Bridgeport, state reach truce in long-running water dispute
City will set aside lawsuit for 3 years
Thursday, April 7, 2011
BRIDGEPORT — Bridgeport and the state Department of Ecology have fought for nearly two decades over how much water the city can use.
Ecology says its water rights total 500 acre-feet per year from three groundwater wells. The city maintains it has 1,282 acre-feet per year.
On Tuesday, they agreed to stop fighting about it — at least for now.
“It’s a great relief, and it’s been a long time coming,” said Bridgeport Mayor Bill Zweigle.
In Tuesday’s Douglas County Superior Court filing, the city agreed to put on hold until Dec. 31, 2014, its lawsuit against Ecology filed last year.
Meanwhile, Bridgeport can use up to 1,090 acre-feet per year, while the state works through a pile of applications for new municipal water rights, including one from Bridgeport for 3,000 acre-feet of additional water.
If Ecology approves the new water right, Bridgeport has agreed to drop its lawsuit. If it doesn’t take action by the end of 2014, the city can resume the court action.
Zweigle said Bridgeport had been using 700 acre-feet per year when the city sued in May 2010.
The state Department of Health would not allow the city to put in new water meters because it was already using more water than Ecology said it had rights to use. “It was like a building moratorium. We just had to wait until the settlement,” he said.
Now that an agreement has been reached, he said, the city of 2,409 residents, can begin to offer new water hook-ups, and allow new construction.
“The Columbia River Initiative is what’s making this possible,” said Dan Partridge, Ecology spokesman in Olympia.
The initiative is a 2006 directive from the Legislature to aggressively develop new water rights on the Columbia River, with one-third of the water allocated for streamflows and fish, and two-thirds allocated to people, cities, farms and industries.
Regional director Tom Tebb said in a news release that agreements to drawdown Lake Roosevelt and Sullivan Lake to provide new water allocations are helping the state resolve old disputes, and meet new water needs up and down the Columbia River.
Despite some legal challenges to the drawdowns, Partridge said Ecology has been advised by its attorneys to move ahead with the drawdowns and new water appropriations. Lake Roosevelt drawdowns would make 25,000 acre-feet available to municipal suppliers, and Sullivan Lake would add 9,400 acre-feet of new water to northeastern Washington communities, according to the court agreement to put the lawsuit on hold.
Melissa Downes, Ecology’s water resources program supervisor in Yakima, said other cities on the Columbia River are still ahead of Bridgeport when it comes to processing water rights applications. Some of the other government entities seeking new water rights in North Central Washington include the cities of Brewster and Grand Coulee, Okanogan County Public Works, and the East Wenatchee Water District, she said.
Downes said if Bridgeport’s water right application is approved, the additional water will put the city ahead of its needs. The city’s own water system plan projects it will need 1,099 acre-feet per year by 2027, the court agreement says.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512
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