In an in-person statement at the August 16th Sallal Water public meeting, Mayor Rob McFarland offered to purchase the Association for its full fair market value on behalf of the City of North Bend.
The surprise, but not entirely unexpected, move by McFarland comes after 15 years of failed attempts by the City of North Bend and Sallal to negotiate a Water Supply Agreement to better serve the customers in their respective water service areas.
North Bend Water Supply Myth Busting
Contrary to widely accepted public opinion, North Bend does have enough water. The city was issued a very large water right in 2008 by the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE). North Bend was issued enough water rights to serve its entire Urban Growth Area, including some of Sallal’s service areas.
This water rights permit allows new development to access Mt. Si Springs and the Centennial well with its 3000-acre feet of water if the Centennial water is mitigated during the dry season if the Snoqualmie River hits a minimum water flow level.
According to the City’s Water Facts page, “Due to Centennial Well’s location in the area of influence of both the Middle and South Forks of the Snoqualmie River, water used from the well is required to be compensated drop-for-drop by other sources into the River only at times when the Main Fork Snoqualmie River is below the ‘Base In-stream Flow’ as defined by the City’s Centennial water right agreement. In-stream river flows are measured at three different points along the Snoqualmie River near Fall City, Carnation, and Monroe. When the in-stream flow is below the Department of Ecology’s level determined necessary to maintain River health and the city is pumping water from Centennial, then the city is required to add mitigation water to Snoqualmie River. Mitigation is typically needed approximately 80 days per year.”
Over the past 13 years, Hobo Springs, North Bend’s mitigation source, has been adequate to serve as the city’s primary mitigation source aside from a few days.
However, according to its DOE water permit, the city must have an active secondary mitigation source and has actively looked at options for this source, “ including the Cascade Golf Course property, a Hobo Springs Expansion, a Chester Morse Reservoir pipeline, a Tolt Reservoir pipeline, small and/or large mitigation water reservoirs, and a potential inter-tie water supply agreement with Sallal, among others.” However, no deadline was set for finding that source.
Other cities in the Snoqualmie Valley do not have to mitigate, even if those water sources impact the river because their older water rights permits were issued before water rights laws changed. So, while North Bend has plenty of potable water, the requirement of mitigation water complicates an already complicated issue.
Sallal Water Association Facts
The Sallal Water Association began as a grassroots effort by local residents in the spring of 1967, due to concerns about the availability of water in shallow wells during summer months. As a result of these efforts, a loan was negotiated from the Federal Government in the spring of 1969, and construction began that summer for securing a water supply from the City of Seattle.
Sallal provides water to 2,300 homes and businesses, serving 5,000 people in the Snoqualmie Valley and in 2021 supplied around 213 million gallons of water from its three wells.
In June 2022, Sallal’s board of directors voted to initiate an emergency moratorium on new water connections for up to six months while they “complete an in-depth review of our most current water usage data. Data from 2021 showed anomalous high usage that could be due to leaks, malfunctioning meters, unusually hot weather and multiple instances of draining the new reservoir while trying to make it watertight.”
The investigation will determine if Sallal has reached its certificated limit for water usage, which could make the moratorium permanent.
Water Supply Agreement Impasse
When you break it down to the simplest terms, the City of North Bend needs a mitigation water source, and Sallal needs more potable water. Each side has what the other needs, so why can’t the two come to an agreement?
City of North Bend Statement
The City of North Bend posted an update to their Water FAQ page on the evening of August 16th, directly after the mayor made public comments at the Sallal public meeting.
Several new talking points were added addressing the offer to buy Sallal, the first being, why is the city making an offer to purchase Sallal? The city cites such reasons as Sallal being unable to serve all within Sallal’s water service area who requested water service, a failure to provide a meaningful response to the city’s multiple written offers to develop a water supply agreement, and the emergency moratorium prohibiting all new water connections.
When asked why the city decided to make the offer in the dramatic way it did, a spokesperson said, “The city was surprised by Sallal Water Association’s moratorium announcement, and immediately reached out to them with our concerns. The city has negotiated in good faith with Sallal for many years to reach a water supply agreement, and their emergency moratorium has significant impacts to our community. Given that their board meets monthly, Tuesday’s meeting was the first real opportunity for the city to address Sallal’s leadership and membership in a public setting.”
Under the heading, why is the city no longer pursuing a water supply agreement with Sallal? The city states that even though all efforts to come to an agreement with Sallal have been met with objections and it has made the offer to purchase, “the city is still willing to consider entering into a water supply agreement with Sallal in a form as already offered.”
Several more of the water FAQs address the benefits this possible consolidation could have on city & Sallal water customers, information about potential rate increases and what might happen if Sallal refuses the city’s offer.
Sallal’s Public Retort
In a lengthy statement posted on August 18th, Sallal gave its perspective on the water standoff and the City of North Bend’s offer to purchase the water association.
The sometimes-fiery rebuttal to the city’s accounting of the situation started by saying, “The City of North Bend has released multiple misleading statements regarding the status of the Sallal Water Association and related matters concerning Sallal’s effort to negotiate in good faith a water supply agreement with the city.”
Sallal explained the reasoning behind the moratorium, saying that their goal is to maintain a strong and healthy water system and take a conservative approach to managing this precious natural resource with care, as expected by their member-owners. The comments from the August 16th meeting reflected that sentiment with unanimous support from members present and those who dialed in on zoom.
The water association explained that its main sticking point during the negotiations has been the proposed reciprocal arrangement that requires instream flow mitigation from Sallal’s wells at Rattlesnake. The concern is that “all Sallal members will be forced to curtail water usage when the City is unable to obtain sufficient mitigation water to allow Centennial Well to match demand.”
According to Sallal, this unresolved issue is at the heart of why Sallal has been unable to resolve the supply contract negotiation with the City.
[Read Sallal’s entire statement here.]
What happens next in the ongoing valley H2O hassle?
Both sides say they are still willing to enter into a water supply agreement with the other and will continue to try and negotiate a supply contract to make that happen. Sallal has expressed concerns that this offer may be a precursor to an eminent domain proceeding which has been stated as a possibility by city officials in the past.