Tapps' water rights draws criticism and concern

By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

A drinking water right for Lake Tapps is moving closer to being reissued by the Department of Ecology, but complications are on the horizon.

Tom Loranger of Ecology said he expects the department to reissue the municipal water rights to Puget Sound Energy by the “end of this winter.”

PSE has owned the lake for nearly 100 years, using it as a reservoir to store water for the White River Hydroelectric Plant the utility operated until January 2004.

Ecology issued municipal water rights in 2003 allowing PSE to convert its utility water right to a consumptive right, which was seen as a way to save the lake.

PSE intends to sell the lake and water right to Cascade Water Alliance, an association of eight cities providing water to customers east of Lake Washington.

The 2003 water rights' decision was appealed by numerous parties, including the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the city of Auburn. The Pollution Control Hearings Board sent the decision back to Ecology in 2004 to be rewritten in light of the hydroelectric plant closure.

After two years of negotiations and study, Ecology issued the draft water rights in September of 2006 and asked for comments from interested parties.

The list of written statements is posted on the Ecology Web site at

The most heated arguments against the rights come from the Muckleshoots and the city of Auburn.

Auburn officials have been very clear about their displeasure with Ecology allowing the Lake Tapps water right for Cascade, but not allowing them to tap into an aquifer below their city limits.

“...Ecology essentially has abdicated its regulatory role in ensuring responsible development of regional water supply sources and allowed Cascade Water Alliance (“Cascade”) to dictate unilaterally...,” Mayor Peter Lewis wrote in his comment letter to Ecology.

“Most remarkable about Ecology's new draft ROE (report of examination or water right) is that it fails to acknowledge at all Auburn's existing water rights, does not recognize Auburn's emergent need for additional water rights...,” Lewis wrote.

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians comments are lengthy and detailed and spent considerable time discussing the necessary flows levels that should be maintained in the White River.

The Muckleshoots' document, written by Richard Reich, tribal attorney, is not quite as long, but its points are clearly stated in the conclusion:

“The draft ROE is based on outdated SEPA (state environmental policy act or environmental impact) documents that failed to fulfill either the lead agency's of the Department's SEPA obligations when they were issued, and uses a flawed baseline for analysis of project impacts which results in the attribution of illusory benefits to the water supply project.”

Loranger said Ecology is looking at all comments and “we're going back and reconsidering everything, but we are not going to sit on this. We are trying to get something we can stand behind.”

County Councilman Shawn Bunney, co-chairman of the Lake Tapps Task Force, said he expected controversy, “but I'm confident this can be worked out.”

Dennis Box can be reached at

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