Board affirms Yelm’s water rights

By Steven Wyble
news3@yelmonline.com
Posted 3/21/13

The Washington state Pollution Control Hearing Board on Monday affirmed water rights granted to the city of Yelm in 2011, opening up the first new water source for the city in 50 years.

Approval …

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Board affirms Yelm’s water rights

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The Washington state Pollution Control Hearing Board on Monday affirmed water rights granted to the city of Yelm in 2011, opening up the first new water source for the city in 50 years.

Approval of the water rights was appealed by a group of local residents who argued granting the water rights could infringe on their own water rights. According to the board’s order, the appellants also challenged the Department of Ecology’s use of “overriding considerations of the public interest,”  a provision in state law that allows them to grant water rights that result in a reduction of water flow for streams, lakes or other public waters if the advantages to the public and the environment outweigh the disadvantages, and challenged the sufficiency of Yelm’s water mitigation plan.

The appellants have 30 days to file an appeal to Thurston County Superior Court. A voicemail left for a lawyer for the appellants was not returned by press time.

“This water right represents 15 years worth of strategic planning and partnerships,” Mayor Ron Harding said in a press release. “It has been a monumental regional effort to secure this water and we are proud that the outcome not only provides our city water for the future, but also provides a high standard of environmental stewardship for our watersheds.”

The city will withdraw water from a new water source located about 1.3 miles west of downtown Yelm. It will be the first new water source for the community in more than 50 years and will be withdrawn from a deeper, more protected aquifer, according to the press release.

“The continued hard work and dedication of our staff, Mayor and City Council, as well as our legal and engineering team have played an integral part in the successful outcome of this appeal,” said Shelly Badger, city administrator. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the decision.”

The city plans to spend the next couple of years working on mitigation projects associated with the water right and building the infrastructure necessary to deliver the water to city customers, the press release stated.

Some of the city’s planned mitigation actions include habitat restoration at Deschutes Farm, commonly known as the Ron Smith Farm; restorations to Yelm Creek; adding a vegetative buffer to the creek and increasing the recharge at Cochrane Park, Badger said. The mitigation plan also includes regional projects the city will work on with Olympia and Lacey, she added.



Yelm’s water has been supplied by two relatively shallow wells in downtown Yelm since the 1950s, according to a hearing board ruling. The wells were upgraded to provide additional pumping capacity in 2011. The city forecast in 2002 it would need to secure additional water rights to serve its projected population under the state Growth Management Act.

Yelm initially filed a water rights application with the DOE in January 1994. DOE granted Yelm a water right permit in October 2011.

The board also found the city demonstrated through expert witnesses that the value provided by its mitigation clearly benefits the fish and hydrology of the water, noting the evidence showed the plan was overall “excellent and effective.”

The appellants challenged the DOE’s use of “overriding considerations of the public interest” to approve the appropriation of closed streams, according to the board’s order, arguing, “the public interest benefits are highly speculative and there is uncertainty regarding the public interest harms,” and noting that the department does not have any written policy or rule governing the use of “overriding considerations of the public interest.”

The board concluded the department “established through testimony sufficient criteria to guide the use of ‘overriding considerations of the public interest’ … thereby justifying its use in this case without the promulgation of a rule or adoption of a policy.”

The board wrote in its decision the department correctly concluded Yelm’s mitigation projects offered “significant benefit to the public and the environment” and “there is a net ecological benefit to the streams and rivers from the mitigation package as well as municipal water supply benefits.”

The board said an addition needed to be made to the mitigation plan requiring the presence of representatives from the DOE and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in the stewardship groups for the Deschutes and Woodland Creek basins projects in the plan.

The board also noted DOE should develop a policy or rule to govern its use of “overriding considerations of the public interest.”

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