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Buckley facing water issues

History may be repeating itself in the city of Buckley as city officials begin to seriously debate issues surrounding its water source.

Key to the debate that will face city officials in the coming year is whether they are willing to invest $10 to $12 million in a total replacement of the city’s pipeline or sign onto the city of Tacoma’s water, Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson said.

Buckley’s water system is an old one, installed in the 1930s and consisting of a 10-inch pipeline that extends 6.5 miles out of town and into South Prairie Creek. The city has patched and repaired the pipe as needed through the years.

During a storm in January, rain caused a landslide taking out a 30-foot section of pipe and the access road to make repairs on the pipe. Buckley citizens were still able to access water from the city’s three auxiliary wells.

The council approved the use of $500,000 to repair the section in March.

During the past year, Buckley elected officials have had to keep water on their minds as they and representatives from Auburn, Bonney Lake and Sumner sat down with the Cascade Water Alliance to discuss how the Alliance’s Lake Tapps purchase would impact the water supplies of the surrounding communities.

Water rights have become a complex issue in the past century as neighboring growing cities have had to consider how a change in one region affects the others. It is near impossible to obtain new water rights today, Johnson said.

“In the 1800s, all you needed was a sign and a tree and you owned the water right,” she said. “But it’s not like that anymore. If you have a water right you need to protect it, because you probably won’t get a new one.”

Buckley has fought to protect its water rights, but the responsibilities of maintaining its own water system have been apparent. The city’s master meter has been making inaccurate readings since spring, when the Department of Social and Human Services (which, in a joint operation, runs the area’s water treatment plant) reported discrepancies in the records. The repair to the master meter is estimated to be between $10,000 to $20,000.

The city could make the large investment in a new pipeline more affordable by repairing it in sections through several years, Johnson said.

The alternative to making the large investment would be to sign with the Tacoma Water Department as a client, which would give the city consistent access to Tacoma’s water supply for lower installments, but for an indefinite period of time. Neighboring Enumclaw currently receives its water from Tacoma Water.

Johnson has been visiting the Buckley Museum to dig up old issues of the Buckley Banner and scan them for water issues in the past, she said. She has found Buckley has faced this issue four times before in the past – in the 1920s with its prior White River well, the ‘30s, ‘50s and ‘80s – always siding with maintaining its own water rights.

“We’ve fought this battle before, and I think signing on with Tacoma would be the easy way out,” Johnson said.

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