On Tuesday, February 2, 2021, the North Bend City Council unanimously approved the City’s 5-year Water System Plan (WSP). The meeting about the years-long water conflict started Tuesday night with a combative town hall question and answer period and culminated with the council vote three hours later.
But what is a Water System Plan?
A Water System Plan (WSP) provides a comprehensive road map for the city that encompasses:
- Meeting current and future water demands.
- Ensures high-quality drinking water
- Enhances system reliability and resiliency
- Cost-effectively invests in and maintains the water system
The often-contested in-depth plan, according to the city, “outlines the City’s existing facilities, procedures, and policies, along with potential future actions, that ensure the City meets its legal obligations to safely deliver water to current and future customers.”
One point of contention through all the numerous public hearings at the county and city level was that the (WSP) as written, does not have a sound mitigation plan. An informal poll of several current and past city water customers shows that not all understand the term-mitigation.
So, what does mitigation mean?
To mitigate is to alleviate a situation. North Bend’s Centennial well, because of its proximity to the Snoqualmie River, can impact river levels because the groundwater that might normally feed into the river goes into this well. So, during dry times, to alleviate the impact on the river, the city must mitigate that situation. They must put water back into the river to keep the river at a certain level that keeps fish and the river healthy. The city’s other water source Mt. Si Springs has a minimum bypass requirement stipulating that 3 cubic feet per second of flow must pass over the weir and into the river.
Hobo Springs, owned by Seattle Public Utilities, is the city’s sole functioning source of mitigation water. The city states this source is adequate to meet demand over a 10-year planning period and has adequate water rights, source, and storage capacity. However, “the city is at or near its mitigation capacity limits.”
This limited capacity would not support the anticipated growth in North Bend. Nor would it address the issues raised by the State’s Growth Management Act and its citizens’ concerns about the next 20 years.
Why are we near capacity?
Mitigation capacity dictates how much water can be withdrawn from the Centennial Well. Unfortunately, high overall water demand coincides with a severely limited withdrawal capacity from Mount Si Springs during the dry summer months.
As a result, the City must depend on the Centennial Well for most of its water production. This often coincides with low instream flows in the Snoqualmie River, which leads to increased mitigation requirements. So, the city is in the position of having to curb usage during those drier months and obtain additional sources of mitigation water.
The WSP identifies the Cascade Golf course, purchased in 2018, as a potential source of mitigation. The City is also continuing to investigate additional sources of mitigation water. One such source is a mitigation well that has been drilled by the City near the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River. This well is not currently in use. Sallal Water Association was previously identified as a possible mitigation source but was omitted in a letter located in Appendix 1 when an agreement was deemed unlikely. 
The February 2nd City Council meeting was preceded by a Water System Plan Town Hall Meeting. Both meetings were well attended by citizens who expressed concerns with aspects of the WSP.
Members of the Friends of Snoqualmie Valley Trail and River, Representatives from the Orca Conservancy and many North Bend citizens attended both the town hall and the council meeting to express their dismay over the city’s WSP and some believe that North Bend is gambling with their water supply and the health of the Snoqualmie River.
A few of the commenters felt that the city’s strategy is to take water away from citizens, in the form of the WCO, to support developers who want to build apartments and the National Guard Readiness Facility. They claim the city is primarily and exclusively focused on North Bend development and the revenue that development generates for the City.
Following a lengthy public comment period on the WSP, City Councilmembers spent an extensive amount of time going line-by-line with numerous questions and concerns they had, as well as those expressed by citizens at Town Hall and Council meetings, in email, on social media, and in other public forums.
Councilmembers Rosen and Koellen both noted they are not fans of development but think there are better paths to protest than to continue to object to the Water Service Plan. After being approved by the Department of Ecology, the King County Council, the King County Utilities Technical Review Committee and preliminarily by the Department of Health. The North Bend City Council voted unanimously to approve.
So, what’s next?
The city expects final Department of Health approval in the coming weeks. According to social media posts, opposition groups intend to continue to fight the WSP by challenging the approval process.
You can listen to the public comment and ensuing City Council discussion on the Water System Plan HERE. (Timestamp 53:40 of meeting audio.) Video of the virtual February 2nd City Council meeting should be available in the City website’s Media Center by February 6th. The WSP Town Hall meeting recording is currently available in the Media Center.
[*Note: The Friends of the Trail have chosen to speak only to the Snoqualmie Valley Record on this matter.]