News

Cascade releases Tapps deal

By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

Cascade Water Alliance has come to a final purchase agreement with Puget Sound Energy for Lake Tapps, but the glass is still not quite full of all the answers.

Cascade, an eastside water utility, released details about the agreement Friday.

The total purchase price rings up at $39 million, which includes $25 million for the lake and $5 million once the drinking water right clears appeals from The Puyallup Tribe of Indians and Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. The other $9 million is for other operational costs associated with the lake.

PSE has owned the lake for nearly 100 years, using it as a reservoir for its White River hydroelectric plant until January 2004.

Mike Gagliardo, director of planning for Cascade, said at a Friday press conference, “This is a major milestone.... The price is based on our due diligence over a multiyear negotiation. There is a lot that went into this.”

PSE's board of directors, Cascades board and the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission must approve the sale.

The drinking water right is yet to be reissued by the Department of Ecology, and the details are being anxiously awaited by Cascade, the community and three cities surrounding the lake, Bonney Lake, Auburn and Sumner.

The three cities offered $33 million for the lake to PSE in September 2007 with no conditions. PSE turned down the offer stating an exclusive negotiating agreement with Cascade.

The water right was first issued in 2003 by Ecology. The Pollution Control Hearings Board sent the decision back to Ecology for reconsideration after PSE's hydroelectric plant was closed in 2004.

The recreational lake level during the summer months and the amount of water left in the White River, or river flows, is a central issue among the parties involved.

Water is diverted to Lake Tapps from White River at the barrier dam in Buckley.

In earlier documents filed with Ecology both tribes stated 800 cubic feet per second of water should be left in the river below the barrier dam during July and 500 to 650 cfs in August before water can be diverted to Lake Tapps.

The Lake Tapps Community Council members stated earlier that a flow regime of 800 cfs in July and 650 in August would mean the lake would be below the recreation level once every four years.

Gagliardo said there is a settlement agreement between Cascade and the tribes relating to flow regimes in the river. The $5 million payment to PSE is dependent on Ecology issuing a water right that meets tribes' criteria. If others decide to appeal the decision Cascade would still pay the money.

Gagliardo did not reveal what current flow regimes are being requested by Cascade and the tribes.

“We are working with the tribes and Ecology,” Gagliardo said. “Some things are still being hashed back and forth.

In a drought situation, Gagliardo said all major water utilities start planning six to eight months in advance. “What Cascade had committed to in regards to Lake Tapps is when we look at all those things (drought conditions) we will look at the potential impact on Lake Tapps.”

Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Greenwater, worked with the cities and PSE to put together the $33 million offer and he is closely monitoring the water right.

“The short term focus is on the water right condition and how it will relate to the lake levels,” Hurst said. “I'm talking to the cities and the community around the lake. We are still finding Cascade's level of engagement leaves something to be desired.”

Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson said he is concerned control of the lake may be moving to Cascade.

“We need to look at our options,” Johnson said. “I think there was a better deal offered by the cities.”

Cascade Water Alliance members include the cities of Bellevue, Issaquah, Kirkland, Redmond and Tukwila, along with the Covington Water District, Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District and the Skyway Water and Sewer District.

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

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