April 26, 1999
Cities and water districts in King County that buy water from Seattle Public Utilities will have the next few months to decide whether they want to become members of a new water supply group called the Cascade Water Alliance. It's a big decision, but if they don't join, options for obtaining water in the coming decades are few, since the purveyor wholesale agreement with Seattle expires in 2011, and Seattle has indicated a reluctance to renew.
The Cascade Water Alliance--not to be confused with the Cascade Columbia Alliance, a group opposing the proposed cross-Cascades petroleum pipeline--is in the process of being formed and is recruiting members. Organizers of the Cascade Water Alliance say the group came about during the past few years out of concern by water purveyors over their lack of supply control and rate fluctuations. Seattle currently sells its excess water to 27 purveyors. In the Northshore area, members of the Interim Water Group include Bothell and the Woodinville Water District.
The Alliance will give the purveyors a stronger voice in planning and developing water sources for the growing area, said Gwenn Maxfield, Woodinville Water District commissioner and Interim Executive Director of the Interim Water Group that is forming the Cascade Water Alliance.
"It is definitely strength in numbers--a voice and a vote," said Maxfield. "This will give us the ability to make decisions and flexibility to secure new supplies."
Maxfield said the group will be renting part of the Seattle system and the transmission system, but that they will own any new infrastructure. The group will also give the cities the option of utilizing other sources of water that can be used by themselves or be offered for Cascade use if they join, she said. "That source can be offered to Cascade if the current purveyor joins during the formation period which is through the end of the year," she said.
Membership has been open since last year. If 75 percent of the purveyors sign up, Seattle Public Utilities will sign a contract with them and begin offering water to the group next year. Currently Bellevue, Skyway, Mercer Island and Kirkland have become members.
Maxfield says she is optimistic that the 75 percent of the purveyors will sign up by the end of the year. "We encourage them to sign up, but we realize there are a lot of concerns the agencies have to address." There is a fee of $5,000 for an application and a considerable up-front charge to join. Seattle began to provide water to the local region in 1889, the year of the Great Seattle Fire and the same year Washington became the 42nd state. Seattle offered water without contracts from 1889 until 1982 when it entered into a 30-year Purveyor Wholesale Agreement with the 27 purveyors. In 1991, a group called the Tri-Caucus was formed to look into the area's future water needs. From that, the Interim Water Group was formed in 1996. In 1997, the IWG began forming the Cascade Water Alliance.
The future is uncertain for water purveyors that opt not to join the Alliance, said Diana Gale, Seattle Public Utilities Managing Director. "Their options would be to get water somewhere else," she said. "They could join up with another system, since they couldn't get water unless they joined the system."