The water protection group Save Tacoma Water could be collecting signatures for one less initiative this year after the Tacoma Public Utilities board moved to grant its wish.
The group filed an initiative petition in February to have a section removed from the Tacoma Municipal Code that allows the utility board to authorize special water contracts in extraordinary situations. In those cases, water contracts didn’t require approval from the City Council.
In response to the group’s initiative, the utility board voted last week to remove that section from the code. Legal staff said the City Council is expected to vote on the issue in April.
Section H of the water rates and regulations portion of the city’s utility code says the water superintendent, “with the approval of the Board, shall have the right to enter into contracts for periods up to 20 years where service conditions are extraordinary; provided that such contracts shall contain applicable rates as adopted by the Board and the City Council.”
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TPU staff said that section of the city code has been used only twice in 50-plus years and was designed for emergency situations in which customers might have an unplanned need for water. Save Tacoma Water didn’t like that those contracts didn’t require the council’s OK.
“Removing the language will provide additional public process opportunity to the general public, allowing them to weigh in on special contracts,” said deputy water superintendent Chris McMeen at last week’s utility board meeting. “It does not change the fact that the board and council have that authority to adopt special contracts, and we see no harm to prudent utility operations with the removal of this language.”
TPU board member Bryan Flint said the water group should celebrate. After the board voted, one of Save Tacoma Water’s founders thanked them for voting to remove the language.
The group last year collected signatures for a pair of ballot initiatives that would have required a public vote before industrial users of large amounts of water could receive permits. Those initiatives were blocked from the ballot last summer by a Pierce County superior court judge, who said they exceeded the scope of the local initiative power.