New Eastside water source near - East King County cities sign contract to wean themselves from Seattle water

By Warren Cornwall
Seattle Times Eastside bureau


Seattle, WA - Eastside cities have negotiated a contract that weans them from Seattle-owned water and commits them to finding water elsewhere in the future.

The deal, if approved by the Seattle City Council and the board of the Bellevue-based Cascade Water Alliance, would send alliance members down a road they hope will lead to control of their own water supply.

"The region is going to need more water, and nobody else has stepped up to the plate," said Bellevue Deputy Mayor Grant Degginger, chairman of the alliance board. "There just isn't enough water left in the Seattle system long-term."

While such a move has been the driving force behind the alliance since its creation in 1999, the contract would be the first action committing members to follow through on the plan. The board and a Seattle City Council committee are expected to consider the contract in August.

The route to finding new water, however, isn't guaranteed.

As the amount of water coming to the alliance cities from Seattle shrinks over the next 50 years under the proposed contract, the alliance hopes to keep taps running with water pumped from Lake Tapps in Pierce County. But that plan still faces legal and regulatory hurdles.

The uncertainty contributed to Mercer Island's decision to withdraw from the alliance this year, instead signing its own 60-year water contract with Seattle. Remaining members are Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah, Kirkland, Tukwila and the Sammamish Plateau, Skyway and Covington water districts.

Degginger said just sticking with the current water supplies isn't an option for much of the region, as future growth consumes more water. He predicted the board would back the new contract.

In the short term, residents of the alliance cities won't see much of a difference in water rates if the deal is approved, said Michael Gagliardo, the alliance's general manager.

That would change after 2020, when rates would begin rising to help pay for the proposed new treatment plant and pipeline leading from Lake Tapps to the Eastside, a project that could cost $400 million.

Projections show water rates could peak at 50 percent higher than they might have been if cities had gotten individual contracts with Seattle, Gagliardo said. But he said the gap would shrink over 15 years.

The difference also is exaggerated because it doesn't account for new infrastructure Seattle would need to build to boost supply if alliance members continued to rely on the city, he said.

The deal could benefit Seattle, because it would free up water in the future to meet demand elsewhere, said Guillemette Regan, regional water-policy manager for Seattle Public Utilities.

"It gives our existing customers who stay and our retail customers more certainty," she said.

Under the contract, Seattle would provide an average of 30.3 million gallons per day until 2024. That would meet the alliance's needs until 2010, when it plans to supplement that supply with other sources. Then Seattle's contribution gradually would fall to 5.3 million gallons per day by 2045, with the contract expiring in 2053.

The alliance expects to get other water first with a short-term deal with Tacoma to buy excess water from its Second Supply Project. The alliance then plans to have the Lake Tapps pipeline functioning by 2024.

Before that happens, however, the alliance needs to run a legal gamut. The Muckleshoot Tribe already is suing the alliance, arguing it failed to study the environmental impacts of the project.

Gagliardo also expects legal challenges to the state Department of Ecology decision allowing water to be siphoned from Lake Tapps for drinking water.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or


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