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Eastside Cities, Indian Tribes Reach Deal on Lake Tapps Water

July 10, 2008

By Warren Cornwall, Seattle Times

Jul. 10–Indian tribes, trying to protect imperiled White River salmon, and Eastside cities, thirsty for water, have reached a deal that removes a major roadblock to the cities’ quest to pipe water from Lake Tapps.

The agreement, announced Wednesday, would ensure more water stays in the White River than in earlier decades. In the past, parts of the river nearly ran dry, as most of the water was diverted to Lake Tapps and a hydropower dam.

“It means enough water for the fish, or at least a whole lot more water than they’ve been getting for 100 years,” said John Bell, an attorney for the Puyallup Tribe.

The Puyallup and Muckleshoot tribes are taking part in the new agreement.

The deal also helps a group of local governments, the Cascade Water Alliance, that want to pipe White River water from Lake Tapps to growing Eastside cities.

“Basically the key to any successful water project is getting agreement from the tribes,” said Lloyd Warren, chairman of the alliance’s governing board.

The alliance needs a water right from the state Department of Ecology before it can use White River water. The alliance includes the cities of Bellevue, Kirkland, Issaquah, Redmond and Tukwila, and water districts in Covington, Skyway and the Sammamish Plateau.

The two tribes, along with several cities near the river, successfully challenged an earlier water right for the project. But the tribes have now committed to endorse the alliance’s water right request, if it matches the terms of the new deal.

The White River, which originates in glaciers on Mount Rainier’s northern flank, has been dammed and rerouted for about a century.

In the early 1900s, a dam near the town of Buckley diverted water to create Lake Tapps and spin the turbines of a Puget Sound Energy dam. As a result, water levels in a 21-mile stretch of the river dropped to virtually a trickle. Salmon runs were devastated. Just six chinook reached the Buckley dam in 1986.

Puget Sound Energy stopped running the hydropower dam in 2004, after concluding that fish-protection measures demanded by federal agencies were too costly.

Salmon runs have improved since then, as more water is left in the river, said Russ Ladley, resource protection manager for the Puyallup Tribe. In 2006, 4,600 chinook returned, the most since 1942.

With the new agreement, Cascade would have to leave nearly four times the amount of water in the river that Puget Sound Energy had to.

But residents around Lake Tapps, a popular boating reservoir surrounded by expensive homes, are still waiting for assurances the lake will remain high enough for them to use.

And some local cities aren’t pleased at the prospect of distant cities siphoning off Lake Tapps water.

Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis likens it to his city and others coming to Lake Sammamish, and piping away water to feed their growth. “What would your people say?” he said.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311

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