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Water rises to top in Bonney Lake
By Dennis Box
Taking a drink of Bonney Lake's water has become a political hot potato for the city and for those hoping to hook into the municipal water system.
The issue of delivering the city's water, who gets it, who pays for it and how much, came to head at the Oct. 26 City Council meeting when 10 water extension agreements were placed before the council members.
The first resolution, authorizing an extension agreement for the Forest Canyon Highlands development north of Lakeland, was voted down 4-3.
Voting yes were councilmen Mark Hamilton, Dave King and Jim Rackley.
Voting no were Cheryle Noble, Neil Johnson, Phil DeLeo and Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman.
Once the first resolution was rejected, and it became clear the others would fail as well, City Attorney Jim Dionne recommended all the agreements be tabled and the discussion moved to a workshop.
Providing water to the areas outside the city limits, but still in the Bonney Lake water service area, has become part of a much larger discussion at City Hall.
"The city is running out of water," Hamilton said. "For about three months out of the year we are in danger of not being able to provide service. June, July and August are critical months and this has been going on for a long time."
Prior to this year, the Public Works Department would sign water extension agreements without taking them before the council.
This year the council requested water agreements be brought before the Community Development Committee and the council.
It became clear in 2001 and 2002 Bonney Lake was reaching its water service capacity as people continued to move into the area at the rate of about 1,000 a year.
In 2002 former Public Works Director Seth Boettcher warned the city it was running out of water and suggested the city hook up to Tacoma Water.
The council decided against Tacoma Water except for emergency use, particularly due to fluoridation and cost. As an alternate plan, the council decided to install a filtration system for the city's Ball Park well and construct a ground-level storage unit.
However, with the rapid growth in the area, Hamilton stated, these measures are likely to be too little too late.
The other side of the coin is the fact that all 10 water extension agreements are inside Bonney Lake's water service area and many are inside the city's urban growth area.
"That is what makes this such a difficult vote," Hamilton said. "Once a council votes to bring an area into its growth area, I believe we are obligated to provide sewer and water. This problem has to be solved and there doesn't seem to be a great deal of choices out there."
The Pinnacle Estates developer, Wade Thuline, addressed the council during the public comment portion of the evening, putting a face to the dilemma.
According to Thuline, without the water agreement, which was signed by Seth Boettcher, he is out $9 million for the 102 homes he is set to build and sell.
"I can't sell a single home without water," Thuline said. "The final plats have been approved, but I can't actually sell until the city gives us water."
The larger question of whether the city should be in the water service business and to what extent, is a debate that has been simmering on the council for months.
"It's time we started asking the question, does the city of Bonney Lake want to be the water purveyor for the Plateau?" Johnson said. "I'm bothered about higher rates, and I think it is time we talk about splitting our water district. One district to serve residents who voted for the City Council members and another district for outside the city. Do we want to try and sell the water district outside the city to Tacoma Water or Tapps Island, or do we completely get out of water service and just tax it?"
Mayor Bob Young is vehemently opposed to releasing any of Bonney Lake's water district.
"If we back out on our water service area," Young said. "Revenues will stop, the budget will be off the books and I will have to figure out who to lay off. City Hall will be put on hold. I will do everything I can to stop this. I think it's nuts. This is revenue for the city."
Young noted he felt the city was very close to signing a wholesale water deal with Tacoma Water to provide water to the east side of Lake Tapps, including Tapps Island, Snag Island and Inlet Island.
East side residents have had increasing problems with their wells, particularly on Tapps Island, when the lake is drawn down.
"I hope to have that agreement in hand very soon," Young said. "That will immediately solve the water problems of the east side, then we can work on other water sources."
Dennis Box can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.