The White Salmon City Council has voted to continue the moratorium against providing new hookups to the city's water system.
With a 4-1 vote on Feb. 17, the council members extended the moratorium on new water connections for six months. However, council members made clear that the moratorium can be lifted at any time with a majority vote of the council.
Ken Woodrich, attorney for the city of White Salmon, pointed out that the city's water moratorium -- which was formally approved on May 20, 2009 -- needed to be renewed.
"Our hope is, we may not need to keep it going for the full six months," Woodrich said. "We're working diligently on securing new water rights, and our source problems are close to getting remedied."
City leaders are optimistic the ongoing water shortages will soon end, because the new water filtration plant on Buck Creek is ready to go -- pending final approval from the Washington Department of Ecology.
Public Works Director Mike Wellman said the filtration plant is finished.
"It's now producing a full 1,000 gallons a minute, but it still needs the state's approval," Wellman explained. "It will provide plenty of water, barring really unusual weather conditions."
Wellman said he believed the city could have the water it needs to lift the water hookup moratorium "sometime this spring."
Woodrich noted that a moratorium can legally be extended "provided a city has a plan in effect to address the deficiency and is actively pursuing the plan."
According to city officials, that plan is moving forward, and in the resolution approved by the City Council, one of the "findings of fact" dealt specifically with the plan:
"The city ... has built a water filtration plant to access and purify surface water from Buck Creek. This filtration plant is complete and is currently awaiting state approval," read an excerpt from the resolution. "The city is currently in negotiations with Klickitat County Public Utility District to secure water rights, and at the same time it is investigating its current water rights with the state Department of Ecology."
Woodrich said once the necessary conditions are in place, the city can lift the moratorium at any time.
Council member Anthony Coulter asked when the moratorium might be lifted if events progress as anticipated.
"If we get this agreement with the PUD, I think it can happen relatively quickly -- within about two months," Woodrich responded.
Woodrich added that he was not pleased about having to request the extension.
"It's hard to come with hat in hand and ask for an extension of the moratorium," he said. "Boy, it will be a happy day when we lift the moratorium."
Before the vote, a local citizen, Lori Clark, asked the council to limit the time period of any moratorium.
"Can you do a month-to-month moratorium instead?" asked Clark. "You have had people waiting two and a half years for water. We don't have any more time. Have the moratorium be for 30 days, and extend that if needed."
Council member Mark Peppel said there was no reason to believe the moratorium would last another six months.
"We have the right to stop the moratorium at any time," Peppel said. "Nobody should look at this as if it's going to last for six months. I don't believe it will."
Council member Bob Landgren agreed.
"The moratorium doesn't benefit the city. We want it to go away as soon as possible," Landgren said.
"There is nothing positive about it," added councilor Richard Marx.
In urging the council to end the moratorium as soon as possible, former Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck reminded the council that Klickitat County and the state have donated huge sums of money to address White Salmon's water shortages in recent years.
"White Salmon, Bingen, and the Port of Klickitat are all equal partners in accepting the money from the county that went to what you have today," Struck explained. "There are a lot more constituents than just city residents. This was a regional partnership, not just city money."
Struck pointed out that companies such as Insitu will need more housing for their employees as they expand -- but there can't be any more housing built until the water moratorium is lifted.
Struck added that he wanted companies around the region to understand that the city water supply constraints were likely to end soon.
"It's vitally important that the community and Insitu understand, we're this close to getting there," Struck said.
Mayor David Poucher said he hoped that by the council's next meeting -- on March 3 -- the city would have approval from the state to finally lift the moratorium.
Woodrich added that once the moratorium is lifted, how the city prioritizes issuance of new water connections remains to be decided.
"It's a legal and a fairness question," Woodrich explained. "Regardless of legalities, we have to consider fairness."
Councilors Bob Landgren, Mark Peppel, Leana Johnson, and Anthony Coulter supported the six-month extension of the water moratorium. Councilor Richard Marx voted against it.