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Lake Tapps picture still out of focus

Chris Hurst -
Chris Hurst
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By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

Rumors and worries are swirling around Lake Tapps as questions concerning the water rights and sale of the reservoir continue to surface.

Converting the lake into a drinking water reservoir has been considered to be the only road to salvation for at least the past four years. However the trip to the promised land has become murkier and murkier.

State Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Greenwater, who took office in 2006 after leaving the state House in 2002 for family reasons, said he was, “aware a lot of people know that something is in play relating to Lake Tapps. I believe it is time this process gets a wake-up call and I believe that is about to happen.”

The state Department of Ecology first issued the drinking water rights to Puget Sound Energy, the owner of Lake Tapps, in 2003. The decision was appealed and the Pollution Control Hearings Board sent the decision back to Ecology in 2004 for reconsideration.

The utility had been using the lake as a hydroelectric reservoir since about 1910, but that changed in the mid 1990s when obtaining a license to generate electricity became too expensive.

The plan was to convert the lake to a drinking water reservoir and sell the water rights and lake to Cascade Water Alliance, an eastside water wholesaler, for nearly $40 million.

“I'm shocked to come back after four years to see this deal with Cascade has not been concluded,” Hurst said. “Currently the status quo is unacceptable. Time has turned out to be an enemy in this process. My ultimate goal is to see a resolution, which does not include litigation on the part of any involved party.”

Tom Loranger of Ecology has reported the drinking water rights will be reissued to PSE very likely before the end of the year, but the ability of Cascade to complete the transaction with PSE has been called into question by many concerned parties.

Officials from the cities of Bonney Lake, Auburn and Sumner have been weighing their options, which could include setting up their own water district.

About two years ago Bonney Lake officials contacted Cascade Water Alliance with a deal to use the lake as a water source for 20 years until the eastside purveyor was prepared to tap into the water supply.

“We were trying to use water that they were not going to use for 20 years,” City Councilman Mark Hamilton said. “We thought they might want to get some revenue, since they would be getting nothing for 20 years. It just could not be worked out with them.”

Bonney Lake officials offered to buy 3 million gallons per day (MGD) and build a $3 million filtration plant and use the tank at Tacoma Point to store the water.

“This was before we ever bought water from Tacoma Water. We thought Cascade would want to have some money coming in,” Hamilton said. “Once Cascade came out and built a bigger filtration plant we would decide if we wanted to join their alliance. We thought it was a good plan, but they never caught on to it.”

The issue facing the cities in the very near future is a looming shortage of water with the projected growth in the area.

RH2, a Tacoma engineering firm hired by Bonney Lake as a water consultant, has predicted the city will need about 2 MGD in less than 10 years, and by 2050 the city will need more than 6 MGD.

Auburn is also in dire need of water and the city was one of the parties that appealed the first water rights decision issued to PSE.

“We need water and so does Sumner and Auburn,” Hamilton said. “We are all looking for an alternative.”

Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman noted how important the lake is “as a recreational entity. That's a very big issue to the city. Water rights aside, the lake itself is a big asset to Bonney Lake.”

The community around the lake has consistently voiced their concern about the proposed in stream flows or the amount of water in the White River before water can diverted to the lake.

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe have stated in documentation to Ecology they want 800 cubic feet per second in the river in July and 500 to 650 cfs in August.

The community members believe the lake drops well below recreation levels far too often under those flow regimes.

“There is no scientific justification,” Lake Tapps Community Councilman Leon Stucki said. “We've asked Cascade and the tribes and PSE for scientific evidence, but there is none.”

Stucki said one of the problems from the community's standpoint is the lack of a plan to reckon with a year of water shortages.

“We would like a plan written into the new water rights for dealing with unexpected events or emergency planning,” Stucki said.

Problems surrounding the deal between Cascade and PSE have been surfacing for months.

Cascade was hoping the state Legislature would grant them the power of eminent domain during the last session, which would allow them to take property through condemnation at fair market value to build a pipeline from the lake to Bellevue. Eminent domain is granted to private entitles when they are performing work for public benefit.

There has been considerable political resistance to giving Cascade the power of eminent domain, which could make their project difficult to complete.

For breaking news concerning Lake Tapps and the water rights issue go to the newspaper's Web site at www.courierherald.com.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com or 360-802-8209.

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