By JESSE BURKHARDT
There has been a significant breakthrough in the city of White Salmon's ongoing efforts to secure a source of water that will again allow home builders to obtain water hookups.
In an Aug. 19 letter to White Salmon Mayor David Poucher, the Klickitat Public Utility District indicated that the PUD has agreed to tap its existing water rights to supply water to White Salmon.
"I am pleased to inform you that the PUD agrees to provide water to the city of White Salmon under a water supply agreement," wrote PUD General Manager Winston Gregory Low. "The general terms of the water supply agreement will be for the supply of up to 500 acre-feet of water per year."
The water would come from the PUD's surface water right from the Columbia Gorge Aluminum Co. plant at Cliffs, which is not currently in operation. This water right is authorized for municipal use.
"We're asking to lease 500 acre-feet," explained White Salmon Mayor David Poucher on Friday. "We've agreed in principal with the PUD. It's very, very big news."
"The PUD has authorized the transfer," said Klickitat County Commissioner David Sauter.
Although no final decisions have been agreed to, a five-year deal is anticipated. Once a deal is finalized, this amount of water is expected to finally allow the moratorium on new water hookups to be lifted.
Poucher estimated that the 500 acre-feet of water would be roughly equivalent to supplying water to 900 additional residences.
One acre-foot of water works out to be nearly 326,000 gallons of water.
"That's a huge quantity of water," added Sauter. "It's more than adequate for White Salmon's future growth."
White Salmon Public Works Director Mike Wellman said the city used 688 acre-feet last year.
Wellman said he figured 500 acre-feet would take care of White Salmon's likely water needs for many years.
"It's a 20-year horizon," he said. "At any stretch, I can't imagine us using the entire 500 acre-feet."
Low explained that the PUD and city still needed to determine that "method of delivery of the water, the compensation, and the period of time."
"The agreement will include a term that recognizes the PUD's obligation to Columbia Gorge Aluminum Co. if the plant reopens by Dec. 30, 2010, and needs water. Based on the timing and the quantity of water that White Salmon requires, we do not expect any limitations or conflicts based on the commitments to Columbia Gorge Aluminum Co.," Low wrote.
Sauter pointed out that the Washington Department of Ecology still has to process and ratify the water rights transfer -- a process that could take anywhere from three months to a year.
"We're going to do what we can to speed that process," Sauter said.
"If we can get the transfer pushed through as soon as possible, then with Buck Creek coming on line, hopefully this chapter will be closed," Sauter said.
"We plan to meet on Thursday with the Department of Ecology, Department of Health, and the PUD," Poucher said. "What we want to happen is for them to tell us what we have to put in the contract to get the water moratorium lifted. PUD has said unless it's a deal breaker we don't know about, we'll write it the way they want it."
Poucher said discussions with the PUD began in earnest in late July, and moved swiftly from there.
"The state and county helped with that. We finally coordinated with the county, state, and PUD. All of a sudden we were unified and everybody was working together. I think that's why we've been able to move so far," Poucher explained.
Poucher cautioned that there were still potential hurdles to overcome, and he stressed that no contract had yet been agreed to.
"I don't want to be overly optimistic. We don't have anything signed. I thank the people in White Salmon; they've been patient," Poucher said. "I don't want to raise false hopes until everything is in writing. But I'm very cautiously optimistic."