Northwest NEWS

April 24, 2000

Front Page

Willows Run to lose their water?

by Marshall Haley, staff reporter

   REDMOND--Willows Run Golf Course is claiming initiation of a plan for a satellite wastewater treatment plant in the Sammamish Valley, according to a local newspaper report.

   The catch: King County has already proposed building a Sammamish Valley satellite plant by 2003-4, to relieve loss of some property owners' rights to Sammamish Valley water caused by the ESA listing of Chinook salmon. County Executive Ron Sims, County Councilmember Louise Miller, and members of their staffs made the proposal public on March 22 at Molbak's greenhouse. The County is currently surveying valley interest in the plant, said Miller.

   Willows Run co-owner Brian Patton and his attorney attended that meeting. Willows Run is one property that faces loss of its water rights this year, because the rights lapsed back in the 1950s or '60s, according to Miller. Finding an alternative water source to keep their course green for three years could prove very costly.

   By state law, any property that has not exercised its water rights for any continuous five-year period is subject to relinquishment of those rights, even if owners have assumed use of the lapsed rights for 20 straight years since the lapse, said Dan Swenson of the state Dept. of Ecology (DOE). The DOE is currently surveying water use records on all Sammamish Valley properties.

   "The Willows Run owners don't believe the statute applies to them, because their water rights were issued before the ruling on relinquishment," said Swenson. "That question has never been litigated before. We are negotiating with them. Willows Run has been very supportive of the treatment plant idea.

   "Water rights are also specific about what types of use a property has. If the original rights were for house use only, the water can't be used for irrigation or farming. Owners do have options. Buying from a local water district would be the quickest route, and owners wouldn't need DOE's approval."

   JB Instant Lawn, Inc., the "turf farm" on the west side of the river between NE 124th and NE 148th, is one large property that has maintained its rights to river water, said Miller. But with enough customers for treated water, even owners with water rights could be motivated to use treated water for irrigation--rather than pure drinking water--for the sake of preserving the aquifer. Otherwise, they might find themselves the target of federal scrutiny under the ESA, she said.

   State Indian tribes and environmental groups have threatened the DOE with lawsuits unless they prove enough water is provided to sustain fish habitat, said Swenson. The Chinook ESA listing has produced intense scrutiny of any private or public land use impacting ground water that feeds fish-bearing streams. After the DOE declared its intention to check property records and relinquish water rights, King County knew it must find a way to replace the lost water, Miller said.

   "A shallow aquifer feeds the Sammamish River," said Swenson. "If too much water is extracted from the aquifer before it gets to the river, the water level of the river is threatened. With such rapid, increased growth in the Puget Sound basin--then with the ESA--we have no cheap, easy solutions for balancing the needs of fish with people's needs."

   "Since Willows Run is the valley's largest water user, it might behoove them to subsidize and expedite the treatment plant project, because they will need more water sooner," said Miller. "The valley already has enough customers in place to reach the 'critical mass' of need for the treated water. We have not given private considerations or held any private meetings with any user. The treated water will not be free; everyone will pay the rate we need to charge, based on the project's costs. More users will mean cheaper rates for everyone."

   Farm LLC, an organic farming co-op, bought 44 acres at NE 124th and SR-202 last year without knowing the property's water rights had lapsed. They negotiated a water purchase deal with the Woodinville Water District on Wed., April 20.

   Some other valley properties have rights to extract irrigation water directly from the river, but most, like Molbak's, use well water, said Miller. Economical methods, such as fine misters, keep Molbak's maximum use at about 10,000 gallons a day during the three-month peak growing season. Willows Run also installed a modern, economical watering system, but any golf course has an extraordinary need, she said.

   The proposed satellite wastewater treatment plant would be a miniature version of regional plants at West Point, Renton, and a third plant scheduled for completion in northeast King County or southeast Snohomish County in 10 years. A 12-foot-diameter pipe transports wastewater through the Sammamish Valley for treatment at the Renton plant, before dumping into Puget Sound, said Miller. Tapping the satellite treatment plant into that available resource would make it relatively inexpensive for local users to run 1-2-inch pipes from the plant to their properties, she said.

   "The City of Seattle's water use has been estimated at 150 million gallons per day, at its very peak," said Miller. "And an average of 200 million treated gallons from all King County users goes into Puget Sound every day--more on very wet days. It's ridiculous not to tap into that resource for non-drinking use, and conserve our drinking water aquifers. Right now, everyone is using drinking water for industry, for irrigation, for watering lawns. It takes many gallons of pure water to push along every gallon of solid waste." The County is also looking at supplying the firefighting system with reclaimed water, as in many other parts of the country, she said.