At last, city gets water

— After more than 20 years of waiting due to a dispute over a paperwork snafu that resulted in a lawsuit settlement, the city will finally receive new water rights that could pave the way for development.

City officials are poised to sign a 25-year contract Wednesday morning with the state Department of Ecology that will take the city from about 500 acre-feet of water per year to 1,100 acre-feet.

“This additional water is taking care of a very limiting factor as far as potential growth, both residential and commercial,” Mayor Marilynn Lynn said.

“The new water right also allows the rotation of water in all three city wells to provide increased service to our community. Together with our new wastewater treatment plant, the city of Bridgeport can now accommodate 165 new homes or equivalent businesses.”

Under the new contract, the city will purchase the water at $60 per acre-foot from Sullivan Lake. The other option was to lease water rights from Lake Roosevelt.

Buying the water outright means the city is locked into a fixed rate for the next 25 years, Lynn said. That allows the city to budget more accurately each year.

The first payment to Ecology will be made in November.

Issues over water rights in Bridgeport began when the Legislature passed the Claims Registration Act in 1967 to document water rights. The city fell out of compliance and submitted a new permit application instead of a specific form the state required.

As a result, the city’s water rights were limited to 500 acre-feet per year.

In May 2010, the city filed a lawsuit against Ecology in Douglas County Superior Court. A year later, the city agreed to drop its lawsuit by the end of 2014 if Ecology issued new water rights.

Ecology Director Maia Bellon said the region has struggled to access new water on a river that must balance the needs of hydropower, irrigation and protecting endangered salmon.

“It’s so nice to be here to deliver on a promise that secures Bridgeport’s future for many years to come,” she said. “We want to thank the city for its patience and legislators like Sen. (Linda) Parlette who are helping us make water available up and down the Columbia River – from farmers in the Odessa area to cities in north central Washington.”

Because of fish mitigation needs, Ecology was unable to grant new water rights to towns along the Columbia River for a number of years. A moratorium was placed on new water rights in the early 1990s, around the time Brewster filed its own application for more water, Ecology spokeswoman Joye Redfield-Wilder said.

The moratorium was lifted around 1998, but a new state rule required that all new withdrawals be approved after consultations with all interested parties, including state and federal agencies and tribal government.


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