The city of White Salmon may now have new water rights courtesy of a lease agreement with the Klickitat Public Utility District -- but those rights are not permanent.

At the Feb. 2 meeting of the White Salmon City Council, city officials discussed the need for White Salmon to continue its search for additional water rights.

"The PUD would like us to eventually replace those leased water rights with permanent water rights," explained Ken Woodrich, attorney for the city of White Salmon.

On Jan. 27, White Salmon and the PUD concluded a deal that will bring the city an additional 780 acre-feet of water rights. The agreement more than doubles the city's current water supply.

PUD Commissioner Randy Knowles noted that the city is not under any deadline to find its own water rights.

"It's permanent to the extent the city needs it," Knowles explained. "But the rights are also granted with the thought that the city will obtain a water right that meets their needs. This is in effect until that takes place. This is a bridge that allows them to take care of the growth in the community."

Last week, Woodrich asked the council to authorize the city's water rights attorney -- Joe Brogan, an attorney with Seattle-based law firm Foster Pepper -- to execute tentative agreements with water rights holders interested in selling their rights to the city. The initial agreements, which would bind the parties for a maximum of 45 days, would then be brought to the City Council for approval, rejection, or alteration.

"If time is of the essence, and if he can locate water rights, let him (Joe Brogan) enter into a 45-day agreement so he can come back to the council with a potential water rights deal," Woodrich said. "This will give us the chance to approve a deal before someone else can get in there and grab the rights."

The authority would be akin to a "letter of intent" with potential water rights sellers.

Woodrich said the city is engaged in targeting possible new water rights, but is maintaining confidentiality until an agreement is finalized.

"Until we have someone to sign a letter of intent, we don't want to reveal the identity of the source," Woodrich pointed out.

He added that even if a particular deal falls through, Brogan needs to know he can formulate temporary agreements when contacting potential water rights holders.

"We want Brogan to have that continuing authority, since water is very valuable to the city," Woodrich said. "From now on, we need to be more pro-active -- not waiting until we run out of water and then we panic."

City Administrator Pat Munyan said some of the water rights the city is pursuing are "substantial" and there is no legal barrier to making those rights available to White Salmon.

"We checked to make sure the rights would be beneficial and transferable, and they are," Munyan said.

After the discussion, in a 5-0 vote, the council granted the water rights attorney the authority to enter into temporary agreements without immediate council approval.

Munyan strongly encouraged the council members to continue to pursue added water rights wherever they can be found.

"Water rights are only going to get more expensive and harder to come by," Munyan warned. "I'd encourage the city to expand its water rights portfolio to help ensure the city has the supply it needs for the next 60, 100 years."

In related water news, Munyan advised the council that the city technically cannot lift the existing moratorium on new water hookups until the Department of Health OKs it.

Munyan noted that the city's ordinances regarding water use and permits will need to be reviewed and revised as the moratorium comes off.

"There are a lot of policy issues that will come up," Munyan said. "There's much to do. We need to rewrite our water ordinances to eliminate the moratorium. A lot of our water ordinances are outdated and need to be updated."

Munyan added that the city's water conservation measures would not be swept away simply because new water rights are in hand.

"The city is always going to encourage conservation," Munyan said. "The more water you use, the more you pay. That's a key element of conservation."

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