Troubled waters: Alliance not dealing in good faith with Lake Tapps community

Cascade Water Alliance represents Bellevue, Redmond and other Eastside communities for the purpose of supplying water to that area.

They presently are in the process of buying Lake Tapps, a fresh water reservoir, and negotiating a water right permit from the Washington State Department of Ecology.

During this process, the CWA has been guilty of two items of misconduct between itself and the people in the Lake Tapps area:

1. For not including those who might be impacted in critical negotiations.

2. For concealing necessary facts, which are crucial to the final outcome.

These are serious violations of trust.

CWA’s negotiations with the tribes were done without representation from the Lake Tapps Task Force and Lake Tapps Homeowners. They negotiated flow rates in the White River bypass, which were over twice the amounts being considered by the task force’s biological committee when we studied flows needed by fish in the river. It is our understanding that there was no justification given for the large increase in flow requirements.

To illustrate how serious these negotiations are, assume that: 1. Lake Tapps is to be maintained at the levels which we enjoy today; 2. White River bypass flow rates negotiated with the tribes are in place; 3. if actual White River flow rates experienced over a previous 20-year period are to be used, then we will experience an undesirable drop – and below the minimum acceptable amount – in the lake level during August, which will occur 50 percent of the time.

CWA and other state environmental people claim we will only experience a drop to undesirable lake levels 15 days in 15 years. Those numbers do not agree with our simple arithmetic models of the inlet flows required to maintain the lake.

In addition, a CWA representative told our local state Representative that they plan to raise the highest lake level to an amount that is one foot higher than our present maximum level. We have not analyzed whether this will give them sufficient capacity to fulfill their claim, but it does present new problems for lakeside owners and people within the area.

Most of the docks, boat accommodations and bulkheads around the lake perimeter would have to be raised. Many lakeside lawns would be under water and would have to be filled and re-landscaped. Some roads and causeways would have to be raised and repaved. County, city and private parks would be affected, but the largest impact might be to South Auburn residences.

Several years back, the Federal Energy Regulation Commission – which regulated the Lake Tapps power generation plant – determined that the dikes that contained the water at the north end of the lake were a potential hazard during extreme storm conditions to the residences north and below the lake. If any of these dikes were to fail, it could release thousands of gallons of water, thus breaching the White River dikes and flooding South Auburn.

Puget Sound Energy spent a small fortune reinforcing the north Lake Tapps dikes. Raising the water level another foot not only increases the loads on the dikes, but it increases the danger of water overflowing the dikes during a major storm. Water overflow can introduce erosion, which is one of the major causes of dike failure.

In a recent letter to the Lake Tapps Community Council, CWA’s board of directors stated: “Cascade has committed to maintaining normal full pool for the annual recreational period” and “the resolution also states the intent to retain target lake elevations.” All of which commits them to very little.

Nowhere does the CWA specify lake elevations in definitive numbers. The letter was very clear in requesting the council’s support and “to develop strategies to incorporate the objective of preserving recreational lake levels between Memorial Day and Labor Day into Cascade’s shortage management plan.”

Nothing definitive

Even though the letter had many positive statements, which indicated they were willing to work something out, there were no definitive commitments. With violations of trust, one has to wonder what other surprises we are in for when dealing with the CWA.

Lake Tapps is presently a reservoir for many cities, including Auburn, and community wells in the area. Some of those wells ran dry when the lake was lowered to rework the dikes.

It is one of the fastest-growing areas in the state and needs additional water for future growth. This further indicates that we cannot afford to give away a large volume of water to the CWA.

These concerns, along with others, bother many of us. The water right permit is presently in the hands of the Department of Ecology. If it issues the water right without considering all these factors, it could have a very negative impact on the people in the Lake Tapps area.

Let us hope and pray the CWA will be understanding and will not be overly influenced by the political power people in the Bellevue area seem to possess.

Kan Castile is a Lake Tapps property owner.

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