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Draft leaves lake levels in question

The hard-nut details of the draft proposal for Lake Tapps drinking water rights has drawn questions from area residents and political leaders, but a clear willingness by the parties to work on the plan.

The Department of Ecology released the draft Sept. 25 after two years of discussion and study. A 45-day public review follows before a final document will be issued.

An earlier draft for consumptive water rights was released to Puget Sound Energy, the owner of the lake, in 2003. It was sent back to Ecology in 2004 by the Pollution Control Hearings Board to be rewritten after PSE closed the White River hydropower plant.

The company had used Lake Tapps as a reservoir for the hydropower plant for nearly 100 years. PSE's plan was to secure drinking water rights, which will preserve the existence of the lake, and sell the rights to Cascade Water Alliance, an Eastside water provider, for about $37 million.

The main concern for the residents living on or near the lake is water flows, or how much water must go down the river and how much can be diverted into the lake.

Tom Loranger from Ecology said meetings were held with the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and community members while putting together the current water rights proposal.

“We think we've done a pretty good job of setting healthy flows for the fish and maintaining water quality (in the lake),” Loranger said. “The flows will increase and this is based on recommendations from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).”

Loranger said Ecology had to balance the flows going down the White River, which protects the Chinook salmon, an endangered species, with maintaining lake levels for recreational use in the summer.

“To a certain extent it is a trade off,” Loranger said. “But compared to the 2003 draft there are fewer recreation days impaired.”

According to Loranger, Ecology estimated 3.5 percent of the days between Memorial Day and Labor Day would have water levels too low for boating and water skiing in the current draft water rights. The 2003 draft estimated a 7 percent loss of days.

Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney, co-chairman of the Lake Tapps Task Force, said he thought the draft was close, but needed work.

“I'm cautiously optimistic our partners will belly up to the table to protect our interest as we help to protect theirs,” Bunney said “There are a few idiosyncrasies that need to be worked on, but we've worked hard to get this far. It needs a tuning up to make it run better, but not trading in the car.”

Bunney said there needs to be “some language (in the water rights) to protect the community. The language as it is now leaves a lot of questions. I think the goal is to create an environment to have a full pool every year.”

Leon Stucki, a Lake Tapps resident and task force member, said he thought Ecology did a “ reasonably good job” working with the flows down the river.

“The state is hamstrung by NOAA,” Stucki said. “There's no plan for drought years.”

Stucki said the Ecology's data is based on lake levels in June, July and August.

“June and July are never a problem.” Stucki said. “August is a different story. There is no tolerance built into the system.”

Stucki said the community members are willing work with Ecology to come up with a “more reasonable document. This is still a work in progress.”

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

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