Future at Risk: membership vote could lead to city ‘invasion’ of Sallal Water Association

On June 11, 2019 at 7PM in the Snoqualmie Casino ballroom, members of the Sallal Water Association will vote on an amendment making several changes its bylaws, an amendment that could have big consequences for the 50-year old water coop – and even threaten its existence.

Earlier this year about 200 members – many opposed to the idea of Sallal signing a wholesale water purchase agreement with the city of North Bend – petitioned to change the bylaws, proposing an amendment that would require a full membership vote to approve water purchase contracts. It would take that power away from board members who are currently charged with making those complex decisions for the association. Supporters of the amendment believe that because the water association is owned by the members, that all members should be voting on important contacts/agreements.

The Sallal Board is recommending members vote against the June 11th amendment. Their reason is twofold: 1) a water agreement with North Bend is only viable solution for Sallal to serve new homes and in absence of such agreement, the City of North Bend will begin serving new development inside Sallal’s service area, increasing the risk of condemnation of the association; 2) the way Sallal’s voting system is structured, only a 5% turnout and simple majority is required to validate new amendments. That means under the current system, only 85 members – out of 1700 connections – would have to vote, with 43 voting yes, to approve complex water agreements.

As structured, a small number of members or a special interest group could control the future of the large association. Sallal Board Member Daylin Baker commented that she feels some in the community are using water as a way to slow/stop growth. She said she thinks many members would like to slow grow in North Bend if there was a legal, legitimate way to do it, but putting Sallal at risk of ‘invasion’ by the city is not the way to do it.

Both Sallal and the city are bound by a legal duty to serve new development if water is available. In North Bend water is available. The city was issued a very large water right in 2008 by Washington State DOE. North Bend was issued enough water rights to serve its entire Urban Growth Area – which includes some Sallal’s service area. That city water right covered the future water needs of North Bend and Sallal and assumed they would use a water agreement structured so Sallal would get un-chlorinated water from North Bend’s centennial well and in exchange Sallal would sell North Bend mitigation water from its Rattlesnake Lake wells.

This is one of the key reasons the state will not issue new water rights to Sallal – because their future water needs are already covered by the large water right issued to North Bend. So although Sallal does not have enough water rights remaining to serve new development, it does have water options to continue serving if an agreement is signed with North Bend.

Last summer, though, some members began to vocally oppose that water agreement, which prompted North Bend to look for other mitigation water sources, including the Cascade Golf Course well they recently purchased. At that time a Sallal advisory vote also showed a strong majority opposed signing the water agreement, but only 16% of members voted – although that seemingly low turnout was considered a big turnout as very few member typically vote.

Some development projects stalled while the water agreement talks continued, but now the first developer, Shelter Holdings, has said it won’t wait any longer and has petitioned the county to allow North Bend to be the water purveyor for the 212-unit apartment complex approved by the city for the Dahlgren Property. The appeal says Sallal cannot provide water in a timely manner. Sallal is not opposing the developer’s request to allow North Bend inside its service area because doing so could lead to a lawsuit by the developer.

The Dahlgren project is considered to be the first domino that could fall and determine the future of Sallal. And the risks are big. Without a water agreement, every new project planned in the city limits of North Bend that lie in Sallal’s service area will likely petition to have North Bend be the water purveyor, as the city has water and is bound by a duty to serve or be at risk for lawsuits.

According to Board Member Baker, the more service North Bend provides within Sallal’s area, the greater the risk for condemnation of the entire association, which is a longterm solution North Bend Interim City Administrator Mark Rigos has already said he prefers.

Increased water rates are also a risk to Sallal members if North Bend becomes the water purveyor. Currently Sallal’s water rates are estimated to be at least 40% cheaper than city rates.

Baker said Sallal has some protection from condemnation by terms in the USDA loans used to finance its infrastructure, but she said those protections lessen if they do not have enough water to serve all – which they do not without the water agreement.

North Bend and Sallal are still working on that water agreement. The two sides met in April. The Sallal Board feels is it in the association’s best interest sign an agreement, as all other options have been exhausted. It also reiterated that water purchased from North Bend would be non-chlorinated, something that is important to many Sallal members.

So it all comes down to one vote. The Sallal Board is currently working to improve communication with members in hopes that more members understand everything at stake and cast votes. Included in those communication efforts are monthly newsletters that answer membership questions and efforts to create a member advisory board.

Baker said no water agreement will be signed before the June 11th vote or before the results of the Golder Water Study are known. If members approve the amendment, she cautioned that it is still subject to approval by the USDA which has financed Sallal’s infrastructure loans.

