Local water hookups now down to a trickle

"Lawmakers, DOE, PUD seeking solutions to unclog system. "

“The Public Utilities District No. 1 board of commissioners made it official on Tuesday: they suspended water hookups for all new customers until Nov. 14. The PUD has a little more than 700 water hookups remaining for the Hansville, Kingston and Gamblewood area. The board doesn’t know when or if more water rights will be granted to the area, so no new customers will be issued a hookup. The board’s action was met with frustration and surprise from those who attended the meeting, according to Harry Davis, district manager for PUD No. 1. Some of the frustration was directed at the Department of Ecology, which processes water rights requests. Some of the frustration was aimed at the lawmakers. There is no valid reason a reasonable person could have about why water rights in this area and in Washington State are so screwed up, said Dan Baskins, land use lobbyist. Baskins attended the meeting and said the problem with the system lands squarely on the shoulders of legislators. State Rep. Phil Rockefeller (D) has been following the situation and said Thursday that he is very sympathetic to the concerns of the PUD. But he also understands that the Department of Ecology, which processes water rights requests, is overwhelmed by the backlog of requests. One of those requests is for a new Kingston well that would double the North Peninsula Water System capacity. That request could take some time to make its way to the head of the line. Just how much time, no one knows for sure. I couldn’t even give you a range, said Curt Hart, Department of Ecology spokesman. This is not a situation we are comfortable with, he said. Hart said the Northwest Regional Office has about 20 staff members and only about a third of them at any one time process water rights requests. Legislation, however, was passed earlier this year to ease the burden a bit and expedite the water rights approval process. Senate Bill 6277, Chapter 251 allows an applicant to pay the Department of Ecology to hire an independent consultant who will work with the DOE to process complex requests. I think we need to do more than that, Rockefeller said. Another Senate Bill, which did not pass, would have created a faster processing system. Rockefeller hopes it will come up again next session. “