Northwest NEWS

January 25, 1999

Local News

Salmon recovery plan released

by Andrew Walgamott, staff reporter

   OLYMPIA--Governor Gary Locke released the first draft of his salmon recovery strategy, a plan that would make conserving and re-using water a top priority throughout the state.

   Locke calls for improving irrigation, timber, and ranching practices, launching projects to use treated water where drinking water quality isn't needed, and buying private water rights.

   "We know the key to saving salmon and protecting our long-term economic vitality is to solve the water gridlock in this state," said Locke. "Salmon cannot survive in streams that are too polluted, too warm, or too shallow--and our communities cannot survive unless we find new sources of water to meet their long-term needs."

   Entitled "Water for People and Fish," the state hopes federal regulators will accept it rather than impose their own plan to bring back salmonids across three-quarters of the state. The plan is a result of the National Marine Fisheries Services' proposal to list the Puget Sound Chinook salmon, and a number of other salmon, steelhead, and trout stocks, as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

   But some intimate that Locke's plan may be mistitled.

   "I think the underlying effect of the bill," says Woodinville Water District manager Bob Bandarra, "is to modify Western water law--first in time, first in right--and looks to provide water for streams and stream flows and diminishes water use."

   Bandarra said if it's passed by the Legislature, it could affect the district's bid to bring in new water from Everett. He predicted his customers could be hit in the pocketbook if water rates rise, new infrastructure is needed for re-use, and water conservation laws are violated.

   While Bandarra said Locke's plan made sweeping changes, "It's not so bad directly for Woodinville, because we don't have water rights. We purchase from Seattle."

   "But if Seattle's water rights come under scrutiny, and they can't meet their needs, their customers may only get certain quantities," added Bandarra.

   The result of that scenario could be in effect a self-imposed drought with conditions similar to 1992's natural drought that brought water use restrictions. "(1992) was not fun," the water boss said. "People were trucking in water; some were running their sprinklers at night in hopes of not being detected."

   If water does get allocated more tightly, Bandarra wonders where he'll come up with the eight million gallons of water a day his customers use during the summer months that they don't in the winter.

   One possibility is re-use, which the plan brings to the forefront. Treated water could be used for watering lawns in summer and for adding to streams in fall and winter. But treatment facilities, and the pipes that would be required to pipe it to customers, cost money.

   For those who don't want to play by the state's rules, Locke calls for increased penalties for illegal water use and for enforcement personnel.

   But after reading through the bill a couple times, and conferring with colleagues, Bandarra had questions about specifics, such as how personal water allotments would be determined and who would actually hand out fines for illegal use.

   Committees in the Senate and House are scheduled to hold hearings on the legislation this week. The final proposal will be handed to the feds this summer for approval.

   "Until the bill is passed and put into water rates, people won't understand its implications," Bandarra predicted.