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City sends in water plan draft; moratorium on new hookups seen

City looks at ways to get additional water rights

After several months of effort, the city of White Salmon has completed and sent off its "water master plan" to the Washington Department of Health (DOH).

The updated water plan, which was delivered to DOH on Oct. 19, is required about every five years.

The agency now has up to 90 days to review the report.

"It's a technical document, and its content is mandated by state law," said Mayor Roger Holen. "It's not an exercise in creative writing as much as laying out the facts."

At last week's meeting of the White Salmon City Council, the city's director of the Public Works Department, Wil Keyser, said he was glad the document had been completed.

"I'm happy to be out from under the weight of that thing," Keyser said.

Keyser explained that he expects the DOH to formalize its current moratorium on granting new water hookups.

"When they do respond, they will respond with a moratorium on any connections in the city," Keyser said.

"We're certain they will put a moratorium on new hookups from that date forward," added Mayor Roger Holen. "But the people who have already purchased hookups, those are guaranteed hookups."

According to Keyser, the city has taken $178,560 in water hookup fees for sites not yet connected to the city's water system.

Holen said the city was exploring ways to obtain additional water rights.

"We're trying to solve this problem on many fronts. We're talking with water rights' brokers and exploring where to find water for sale," Holen said.

"Water rights are very expensive. It has been an interesting experience to say the least," Keyser added.

Holen blasted the Department of Ecology for its inability to grant new water rights.

"Municipalities are held hostage by DOE, which has not issued water rights in a decade, and doesn't contemplate issuing more water rights until 2010," Holen said.

Holen added that a representative from the governor's office will be in town on Nov. 1, and Holen will take that opportunity to push for a solution to the water rights issue.

"We will talk to the governor's office, and that will begin the process of creating a legislative solution," Holen said. "We will then meet with our state representatives and our state senator, to make them aware of our plight."

Keyser pointed out that the city has been seeing increasing levels of building activity.

"Our community is popping. It's growing. A lot is happening and there is a lot more about to happen, so it behooves us to have our water plan in order," Keyser said. "It has been a very busy time with short plats, subdivisions, conditional use permits. I hope the growth keeps rolling, but we need to make sure it's managed properly so we don't lose our quality of life."

Keyser said the city has seen a sharp increase in the number of customers it provides water to.

"In 2000, we had 1,109 active meters and 45 inactive," he said. "Today, we have 1,418 active and 89 inactive."

At the Oct. 19 council meeting, council member Richard Marx questioned why the water master plan had been sent out when the council had not yet approved it.

"It makes me nervous when I hear we have to adopt a document when I haven't even looked at it yet," Marx said.

Holen said the document will go before the City Council before a final version is adopted.

"You'll have a chance to evaluate and comment before action is taken. It has to be adopted, but not how Wil and the engineer wrote it," Holen explained. "Once the water master plan is reviewed by the Department of Health, it will come back to the City Council for adoption by the city. It's not a document where creative writing is key to success. It's a technical document."

Marx said he was not convinced.

"I don't feel I'm part of the process," Marx said.

"You're not. You become part of the process when it's submitted to the City Council," Holen said. "There's a point at which one has to rely on experts. That's why I didn't participate in taking out my appendix."

Holen said he met in Yakima last Thursday with representatives of the Department of Ecology about the possibilities for gaining new water rights for the city.

"There is a good possibility we can get a grant from the DOE to obtain those water rights," Holen said. "No guarantees, but we're optimistic."


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