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Lake Tapps protection agreement nearly final

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By Dennis Box, The Courier-Herald

An interim protection agreement allowing Puget Sound Energy to divert water from the White River to Lake Tapps - using its diversion dam - is close to its final stages. The agreement must be in place by Jan. 15 when PSE closes its hydroelectric facility, which has been producing electricity since 1912.

PSE stated in a Nov. 21 press release that it is no longer economically viable to operate the facility under the conditions set down by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The PSE diversion dam is intricately tied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' fish trap. The fish trap and diversion dam are currently the key elements in the survival of the lake.

Spawning salmon are gathered in the fish trap, and taken by truck to Mud Mountain Dam for spawning. The Corps of Engineers is concerned about providing the proper amount of water to the fish trap.

Fish biologist Steve Fransen of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries stated, "The fish trap is critical. It's the only way for the fish to get upstream around the dam. For the fish trap to function best, the diversion dam needs to be in good condition."

Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney has been involved in the negotiations to save the lake and currently is co-chairman of the Lake Tapps Task Force. The Task Force has been together since 1999, bringing together elected officials, homeowners, PSE and the Cascade Water Alliance.

"PSE told me a new version of the interim agreement should be finalized Monday," Bunney said. "It doesn't set out a framework for the operation yet, but all the people are at the table thanks to the congressional offices of Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Jennifer Dunn. They've both done yeoman service to help. We're not done yet, but we're working on the details. Failure is not an option."

PSE obtained a consumptive water right from the Department of Ecology for Lake Tapps and intends to sell it to Cascade Water Alliance. Cascade will convert the lake into a municipal water supply serving Pierce and King counties.

Cascade Water Alliance is a non-profit corporation. The members are the cities of Bellevue, Issaquah, Kirkland, Redmond and Tukwila, the Skyway Water and Sewer District, the Covington Water District and Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District.

Last week, Cascade signed a long-term wholesale water agreement with Seattle. The alliance will buy water from Seattle and resell it to its members. Issaquah, Covington and Sammamish have not previously bought water from Seattle, all others member have.

Michael Gagliardo, general manager of Cascade Water Alliance, reported they will try to make a similar arrangement with Tacoma. The water agreement with Seattle and Tacoma is designed to decline over the years, once Lake Tapps becomes a source.

"The Lake Tapps water right is for 65 million gallons per day," Gagliardo said. "Our members currently use 30 millions gallons per day. The first phase of the Lake Tapps project would begin in 2020, the second in 2030 and by 2040 Lake Tapps would be our only source."

The unsettled piece in the puzzle is the sale of PSE's consumptive water right to Cascade. The water right is under appeal to the Pollution Control Hearing Board. Contesting the issuance of the right are the Puyallup and Muckleshoot Indian tribes, the cities of Auburn, Buckley, Pacific, Algona and a private citizen.

"There is still a lot of uncertainty," Bunney said. "Hopefully Cascade Water Alliance and the appellants will find a way to settle these appeals."

The Task Force will begin trying to help negotiate a settlement between Cascade and the appellants after an interim agreement is settled and a lake management agreement is signed.

A lake management agreement between homeowners and PSE will set the level of the lake during water rights operation and describe the commitment of the community to the management of the lake.

Gagliardo stated that the Puyallup and Muckleshoot tribes, PSE and Cascade are currently in confidential settlement discussion. "The Pollution Control Hearing Board encouraged us to enter into settlement discussions," Gagliardo said.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com

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