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State officials visit White Salmon; solution to water woes in sight

Meeting provides sense of optimism

A high-powered roster of public officials from around the state appears to have finally broken through the logjam that had been hampering the city's bid to find a more reliable source of water.

A Monday afternoon "summit meeting" in White Salmon brought government officials from the Washington Department of Ecology and the Washington Department of Health. They were there -- from as far away as Olympia, Spokane, and Yakima -- to meet with local leaders to discuss the city's ongoing water troubles.

Following a decline in output from its wells, White Salmon does not currently have enough water to keep up with demand. As a result, the city has set up some strong water conservation measures while a solution is in the works. The city also has an ongoing moratorium on new water hookups in place.

Political leaders in White Salmon have been complaining for months about the slowness of the bureaucracy to act on the city's request for permission to build a filtering plant for Buck Creek. Engineers believe the plant would offer a better source of water for the city.

White Salmon Mayor David Poucher said that while earlier negotiations with state officials had left him frustrated, this time he left the meeting with a real sense of optimism that a solution was forthcoming.

"It went very very well," Poucher said. "The Washington Department of Health officials came up with a timeline that I think is reasonable."

The timeline is expected to allow the city to begin work on a "slow-sand filtering plant" by next spring.

According to Poucher, the state said that if the city's testing process went without any snags, a new filtering plant on Buck Creek could be under construction in May.

Given that timetable, Poucher said the city could have Buck Creek water on line by early 2010.

Poucher said the city would immediately begin planning and design work on the filtering plant.

Poucher said there seemed to be a "meeting of the minds" in the Monday session.

"The Department of Health now understands that we are not in a standard situation," Poucher explained. "We're in a situation where they have to help us, and they say that's what they want to do. They've agreed to move White Salmon up on all the priority lists statewide. I think that's excellent."

Miland Walling, a board member of the Klickitat County Economic Development Board, said Schuyler Hoss, a direct representative from Gov. Christine Gregoire's office, played a big role in the apparent breakthrough.

"Schuyler talked with some of the policy people in the governor's office, and got the governor's office very involved in this," Walling said.

Walling also praised Klickitat County's three legislators: State Sen. Jim Honeyford, State Rep. Dan Newhouse, and State Rep. Bruce Chandler. All three of them came to White Salmon for the Monday meeting, and urged the state agencies to cut through red tape to help White Salmon.

"It helps to have our elected representatives there," Poucher explained.

Poucher said he also appreciated Klickitat County Commissioner Rex Johnston's efforts in helping to organize the meeting.

"Rex got the politicos here, and that was really helpful," Poucher said. "The county is extremely supportive of where we're going, and the state legislators were just excellent."

Other key representatives at the session, held at the White Salmon Fire Hall, included Denise Clifford, director of the Department of Health's office of drinking water; Dorothy Tibbits, regional manager for the DOH; and Evan Sheffels, special assistant for water policy for the Department of Ecology. Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel also attended, as well as two representatives from the county's Economic Development Department and several engineers.

Johnston said he believed the session, which lasted more than two hours, made a real difference.

"It looks like this will bring things together really well," Johnston said. "It was a very productive meeting. We had our legislators there, and Schuyler Hoss from the governor's office, and the representatives from the DOE and DOH all showed up. I think they are really trying hard to help us out. They were all very helpful. They are allowing us a lot of leeway we wouldn't have normally."

Johnston explained that relationships between the city and DOH officials had been strained, and he believed the meeting helped resolve that.

"There is now an incentive, on both sides, to get past whatever personal issues there might have been and get this show on the road," Johnston said. "We really need to move forward."

Poucher added that agency representatives from the Department of Health and Department of Ecology planned to meet with city officials on a monthly basis.

"They'll come to White Salmon if we agree to go to Olympia or Yakima. We're more than willing to meet there if it will solve things," Poucher said.

Despite the positive outlook from the meeting, Mayor Poucher said one thing hadn't changed: The city's water customers would need to continue to conserve for now.

"It's business as usual, unfortunately," Poucher said.


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