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State OKs Cascade's water rights of Lake Tapps

Lake Tapps will be maintained for recreational use and provide water to Bellevue residents. - Courtesy Photo
Lake Tapps will be maintained for recreational use and provide water to Bellevue residents.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

The state Department of Ecology today approved Lake Tapps water rights for the Cascade Water Alliance.

Cascade is a consortium of eight municipalities – including Bellevue – and provides drinking water to nearly 400,000 residences and more than 22,000 businesses in eastern King County.

The decision also guarantees summer recreation levels for one of Pierce County’s most popular lakes and robust flows in the White River that support healthy habitat and salmon runs while improving the river’s water quality.

The state approval gives Cascade authority to use a portion of water in Lake Tapps as a future drinking water source. This will be the first regional water supply to come on line in the Puget Sound area in many years.

“The work to decide who gets to use the public’s water is some of the most difficult we face at Ecology,” said Ted Sturdevant, Ecology’s director. “I believe we’ve struck the right balance with this decision. The key interests of each party have been preserved, reflecting the art of compromise necessary for good water decisions. It’s an approach we could use more of to ensure we have a water smart future for Washington.”

Lake Tapps is a reservoir created in 1911 as part of a hydroelectric project on the White River. When Puget Sound Energy announced in 1999 it might not have the ability to continue operating the system, concerns arose about the lake’s future. Lake Tapps community homeowners and others who enjoy the lake were particularly worried about maintaining appropriate lake levels for swimming, boating and other recreational activities.

Proposals emerged in the early 2000s to save the lake by turning it into a drinking water supply. Puget Sound Energy ended the hydroelectric operations in 2004 but agreed to keep the lake filled while negotiations to sell the lake were ongoing. Cascade purchased Lake Tapps from Puget Sound Energy in December 2009.

Ecology’s decision gives Cascade the right to eventually divert up to 48 million gallons of water daily from Lake Tapps to serve its customers. Cascade agreed to prioritize specific flows in the White River and summer recreation levels in Lake Tapps ahead of taking water for municipal use.

Cascade doesn’t plan to develop this regional water supply for decades, and will still have to build water treatment and delivery systems.

Ecology’s decision is final pending any appeals which must be filed within the next 30 days.

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