About the Amendment: It would require member approval via a vote for any action that meets any of the five specified criteria: buying water, selling water, supplying mitigation water, transfer of water or water rights, and any certificates of water availability beyond Sallal’s capacity.  The amendment includes exceptions to these criteria to allow for some emergencies and for agreements already in effect like Sallal’s contract with Wilderness Rim. The process for future voting (when an action meets the criteria) describes calling a special meeting to discuss the issue and the requirement of a board presentation.  A second special meeting must be called to hold the vote.  30 days notice must be given prior to both meetings.

Comments

  1. John Edwards says

    It’s interesting how one-sided this article and all “Snoqualmie Living” articles on this topic have been. Sounds like the author rooting for North Bend and also not a member of the Sallal Water Association. Why haven’t you stated the fact that the City of North Bend discontinued communication/negotiation with Sallal months ago and is not responding to Sallal regarding this issue? Or that when the City secured water rights from the Centennial Well, it stated in its application to the DOE, that the plan was to provide Sallal with water to service Sallal’s portion of the Urban Growth Area…..
    Completely one-sided and you’re not including all the facts.
    What happened to unbiased factual reporting???

    • Joyce Hibma says

      John, can you direct me to the “facts” you mentioned? I have not seen a written statement from the city claiming what you say to be “fact”. Thank you!

    • Cameron Tse says

      True. This is a one sided perspective that chooses to frame an amendment requiring a vote on significant issues as a path towards an “invasion”. It lacks a fair attempt to show both sides of an issue. Not unlike democracy this membership will be better served by an active membership. Not one that believes only a select few have the qualifications to make the decisions. Whether a final decision for or against an agreement is the outcome, it will be best decided by all of the stakeholders who share ownership of the association. Beware of fearmongering to suppress the right to vote.

      • Joyce Hibma says

        It is my understanding that a copy of the full Amendment has not been released for the public to review, even thought it has been requested? If it has been, and I am wrong, it would be great for a link to the full amendment be posted where one can find it to read. If it has not, I am not sure how one is to report on something they are denied access to?

        As a stakeholder, I myself am not confident that I can read and understand a complicated water contract. This does not mean that I am not intelligent, I believe that I am. Just not in this area of expertise. I can only hope that the people that do vote to change the bylaws and approve the amendment can honestly with good conscience state that they themselves have read “and understand” every contract that is put before them to vote on. I will be hold each of those stakeholder votes responsible for any adverse outcome.

  2. John Edwards says

    This was information provided at the Sallal Board meeting. Additionally, I’m not sure how you can show documentation of the City’s discontinuation of communication with Sallal Board. Unless they actually wrote to the Board “we’re done talking with you”

    • Danna McCall says

      John, Both the city and Sallal stated that they met regarding the water agreement in April. City Administrator Rigos said he also met with Sallal several weeks ago and that the city also sent Sallal an email regarding the water issues early last month. Hope that helps.

  3. Lucinda Hauser says

    I wonder how we can be accurately told that there is plenty of water when an agenda item on the last City Council meeting included significant and immediate water conservation efforts for city residents. I did not read the proposed ordinance before the meeting, but those residents who attended, there was a strong message of education of the public first before the punitive aspects be considered. Can someone explain how “plenty of water” and an immediate need for conservation can both be true? Also, how does continued development of dense housing projects play into this? Doesn’t seem to make sense, but I don’t have a hydrology degree…

    • Here’s an attempt at an explanation: the City has water rights for plenty of water. That is not in question. At the same time, climate change will continue to cause diminishing streamflows in the Snoqualmie watershed in summer and early fall. North Bend has the right to take a lot of water from the aquifer which is connected to the South Fork and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers. But because some of NB’s water rights are junior to the river’s state-mandated instream flow rule, and the water that NB withdraws from the aquifer affects flows in the river, NB has to figure out a way to mitigate for the impacts of their withdrawals when stream flows are not adequate. That mitigation is expensive. It makes sense to conserve water to avoid impacting the river as much as possible, and avoid having to pay for expensive mitigation water, not to mention, that as a limited resource, conserving water, not wasting water, is everyone’s responsibility and the right and wise thing to do. So NB will get its water, but it could have a big impact on the environment and/or the city’s coffers. The Snoqualmie basin is already overallocated in terms of water rights and what the watershed can actually supply. Doesn’t it make sense to conserve? I applaud the effort.

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