Sumner looks at future water rights

The need for Sumner to find new sources of water was discussed at a study session Nov. 24.

The need for Sumner to find new sources of water was discussed at a study session Nov. 24.

City Administrator John Doan said the city needs to develop new locations of its own or buy water in order to accommodate future needs.

Sumner owns the rights to water in springs and wells, which are already being used in addition to other sources and drilling on another well ended this month, Public Works Director Bill Pugh said.

The city started the work for exploratory wells, Pugh said.

“The probability is we’re going to drill a new well,” he said. Drilling this month ended along the White River off 142.

Wells can be tricky because the amount of water in the well, which they draw from is affected by the amount of water in the rainfall or runoff. A well is dependent on the amount of water in the aquifer that feeds it. The aquifer is an underground storage pocket, which fills with water when rain runoff collects inside. A well is actually a pipe inserted into the aquifer. If the well removes water at the same rate as it is refilled with rainwater, it is a steady supply. If not, the aquifer needs to be placed deeper in the ground so it doesn’t dry up.

An obstacle now is many aquifers are related to streams and rivers in that water drains from one to the other. Lowering aquifer levels can reduce the amount of water in streams and rivers, which makes it difficult for fish to swim. If water is drawn from a stream to supply an aquifer, it’s possible for the city to redirect water from another source to allow smoother passage for fish.

Further complicating Sumner’s water availability is the difference between water rights and water capacity. A city’s water rights refers to the water it owns.

Pugh said water rights is stated on a piece of paper, declaring ownership, but it doesn’t mean the city is able to obtain the water. The problem is what is owned isn’t necessarily water the city has access to, meaning it may be in a location where it can’t be physically removed due to geographical barriers.

At the meeting, council was presented a map of its water service area showing where different water sources are located.

The presentation included a map showing water locations and a graph demonstrating the estimated water demand over the next 20 years. The chart also included the existing demand for water rights and the level of water that can actually be drawn out.

The chart shows a projected demand for water exceeding both the amount of water the city has rights to and the water it has the capacity to withdraw.

If enough water isn’t discovered or newly removed from the ground, another option is to purchase water from a provider.

Doan said Tacoma Water is a major water purveyor and Bonney Lake is not ruled out as a potential provider.

Cascade Water Alliance is considering drawing water from Lake Tapps and is in the process of the environmental analysis.

“If we get it from somebody else, it has to be from somewhere with a surplus,” Pugh said.

Buying water is a costly undertaking, sometimes requiring millions of dollars up front, he said.

Doan stated much is taken into consideration when deciding on a water source, such as price, reliability, and whether the water will contain fluoride.

Tacoma Water is a possible supplier of water but the Sumner City Council expressed a preference in the past for non-fluoridated water, but Tacoma’s water contains fluoride.

The process is ongoing and will be discussed at future meetings.

Chaz Holmes can be reached at cholmes@courierherald.com or 360-802-8208.

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