– Editor’s note:
The Yelm City Council Study Session on Tuesday, April 3rd had a spirited learning session with Councilor Carmody leading a discussion on Yelm water rights. In my 14 years following the Yelm city council, this was the first time I have ever witnessed such a desire to be informed on this topic by most of the councilors, which was very refreshing.
The point I raised before the council on March 27, 2018 has been heard about the next phase of the Tahoma Terra project that was included in the Consent Agenda. There were too many questions needing to be asked/understood so that this council could get up-to-speed on what they were asked to approve, lest the city yet again be the target in the courts for infringing on Senior Water Rights holders and perhaps violating state water law (if over-pumping). Council Carmody requested to defer a vote on this development until more information could be gathered at the study session.
Mayor Foster told the council on March 27 that they had an obligation to approve this developer’s request because Community Development completed the approvals and this was only a ministerial action by the council. Undeterred, the councilors followed their fiduciary responsibility by pausing for a thorough “due diligence” and are not easily intimidated by such an outrageous demand. This was put before them for a vote to approve, to abstain, or to table for more information. While previous councils may have been complicit in rubber-stamped votes, this city council is not a dictatorship where they are directed how to vote. All but one councilor voted to table this to learn more at the Study Session. On another matter that same evening, Councilor DePinto had to remind/correct the mayor that the Legislative branch (council) sets policies, not the Executive Branch (city hall). Most “get it” – that the council’s first obligation is to their constituents, and I am so proud of them for not acquiescing to the mayor.
After the answers presented Tuesday, April 3rd on what Community Development Director Beck meant when he mentioned “banked” water for Tahoma Terra on March 27, I am satisfied that this phase of 62 homes can be approved. However, two items were confirmed last night that are VERY important:
1. Community Development Director Beck said the city has approx. enough water to issue permits for homes for about 2+ more years.
Keep in mind that restaurants and commercial businesses use more water, so that could be less if Yelm gets that kind of economic development in that period of time.
2. City Administrator Michael Grayum responded to Councilor DePinto’s various questions on the Hirst decision changes about what additional water rights Yelm could get from the “pilot project,” that could take up to two years to know exactly what those will be.
If the amount of city residential permits available will be completely issued/used in 2020
Yelm may not know what water rights the city will receive until 2020, the council needs to be aware from here on about development plats being presented to them, so that the city does not over-pump their water allocation by issuing too many permits.
Yelm can not now handle any additional water rights just to provide the city the opportunity to keep issuing housing permits to use as their cash register. The Public Works Director told the council the city’s water/sewer systems are severely antiquated and stressed, requiring an estimated $15m-$24m dollars just to bring them up to today’s standards. The city’s water rate-payers will not be happy when one day they arise and there are no water or sewage capabilities due to system breakdowns from overload, of which we got samples last year. Take care of current property owners first before adding hundreds more.
The entire council would be wise to read the judgements, findings, and conclusions of the Thurston County Superior Court, which the Supreme Court of the State of Washington affirmed December 15, 2011, in the case of JZ Knight vs. City of Yelm et al, when Senior Water Rights holder Knight sued the city and won:
In October 2015, I published on this Blog a 10 year history of the Yelm’s water issues since I began blogging in March 2006. This is an excellent review of the history of how/why Yelm got to where they are in being in the bulls-eye on state water law: