant would be selected by the DOE, with Messina saying it would likely require more testing be done on the mitigation strategy.

Simpson said the program is the city's best chance to have its application reviewed, since the DOE has stated it is not processing new applications, only changes to existing water rights.

It also provides North Bend some momentum to move forward after the application process had seemingly ground to a halt. Additional water rights would allow the city to lift its building moratorium.

"This is the furthest we've gotten on any of this," Messina said.

"It's going to be long and slow, and we need to be patient."

Councilman Mark Sollitto said the city's patience can't last indefinitely. He suggested giving the cost-recovery program a deadline of July 1, 2003, at which time it would be evaluated to see whether the city should stick with it or pursue other avenues.

"That's when I hit the wall on this," Sollitto said.

Messina agreed, saying the deadline was reasonable. Until then, the city will try to keep the ball rolling.

"I think what we'll do is we'll keep pushing politely for now," he said.

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