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Water rights

Ecology delays drinking water rights again as negotiations continue between parties

By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

The Department of Ecology has delayed issuing the drinking water rights for Lake Tapps, but the final process may have been shortened.

Curt Hart, spokesman for Ecology, said a new proposal resulting from negotiations between Puget Sound Energy, Cascade Water Alliance and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians has changed the timetable for issuing the water rights.

At a Lake Tapps Task Force meeting Nov. 10, Tom Loranger, regional director of water resources for the Department of Ecology, reported the draft issuance of the water right would be released by the end of December.

Hart said the details of the new proposal are not complete, but indications are more water would be kept in the river. Ecology is now predicting a draft release timetable of January or February.

“We have to look at the details,” Hart said. “We have to run it through the modeling with different flows.”

Water flows down the river and into the lake have been a sensitive subject for homeowners on the lake and scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA is the federal agency in charge of protecting Chinook salmon, an endangered species. The agency contends once flows drop below a certain level the water temperature will increase, which threatens salmon.

Residents living on the lake are concerned that during the years when drought conditions hit, the water level in the lake will drop below an acceptable recreational level and flows would not be adequate to keep the lake water fresh.

Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney said the council will seek its own expert opinion once the details of the water rights are released.

“We understand Ecology is taking a reasonable approach examining the flows,” Bunney said. “But if it doesn't meet our recreational needs, we are prepared to fight hard. We want the Lake Tapps community brought into this discussion.”

The lake is in the process of being sold by Puget Sound Energy to Cascade Water Alliance.

PSE has owned the lake for nearly 100 years, using it as a reservoir to power its White River hydropower plant. The energy company closed the plant in January 2004 due to the expense of obtaining a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to operate with new regulations imposed by NOAA to protect the fish.

Drinking water rights were issued by Ecology to PSE in June 2003, but were sent back to the department for a review by the Pollution Control Hearings Board.

PSE sold the lake, flume, divergence dam in Buckley and the hydropower plant for $37 million in April. Cascade will pay $10 initially and an additional $27 million once the water rights are issued and cleared.

PSE and Cascade are working out the details of the sale, but both parties report it is moving forward.

Cascade is a non-profit water provider formed in April of 1999. It distributes most of its water to the Eastside, including Bellevue, Kirkland and Issaquah.

According to Roger Thompson, PSE spokesman, using Lake Tapps as a drinking water reservoir would require considerably less water than the energy company required to generate electricity.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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