A Timeline to a Train Wreck - NB's WATER CRISIS
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A Timeline to a Train Wreck – The Truth Behind North Bend’s Water Crisis
August 2022 Update
1991 – 2009 For 17+ years, North Bend misread the amount of water they were taking from the Snoqualmie River. This error led to their taking substantially more water, often more than twice the amount allowed under their water permit at the time. Discovery of the error led to North Bend agreeing to enter a building moratorium. Many argue this moratorium should not have been lifted. Read the following and see what you think.
2006 During preparation of the requirements for a new well water source for North Bend, Department of Ecology (DOE) disregarded internal staff warnings that North Bend’s mitigation plans (which outlined how to replace water taken from the Snoqualmie River beyond a certain daily amount) could be likened to a “paper shuffle” that would appear to solve the problem, but in fact would allow “more water to be pulled from an already impaired river.”
2007-2009 DOE processed and issued North Bend a Contested Water Right Permit which allowed the City to draw water from the Centennial Well and lift their building moratorium. (Note: There are contingencies in the permit that have not yet been met. )
Because the well is in such close proximity to the Snoqualmie River and essentially draws water from the river, this water permit requires the City to have water to “mitigate” the drawdown of the river during times of low flow. North Bend’s existing sole source of mitigation water was considered unreliable and inadequate, so DOE required that North Bend secure a second source of mitigation water as a requirement of the permit. To this day, North Bend has not secured the required second source.
The one source they presently have is Hobo Springs which is owned by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). Per the North Bend/SPU contract, SPU can use the water for 4 other uses BEFORE North Bend can reliably secure the water for mitigation. Thus, SPU does not guarantee any water to North Bend. In addition, Hobo Springs essentially went dry in 2015. We argue Hobo Springs should n ever have been considered a reliable mitigation source.
When drafting the permit, DOE proposed an option that North Bend and Sallal (a member owned water system) sign a contract and that Sallal would sell water to North Bend for mitigation. The first problem with this strategy is that North Bend’s Centennial well and the Sallal wells are in the same Snoqualmie River Watershed. Water taken from these wells is pulled from the same source – the Snoqualmie River Watershed. This plan would take water from the Snoqualmie River to pay back the Snoqualmie River. This strategy is a shell game called out by DOE staff at the time. They were ignored. (FYI Sallal doesn’t have to ‘mitigate’ their wells because their water permit was approved during a period of time when mitigation requirements were on the books, but not enforced due to technical definitions used at the time. This loophole was later closed by the Courts so any additional water Sallal might secure in the future would have to be mitigated. North Bend’s water right permit came after this court ruling and therefore mitigation was required from the first drop.
For years North Bend made it appear as if Sallal Wells were online by including a column for Sallal water in their official yearly Mitigation Reports to DOE.
AND in the official 2015 Mitigation Report the City claimed that a contract with Sallal had been signed and even gave false details on the amount of water involved. The truth is that there was no agreement signed back in 2015 – nor to this day.
Back in 2009, DOE assumed Sallal had sufficient water to spare and assumed that Sallal’s Member/Owners and Board would agree to sell their water to North Bend. Such has not been the case.
2021 Last year, North Bend’s Water System Plan (WSP) was approved for 5 years instead of the customary 10-year period. This shortened approval period was an attempt to give the City time to attain a second required mitigation source. None of the solutions as outlined in the North Bends WSP have come to fruition, including the following:
• A contract to secure Sallal water for mitigation ( after 14 years)
• The Cascade Golf Course well and pond. We and others opposed this source for several reasons and understand it has been taken off the table.
• A proven Water Conservation Ordinance (WCO) – Until the City stops issuing water certificates, many residents don’t want to lose shrubs and trees and increase the danger of Wildfires from dry shrubs so that North Bend can continue to hand out water certificates to new developments. Citizens are willing to conserve water to help the River – but not to enable the City to transfer water to new developers. Many local residents consider this a “Water Transfer Ordinance” and it has not yet been proven to work over multiple years. (Note: we understand that WCO water can’t be considered mitigation water.)
An overwhelming majority of North Bend Citizens want access to a reasonable supply of water for their homes, trees, plants and for protection against wildfires. They also want our Chinook, Orca and other wildlife to survive and flourish and not fade away into extinction.
The Executive Summary of the City’s current WSP states:
“Under present peak summer demand, if a drier summer were to occur, the flows at Hobo Springs (the only current mitigation source) would be at or just below those required to properly mitigate water demand.”
So essentially, the City is betting we won’t have a dry year until additional mitigation is on line (whenever and whatever that may be), and until then additional growth can occur. We believe they are guilty of gambling with our River and our water supply. Betting that it will rain is not a plan.
We, our River, our Salmon and Orca (which survive on Salmon) will be forced to pay for their serious mistakes and miscalculations.
2022 Due to North Bend’s inability to deliver the mitigation sources outlined in their Water System Plan, the City Council approved roughly $100,000 funding for an attorney (Bill AB22-083) and a lobbyist (Bill AB22-084) to find “creative solutions” or “creative options” to their mitigation problem. Following is language pulled from both bills:
“Given the lack of success in our negotiations with the Sallal Water District to obtain mitigation water supply we are in need of ….
• “creative solutions” (from) legal water experts” (Bill AB22-083)
• “ legislative relief to provide creative options through the state legislature.” (Bill AB22-084)
These bills can be found at: https://northbendwa.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/5888
A question - Will these “creative solutions and options” produce any new real mitigation sources? Or would these solutions only provide “paper water” to the Snoqualmie River? Fish can’t swim in paper water.
This slow-motion train wreck has been heading our way for some time and warnings have been ignored.
Our next post will include our recommendations as to actions we believe citizens should consider taking to defend our River and water supply.
The Friends of The Snoqualmie Valley Trail and River
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