Water rights delayed to end of year

By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

Slow but sure is the Department of Ecology's plan.

Ecology has delayed reissuing the Lake Tapps consumptive water rights to Puget Sound Energy by a couple of months, but the process appears to be on track for approval later this year.

"We are still working on gathering information and looking at the effects of shutting down the hydroelectric plant," said Curt Hart, spokesman for the Department of Ecology. "We are working on what flows to keep decent water quality. We're confident the water rights are not a big problem. It is just a matter of what is the water regime going to look like."

Hart noted Ecology expects the water rights to be reissued in later November or December rather than the original goal of September.

The Pollution Control Hearings Board sent the water rights permits back to the Department of Ecology July 1 to be rewritten. The order directed Ecology to review the water rights, factoring in the January closure of Puget Sound Energy's White River hydroelectric plant near Sumner.

The regional drinking water rights were granted to PSE in June 2003 when the hydroelectric plant was still producing electricity.

"We are still hopeful the water rights will be upheld," Puget Sound Energy spokesman Roger Thompson said. "We believe the a public water supply system would provide a variety of public benefits along with maintaining a viable lake."

Once the water rights decision is made by Ecology, the judicial process starts again.

"When a water rights decision is made, there is a period of time allotted for public comment," Hart explained. "We need to make sure this is a good decision. It is a very important decision in terms of managing water in the region. We need to make sure the water rights are technically feasible and environmentally sound."

The consumptive water rights issued last year was appealed to the board by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, the cities of Auburn, Pacific, Algona, Buckley and a private citizen, Robert Cook.

According to Hart, Ecology is trying to address the appellants' concerns in the new draft.

"We've touched base with the Puyallup and Muckleshoot tribes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife," Hart said. "We want to come up with the best decision possible."

Once the hydroelectric plant closed, converting to a regional drinking water reservoir is considered to be the most viable avenue to save the lake.

PSE plans to sell the water rights to Cascade Water Alliance, a non-profit water supply cooperation.

The flow of water through the lake and water levels are among the primary concerns to homeowners around the lake.

Hart noted water flows and the quality of the water was a central issue to the scientific models now being constructed by Ecology.

Details on the lake level for the year is still being negotiated by PSE and the homeowners associations.

"There still is a desire to have the lake lowered a certain period of time for maintenance and dock repairs," Thompson said. "We are meeting with homeowners now. I believe we will have a tentative agreement by the end of October."

Dennis Box can be reached at

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