Centennial Well is tightly connected to the Snoqualmie River. North Bend is required to find two mitigation sources which can be tapped to replenish water in the river on days with low flows. Ashley Hiruko/staff photo

North Bend, Sallal could restart water negotiations

Representatives from both utilities have said they’re talking again.

Negotiations between the city of North Bend and the Sallal Water Association could soon resume after a turbulent period between them.

The two agencies have been in talks for years, trying to come to an agreement on a proposed water deal. The basic outline is North Bend needs a backup mitigation source of water to pump into the Snoqualmie River during dry summer months, and Sallal needs water to continue providing for development in its service area.

Sallal provides service to some areas of North Bend and its urban growth area, and has felt the pressure of development over the last decade. North Bend has a large well, but must ensure that the river flow levels are protected and its impact can be offset with mitigation water.

The proposed deal has gone back and forth for more than a decade, and reached a breaking point late last summer over a spat dealing with sewer rates. At one point, the city was set to fine Sallal $2,000 a day for not providing water usage records the city said were needed to calculate sewer rates.

That seems to be in the rearview mirror now because talks have resumed between the two agencies, according to representatives from both.

On Feb. 18, North Bend City Administrator David Miller said discussions were back on. While it’s preliminary, Miller said both sides are engaging in diplomacy to get everyone on the same page about the intent of the negotiations and the principles of it.

Miller said one of the reasons he viewed the negotiations failing last time was because North Bend and Sallal needed water during the dry portions of the year in late summer. He said Sallal needs storage and pumping capacity to increase the amount of water they have available. The city is exploring funding options to help pay for infrastructure upgrades, which Sallal could potentially pay back with water.

In an email, Sallal Board President Daylin Baker also confirmed that negotiations have been started again.

“Mayor [Rob] McFarland and I have resolved our misunderstanding of Sallal’s water availability and engineering study, and agreed we can continue the engineering work needed on both sides of the table,” Baker states.

The goal of Sallal providing mitigation water for the city, while Sallal receives water for general use, is still the goal, she said.

McFarland and Baker have had several conversations along with an official meeting with legal counsel on Feb. 4 to discuss continuing negotiations.

An agreement between the two water utilities is one of the ways in which North Bend could satisfy the conditions of its state-issued permit for the large Centennial Well, which came online in 2009. Prior to that, the city had been in a building moratorium for a decade after it was discovered the city had been pulling more than its allotted share from a former well.

Since 2009, the city has grown along with the region. Puget Sound has experienced a population boom driven by Amazon and other tech industry giants setting up shop or expanding.

Further development is expected in the city. The state is exploring the possibility of the National Guard armory, which serves King County, relocating from Seattle to North Bend. Work on another large housing complex is also underway in the the city, which could bring 212 housing units.

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