North Bend’s water system plan was approved Jan. 27 by King County Council, paving the way for the city to supply water to a planned housing complex and a proposed National Guard armory.
The King County Utilities Technical Review Committee in October recommended the county council approve the plan. If the water system plan is approved by the state Department of Health, it will remain in effect for five years. Water system plans are generally approved for a minimum of 10 years, but the city sought a shorter term.
North Bend needs a backup mitigation water source for hot, dry summer months. As a condition of its Centennial Well permit, which came online in 2009, it needs backup sources of water so when flows in the Snoqualmie River are low, the city can pump water into the river. Cold water with adequate river levels are essential for native salmon species, which have been struggling in recent decades to survive.
So far, the city hasn’t found a full backup mitigation source. For more than a decade, city officials have been in on-and-off talks with the neighboring Sallal Water Association to provide this mitigation water. Sallal also needs water because it’s running short on its own water supplies. Past proposals between the two entities have included a trade, whereby Sallal would provide mitigation water to North Bend when needed, and North Bend would sell water to Sallal to meet the needs of new developments. But to date, no agreement has been reached.
King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert, at the Jan. 26 meeting, said North Bend was seeking a five-year water system plan to show that they know what they’re doing as they work toward finding a backup mitigation source.
“I think this is the very best agreement that we are going to see,” she said.
The city’s water system plan was approved in a 7-2 vote. Rod Dembowski and Dave Upthegrove voted against approving the plan.
Dembowski said he would have liked to have heard from the Utilities Technical Review Committee leadership directly about the plan. He was also skeptical that a deal between North Bend and Sallal would materialize, and he questioned a mitigation alternative listed in the plan, where the city could build a water pipe to Chester Morse Lake’s reservoir. The Chester Morse reservoir is in the Cedar River watershed, and Dembowski asked whether the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe had been adequately informed of that possibility.
The water system plan will now need to be approved by the North Bend City Council and the state Department of Health. North Bend Mayor Rob McFarland said in an email statement that he expects approval from both agencies.
“Over the past two years we devoted countless hours creating a sound plan to provide our water customers with safe, reliable water,” McFarland said in the statement.
Others voiced their opposition to the decision, including Jean Buckner, longtime water conservation advocate and president of Friends of the Snoqualmie Trail and River. The organization has been pushing back against the city’s water plan until it finds a backup mitigation source.
In a letter to the county council, Buckner urged them to review the water system plan again with updated data and in light of the city and Sallal calling off negotiations.
“If the city heads down the path of over-committing resources to accommodate the pressure of growth, then we could end up where a hard choice must be made,” Buckner states.
A town hall meeting is scheduled for Feb. 2 on the plan.
A water war between the city and Sallal has been ongoing for years. Last April, Sallal denied water service to a large parcel of land that could house a new National Guard armory. It’s located southeast of a plot known as the Dahlgren property, which was removed from Sallal’s service area in 2019. Both parcels will be incorporated into North Bend’s service area under the updated water service plan.
Grading and clearing has already begun on the Dahlgren property, which will host a 212-unit housing development. In October, a North Bend spokesperson said water service wouldn’t be hooked up at the project for more than a year. They expected the water system plan to receive approval from both the county and the state.