Efforts by Sallal and North Bend to Formulate an Acceptable Water Supply Agreement Persist Despite Challenges

On April 18th, 2023, the North Bend City Council voted unanimously to approve the first read of a resolution to sign a water supply agreement with Sallal Water Association. Mayor McFarland, who has been deeply involved in this issue, spoke passionately to support the deal. You can listen here; the discussion starts at 1:26:28. The contract can be viewed here.

Mayor MacFarland described the agreement as a partnership that ensures every property owner, resident, and business has access to water, a fundamental right and expectation. He criticized those who oppose the agreement by saying, “A few are saying this doesn’t help the river while at the same time declaring they want to use all the water they want, whenever they want, regardless of the river. Or that there will be less water for Sallal users because their use will be restricted. Don’t be fooled. They don’t care about the health of the river. It’s a smokescreen by those whose real agenda is not allowing other property owners to have what they have, a home in our community.”

The mayor also highlighted the environmental benefits of the agreement. Saying the City is proactively addressing water conservation and being mindful of continued climate change. The agreement provides redundancy and additional mitigation water needed to mitigate the Snoqualmie River when it is low. It also improves infrastructure resiliency in emergencies like earthquakes or similar catastrophes.

From a financial standpoint, the mayor believes the agreement is equitable for all. Property owners in the combined water service areas would now be assured of public water, which they currently do not have. The agreement also completes technical checkmarks for the City’s agreement with the Department of Ecology for a backup source and a second mitigation water source.

Council Member Rosen also supported the agreement, emphasizing the importance of water for any city, including commercial growth. He feels over the last several years that, unfortunately, water has become an issue that some are using to address growth. He thinks it is “slightly misguided” and speaks as someone who is opposed to growth. Rosen commented that there are better tools for such opposition, such as focusing on planning, zoning and comprehensive plan amendments.

Rosen thinks it’s very important that cities have choices in the future. He is glad to see this agreement moving forward; he says, “This is something that will secure our future, Sallal’s future to stay independent, and I think that is most important to Sallal members.”

Even though city staff and council members supported the resolution, a few public comments expressed concerns. One resident expressed concerns about the Water Conservation Ordinance in the contract between the parties, saying, “As a member, the City’s WCO is a non-starter. To impose these terms on Sallal members is unacceptable. Will members be limited in the monthly quantity they can use? Will people with gardens to water, farms, livestock, trees, and such be now restricted from doing so?”  

I asked North Bend Public Works Director, Mark Rigos, to address these concerns. Rigos replied, “City water customers are not going to be restricted. City water customers are going to continue to be limited (to not water every day as much and/or spreading water everywhere negligently) during the second half of August, September and October. There are 3 stages in the City’s water conservation. We have not hit stage 3 in 3 years but have hit stage two either once or twice.”

“We (the City) are not placing huge restrictions on water use, and when we have limitations, it’s only in late summer and early fall. People are not going to lose their plants or gardens if they follow the WCO. The City’s hope is that more people become aware of their water usage. We have no intention of hiring water police, but we do have enforcement capability if necessary. What has been happening, though, is that many people are voluntarily complying and following the WCO, which is great. Thus, the water demand has dropped in the fall months compared to prior years, which helps the river and/or reduces the need to move water from Cedar River Watershed to Sno. River Watershed. The City will soon have 2 sources of mitigation water.”

Regarding concerns that the WCO was just a way to enable more development, Rigos noted that North Bend (and soon Sallal if the contract is approved) has enough water rights for a significantly larger population, so there is plenty of water for new development. There is plenty of water for people to water their gardens. 

He said, “It’s simply a myth being shared by a few naysayers that all their gardens will wither away and die if they cannot water their gardens every single day in September or October. There are plenty of days to water still. Plus, the City’s water limitations are occurring when the weather is not as hot during the year (late August – October) compared to when the days are longer, and it’s hotter in ½ of August, July and June. There is typically plenty of water flowing down the Snoqualmie River in June and July when the daylight is longer, and the weather is hotter.” 

Sallal’s board meeting on that same night had a decidedly different tone. Where the North Bend City Council voted unanimously to approve the first reading of the contract, Sallal’s board was split 4-3 to approve the contract.

Vice-President Daylin Baker said, “The majority (not all) of the board believes: Sallal needs to obtain a contract that provides Sallal with additional water because it is clear that Sallal has no other present or even foreseeable options to obtain additional water supply or water rights. I believe Sallal will not survive without this contract.”

The contract approval is still in the board’s hands, as decided by a membership vote in 2019. However, there was concern expressed by some board members that a special interest group is gathering signatures to petition for a bylaw amendment to remove Board authority to approve such a contract.

Also, in 2019, a commitment was made by the then-board president to hold two member meetings before signing any contract, so the approval conforms with that commitment. The first meeting was set for April 24th, and the second for May 24th at 6 p.m.

The first meeting was attended by approximately 88 of the 1960 voting Sallal members. The sometimes fiery and contentious discussion was also attended by security after vague online threats were made against some board members.

Board member Hibma spoke first, noting the contract “was always the plan, for 15 years now.”  She went on to explain why the majority of the board members feel Sallal is “out of time and opportunity. The City has stated it will not come back to the table again, and this contract before us allows Sallal to keep its autonomy at rates members are used to paying and buys us all time to explore future options to tend to the river needs for generations to come.” For more details, see this document created by Sallal’s negotiation committee and counsel.

Board dissenters Larry Costello and Rich Formisano (unavailable for comment at the time of publishing) gave their rebuttal as to why they believe the contract with North Bend is not good for Sallal. *Click here for the complete document.

In an extensive presentation, the pair outlined why the terms of the draft agreement as currently written fails to meet the requirements of an agreement  that “shall not result in negative impacts to the availability of water and rates to Sallal members.”

In their rebuttal, these boards member state that a contract with North Bend could be a mutually beneficial arrangement. Still, the terms of such an agreement must be favorable to Sallal and protect Sallal’s interests – to supply safe, reliable, and plentiful water to its members at a reasonable price.

Their reply says, “Under the terms of the proposed contract, it is very likely that Sallal members will be exposed to forced water curtailments that they would not have otherwise experienced were it not for this agreement. There has been no analysis, no reasoning, and no explanation as to how the agreement will prevent these likely outcomes. Multiple scenarios can be derived from current and projected water data operating under terms of the agreement indicating that negative impacts can occur.”

Public comments after both presentations leaned heavily towards opposing the contract, but it should be noted that less than 4.48% of the voting membership was in attendance. The next steps include continued discussions between Sallal, and North Bend, a second read of the resolution at the City Council and a second meeting for Sallal.

A special interest group is currently circulating a petition to oust the four Sallal board members who are in favor of the contract (as evidenced by posts on Next Door), calling into question what the next meeting will bring and who exactly will be deciding the future fate of Sallal Water Association.

The road to a water supply agreement between Sallal Water Association and North Bend has been long and challenging, but progress has been made. While some members have expressed concerns, the agreement promises to secure the future of both communities’ water needs while also addressing environmental and financial concerns. The North Bend City Council has voted in favor of the agreement, and the Sallal board is currently discussing its approval. Only time will tell what the outcome will be, but one thing is clear: the efforts to reach a mutually beneficial agreement persist despite the challenges.

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