Christian Hill covers Lacey and Thurston County for The Olympian & penned this thorough report in today’s editions:
Judge says Yelm must prove it has water
Condition placed by city on subdivisions ruled illegal
“The city has lost the latest round in an apparent precedent-setting case that will determine when and to what level a city must prove it has the water to serve a planned development.
Yelm Mayor Ron Harding said Friday the city will appeal a ruling that overturns its preliminary approval of five subdivisions totaling 568 homes, townhomes and condominiums.
Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham ruled a condition placed on the preliminary approval of the subdivisions violated state law. The condition allowed the city to wait until someone applied for a building permit to prove it had enough water to serve the proposed development. He determined the city must show that proof earlier in the land-use process.
The final outcome could have statewide implications as cities continue to grow and drinking water becomes more scarce.
Channeler JZ Knight challenged the approval of the subdivisions on the basis the city did not have sufficient water to serve them and that could affect future development of her property.
The court challenge eventually focused on two questions: May the city of Yelm continue the practice of waiting until an individual requested a building permit to provide proof it has enough water to serve the proposed development? What level of proof must be shown?…
Yelm city officials said Wickham exceeded his authority by making a ruling on a action that has yet to occur, namely consideration of the final plat approval for the subdivisions.
They argued that, if upheld, his ruling means cities would have to “bank,” or set aside water, even for property that may never develop.
“If it falls on Yelm, it’s going to affect other cities,” City Administrator Shelly Badger said of the ramifications of such a ruling.
The state Department of Ecology, which regulates the public waters in the state, sided with Knight in a friend-of-the-court brief filed in the challenge.
The state agency said it’s important “the cart does not get before the horse” by cities approving subdivisions without securing the water to serve them.
“Having water in place early in the process would also eliminate the possibility of a lot owner’s expectations being dashed and his or her investment being stranded because there is no water to serve the actual lot,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Maia Bellon, representing the agency…
Yelm water history
Wickham also ruled the city was pumping more water than it had legal right since 2001 and doesn’t have sufficient water rights to serve the five new subdivisions…
In its brief, Ecology noted one reason it was participating in the lawsuit was to prevent possible water rights violations by the city.
The two sides have reached agreement that the city will pump not more than 796 acre-feet this year, a limit Badger said the city is on pace to stay within. That limit would not provide enough water to serve the five subdivisions.
“Our job is to get people in compliance, and they are in compliance to the best of our knowledge. That’s success for us,” said Tom Loranger, water resources manager Ecology’s southwest regional office.”