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New diversion dam is on congressman's agenda

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By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

Why politics can work was on display March 22 at the Tapps Island Clubhouse.

Congressman Dave Reichert, R-Bellevue, visited with constituents at the Clubhouse that evening after scoring a victory when he and his staff intervened in a dispute over the repair of White River diversion dam.

The dam had nine panels down after storms and high water in December and January.

Puget Sound Energy, which owns the dam and Lake Tapps, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who directs the operation of the dam, were locked in an arm wrestling match with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries service over when to repair the dam.

"My staff started to work on this immediately," Reichert said. "I just told them to get on this right away and let me know who to call."

Reichert's staff worked through the U.S. Department of Commerce, with a little help from the Bush administration, to break the impasse in less than 24 hours.

"Dave demonstrated a real concern and willingness to do the heavy lifting needed, "Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney said. "This has been a great opportunity."

Reichert and Bunney noted repairing the dam was just one step in a plan to replace the structure.

"We know there is an issue with flows," Reichert said. "In the future we need a permanent solution for the dam and that is what we are working towards."

Reichert and Bunney estimate the cost of replacing the dam at about $15 million.

Bunney said a dam design process is in the final stages and they hope to secure the funding to begin the project by 2007 or 2008.

"This will provide a reliable method for diverting water to Lake Tapps and maintaining flows for trapping fish. The Corps is anxious to get a new diversion dam."

The Corps uses the dam to divert water into Lake Tapps and for its fish trap. Migrating salmon are trapped and driven by truck around Mud Mountain Dam to the upper White River to spawn.

However, the next step in the saga to save Lake Tapps is a consumptive water rights decision, which is due from the Department of Ecology at any time.

DOE issued drinking water rights to PSE in June of 2003. The Pollution Control Hearings Board remanded them back to DOE July 2004 after PSE closed their hydroelectric power plant in January 2004.

If PSE is issued the drinking water rights, they intend to sell them to Cascade Water Alliance, a water supplier based in Bellevue.

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

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