Transportation is easy; think of a water crisis - (Government solution is a "new" regional water-management 'strategy')

Seattle Times Editorial
June 6, 2002

If you think solving Puget Sound transportation issues is a challenge, get ready to deal with a water crunch as, over the next 25 years, 1.4 million people join the 3 million already in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

Getting water from who has it to who needs it and ensuring a balance between the needs of fish and people is an infrastructure problem that might one day rival transportation issues in magnitude and urgency.

That's why water users, providers, environmentalists, developers and the tribes should participate in Gov. Gary Locke's efforts to begin a regional water-management strategy. The Central Puget Sound Regional Water Initiative's goal is to solve water problems, existing and potential, with as little political and legal wrangling as possible.

"We can accomplish a lot of this with our existing collective authority," said Jim Waldo, the governor's water expert who is launching the initiative. "We don't necessarily need a new long-term process." Waldo intends for the plan to build on the myriad ongoing efforts of many water managers and interest groups to find new sources of water to accommodate growth and to keep enough water in streams for fish. The key will be weaving those efforts and sometimes feuding interest groups together for regional solutions. For instance, some localized disputes that seem unsolvable actually might find a solution in a regional plan.

Without a coherent strategy, the natural growth of a vibrant region likely will create more situations like that facing North Bend and the Sammamish Plateau.

North Bend's population grew by 84 percent in the 1990s before it turned off its spigot for new building permits in 1999. Even though the upland city gets 70 inches of rain a year, it had run out of its right to draw more groundwater. A now-10-year-old request for more water still languishes at the state Department of Ecology, which slowly is working through its backlog.

Although the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District hasn't imposed a building moratorium, its "allocation method" for permits has slowed the pace. The district finds water rights issued but not used and recycles them for new uses only about 30 new permits might be issued this summer.

Waldo plans to work with volunteer stakeholders through the summer to develop the strategy with a final recommendation going to the governor in December.

A regional water strategy tailor-made for Puget Sound is a smart approach. A similar process, the Columbia River Regional Water Initiative, is under way in Eastern Washington.

In both cases, the challenge for the governor and his water experts is to secure participation by all of the stakeholders, especially those who have disagreements with each other or the state. But individual interest groups, no matter their gripes, also should feel a responsibility to rise above their differences and ensure the region's water resources are managed carefully and responsibly.

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