Sallal Water Association at risk of takeover by City of North Bend

Water issues in east North Bend – within the Sallal Water Association service area – appear to be coming to a tipping point, one that could result in Sallal being taken over by the City of North Bend.

Over the last year Sallal made it clear it does not have enough water rights left to support planned development within its service area that lies within the city limits of North Bend. This is impacting new developments already approved by the city. North Bend on the other hand, has plenty of water for those new developments and is prepared to supply it if needed.

The 212-unit apartment development planned on the Dahlgren property was the catalyst for bringing this all to light. An appeal of the development was denied by a hearing examiner, but the examiner also said the developer must decide which water purveyor will supply ALL of the units prior to building permits being issued. Sallal has enough for about half of the development. North Bend has enough for all.

Sallal will have enough for the whole project if it secures a water agreement with North Bend. But Sallal membership – via a vote last summer – overwhelmingly said they are opposed to such an agreement, although less than 20% of Sallal membership voted on the issue.

The water agreement has been touted as beneficial for both Sallal and North Bend since North Bend’s DOE water permit requires it to have a back up mitigation water source to help keep in-stream levels of the Snoqualmie River sustainable during summer months. Currently North Bend purchases its primary mitigation water from Seattle Public Utilities Hobo Springs – and this past fall also purchased a well/water rights on the Cascade Golf Course property, which according to Interim City Administrator (and former Public Works Director) Mark Rigos, will satisfy the DOE back up mitigation water requirement through about 2035.

Rigos said he doesn’t believe Sallal has enough water left to be a mitigation source for North Bend, but said an agreement could still have longterm mitigation water benefits for the city, as well help to end the 9-month building moratorium within city limits in Eastern North Bend, something he said has been delaying projects the city approved 4-5 years ago.

The Sallal Board of Trustees has been putting out information to customers saying if it can’t finalize the agreement, it will eventually be unable to meet water supply obligations for new customers and would be required to give up exclusive rights to serve its territory – raising the possibility that North Bend could use eminent domain and take over Sallal’s service area. A takeover would mean higher rates for Sallal customers, which currently pay about 40% less than city customers.

In the case of no agreement, North Bend is prepared to supply water to new developments within Sallal’s territory. This would likely mean a rate increase for Sallal customers as the water association relies on new members’ hook up charges to defray costs of maintaining/improving its infrastructure. Without those large, new customer hook up fees, current Sallal rates would increase to cover infrastructure maintenance costs.

Regardless of an agreement between the two parties, a longterm building moratorium in North Bend will not happen. Sallal’s territory is within King County GMA boundaries and there is water available via North Bend. A joint service area could be a result, but the Sallal Board is warning customers:

“Since the City of North Bend has chlorinated water and Sallal does not, this would require North Bend to invest heavily in infrastructure. This arrangement would increase the possibility of North Bend using its power of eminent domain to seize Sallal’s service area and infrastructure, forcing Sallal members in the joint service area to become customers of the City.”

Per the Sallal Water Association By-laws, only the Board of Trustees has the authority to enter into an agreement, but recently approximately 200 members signed a petition to call a special meeting to consider changing the bi-laws to require a full membership vote on such water agreements. Sallal General Manger Ted Stonebridge commented, “This request is under consideration while data pertinent to the meeting is under review.”

Interim City Administrator Mark Rigos described the current water issues in Sallal’s territory as ‘really messy’ and the most complicated issue the city is currently dealing with. He said legally, if the city has water available, it has to supply it to new development or risks being sued.

He presented six options for solving the current water issues: 1) continue negotiations that have been on and off again for 10 years; 2) isolation with Sallal on its own and no new development; 3) on a parcel-by-parcel basis North Bend water would be supplied into Sallal’s service area; 4) dual service area where new customers choose which purveyor to connect with; 5) eminent domain with emergency inter-ties, city managing Sallal’s infrastructure, water rights merged, but non-chlorinated system stays intact; and 6) eminent domain of Sallal but all systems are connected and the non-chlorinated system ceases to exist.

Rigos said both sides remain far apart on the water agreement and cautioned an isolation solution increases the risk for lawsuits since North Bend has available water. He said he feels it is clear the Sallal membership does not want an agreement with North Bend and there is concern that a longterm agreement could be dissolved by a future board. He described the parcel-by-parcel solution as not the best use of infrastructure and costly, something that also impacts option 4. Rigos said his preference is option 5.

When will this all be solved? The Sallal Board of Trustees stated it is currently in negotiations with the City of North Bend, working to finalize an agreement by the spring of 2019, adding that it would not approve an agreement that doesn’t benefit the association and its members. Rigos did not offer a specific timeline.

The city is currently waiting to hear if the Dahlgren property developer – Shelter Holdings – will request that the county allow North Bend to supply water to the planned apartment complex, something the county must approve since the site is outside the city’s water service area. The water issues have slowed this project and others, but Rigos said he expected the projects to continue. The city is also anticipating commercial development out by Truck Town (also in Sallal service area) in the future so deciding a longterm solution is necessary.

Sallal Water Association provides water to 2,300 homes and businesses, serving 5,000 people in the Snoqualmie Valley and supplies around 190 million gallons of water annually from its three wells. According to Sallal, its members have some of of the lowest water rates in King County.

See Sallal Water Agreement Facts HERE. See Sallal Water Agreement FAQ HERE.

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  • Sallal water provides its customers with untreated aka chemical free drinking water. The water system operated by the city of North Bend is a chemically treated system. Take over of Sallal by North Bend would negatively affect our quality of life for the sake of increased tax revenue to the city…How is that good for our community.

  • This article is wildly inaccurate. For starters, she says “Sallal’s territory is within King County’s GMA. ” The GMA is NOT a geographical area. It’s a state law called the Growth Management Act. If the author doesn’t know that she is in no way qualified to write on this subject.

    1. In practice, the GMA is both a statute and a geographical area. (The primary statute is RCW 36.70A, though there have been later amendments.) See here:

      Not all counties are required to fully develop and adhere to a comprehensive growth plan meeting state requirements. So if Sallal were in say, Grays Harbor County, it would be uncertain that the county could drive a pro-growth agenda as easily. Although the author could have worded language wrt the GMA more precisely, her intended meaning is easy to discern. Certainly it is far from “wildly inaccurate.” To use this as a basis to disparage the whole article, or question the author’s qualifications, is unjustifiable.

  • Why is this article ignoring the City of North Bend’s inability to abide by the water mitigation requirements which has been going on for years?
    Why is this article ignoring the City’s continued approval of new residential building permits when it does not currently have the infrastructure to support the growth?

  • Living Snoqualmie