Issaquah, water district settle dispute

January 25, 2014

By Peter Clark

New: Jan. 25, 12:16 p.m.

A regional conflict may soon be water under the bridge.

The Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District and new Issaquah Mayor Fred Butler signed a memorandum of understanding Jan. 13, which will require an agreement to decommission the Lower Reid Infiltration Gallery — the same filtration system that touched off a controversy last year.

In exchange, Issaquah will halt an investigation to assume district wells inside city limits for a time.

“There was an opportunity to settle these longstanding issues and develop a foundation of trust,” Butler said. “The previous administration laid the groundwork and we would rather invest our resources in real issues.”

Water district General Manager Jay Krauss said the real negotiations began in December in hopes of finding common ground.

“The board of commissioners recognized the need to compromise on certain issues, and it was necessary to move forward,” he said. “Obviously, we’re doing this in protection of the aquifer.”

Last May, the district caused a local stir when it spread concerns that Issaquah’s use of the infiltration gallery may contiminate a well. The city’s response involved attacks of its own, including cybersquatting on district websites.

The Washington Department of Ecology was set to approve the infiltration gallery’s use, but the city decided to press on with a compromise.

“The Department of Ecology was poised to issue the permit,” Butler said. “It was a viable solution, but there were others.”

The infiltration gallery is a system designed to handle storm water from the Issaquah Highlands. Runoff collects in a pool on the top of the hill and is directed through the infiltration gallery to filter through the ground before entering the aquifer. The district argued that the infiltration gallery did not remove all pollutants before it drew the ground water up through its wells.

The district has agreed to fund the decommissioning of the infiltration gallery up to $1 million, though city believes it should not cost that much.

“The cost to decommission the LRIG is a relatively small amount of money,” Butler said, adding that the amount is not yet known.

The agreement also addressed Issaquah’s interest in taking over district wells inside city limits. The memorandum states if Issaquah decides to pursue an assumption in the next 10 years, it would only do so with the district’s consent. Though the city completed a study on assuming the wells, it took no official move in that direction.

“No policy decision was made on whether to go forward or not,” Butler said. “Nothing was budgeted in 2014 to assume the wells.”

Krauss said he sees the decade as breathing room for the city and the district.

“It will be a little bit of a cooling-off period,” he said, adding that he hopes the two entities can continue in the spirit of compromise.

The memorandum charges the city to detail terms in the next month.

Storm-water runoff has diverted into Issaquah Creek since the city suspended use of the infiltration gallery in 2008. The state Department of Ecology has approved the tactic and the city plans continue employing it.

“It was diverted to the creek and that will continue,” Butler said. “We’ve got some studies we need to do to make sure that is a long-term solution.”

Krauss also agreed that using Issaquah Creek would not cause any damage to the district’s resources.

“We don’t believe a surface discharge would provide a risk to the aquifer,” he said. “At the end of the day, our board felt the greatest assurance that the aquifer would not be impacted.”

Both sides of the agreement spoke warmly of the memorandum.

“It was a relief and there were smiles on everyone’s face,” Butler said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that when we come together, we can solve complex problems.”

Krauss said the district shared that optimism.

“This is viewed very positively by the board of commissioners,” he said. “They are very pleased with this outcome.”

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