Snub of Lake Tapps cities doesn’t shore up trust
THE NEWS TRIBUNE
The Cascade Water Alliance is doing a poor job of assuring concerned east Pierce County residents that it would be a good steward of Lake Tapps.
The alliance, a coalition of eight east King County cities and water districts, is looking to the lake as a source of drinking water for its growing communities.
Two years ago, when the alliance announced its plans to purchase the lake from Puget Sound Energy, the alliance was hailed as Lake Tapps’ savior. The deal was to cap a five-year effort to save the artificial lake from being drained once its reason for being — the White River Hydroelectric Project — shut down.
Or so it seemed. These days, people who live around the lake and the elected officials who represent them are increasingly questioning whether the sale would benefit them.
Their worries began growing last year when it appeared that efforts to ensure enough water for both the alliance’s customers and fish protection could leave boaters high and dry in summer months. Those fears multiplied earlier this year, when for the first time in many years the lake wasn’t full by Memorial Day.
The prospect of having an absentee owner with no vested interest in maintaining lake levels led Auburn, Bonney Lake and Sumner in September to make an 11th-hour offer to buy the lake. It was a bold but unsuccessful move. PSE declined, saying it was legally bound to continue negotiating with Cascade Water Alliance.
Relations between the cities and the alliance have only gone downhill from there. Alliance officials, miffed by the attempted end-run, have done little to inspire trust among Lake Tapps residents. The alliance talks cooperation but plays hardball, offering the lakeside cities membership but setting the price of admission unreasonably high.
In October, state Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, tried to broker a meeting between the lakeside cities’ mayors and Cascade Water Alliance to talk about cooperating on Lake Tapps issues. What should have been a chance to work constructively only soured the chances of a partnership when alliance officials all but stood the mayors up.
Hurst called the virtual no-show — Grant Degginger, Bellevue’s mayor and chairman of the alliance, eventually showed up 45 minutes late — a slap in the face. That’s exactly how it was received by the three mayors, who as of earlier this week had yet to hear from the alliance about scheduling another meeting.
Letting relations continue to deteriorate serves no one’s interests. The alliance in particular has a lot to lose since the cities are waiting in the wings in the event the alliance can’t seal the deal with PSE. Even if Cascade is able to get the state water right it needs to use Lake Tapps, Auburn, Sumner and Bonney Lake could challenge its plan in court.
The people who live near the shores of Lake Tapps have the biggest stake in what happens to the lake. The Cascade Water Alliance fails to recognize that at its own peril.