“In the picture below is the current water rate structure and the proposed water rate schedule here in Yelm. You will notice a slight increase in the base rate (most people have residential 5/8) from $37.47 to $37.84, the current 4 tier system for consumption rates reduced to 2 tiers (so rates will no longer escalate to some of the highest rates in WA state), and the first 400cf of water included in the base rate (so if you want to live frugally your bill for water will only be the base rate of $37.84). The current average water bill (not including stormwater or sewer) for someone using 800cf of water is $71.63 and if this proposal is adopted in the budget, starting in January 2021 it will be $55.08. On the high usage side, someone currently using 4500 cf of water is paying $521.59 and if passed will pay $279.05. The senior water rate resident is on average spending $35.82 and in January 2021 if passed it will go down to $18.93.
“I was very pleased and thankful that the Mayor included this Public Works proposal in his budget which will likely pass. This is going to help lower the water rates in Yelm for the first time ever. I know prices are still going to be higher when compared to someone living outside of the city limits or even a lot of other cities, but this is a good start in my opinion.
“Thanks for reading and feel free to ask questions and I will do my best to answer them.” Read more
“…pushing child abuse conspiracy theories echoes what Bannon has publicly advocated in an effort to alter how voters feel.
“‘This is gaslighting of the highest order,’ Phillips said. ‘This has been the Steve Bannon playbook this entire time. He has celebrated the strategy of ‘flooding the zone with s—‘ — when you confuse people, when you make them angry, when you just sort of throw too many things at them for them to process.’
“The re-run of an identical conspiracy theory from 2016, this time with Hunter Biden as the new target, gathered momentum in part because of a new disinformation pipeline promoted by high-profile conservative figures — including the president.”
Editor’s note: I have received numerous requests from new and long-time area residents, Yelm City Council candidates and Yelm Community Blog readers to publish a summary of Yelm’s key water stories that are easily accessible in one place.
A history of Yelm’s water issues presents a context of how we got to where we are today and how we can plan for the future.
The following is my report, with each date hot-linked with documents where available:
* 1995, Yelm annexed land SW of town [an area now known as Thurston Highlands]. The City of Yelm was then looking at the potential to develop water rights in what is known as the SW Aquifer since it annexed that land in 1995. That was one of the chief forces behind the annexation.
* June 2006, Yelm’s Council voted $550,000+ to partly finance a private developer’s water study. The City of Yelm partially financed the Golder Water Study for a private developer [Thurston Highlands], which was against city rules and without a contract. When the developer went bankrupt, the city was not reimbursed for the outlay, nor did the city file a lien against the developers for their portion of this study. Thurston Highlands was a 5,000 home planned community, one of the then-largest in WA state, which would have more than tripled Yelm’s population.
* January 2007, NVN: Yelm water concerns reach boil” The Nisqually Valley News (NVN) reported, “The owners of the golf course, also the developers of Tahoma Terra and Thurston Highlands, offered to give the city water rights if half of the available water could be used for the Tahoma Terra development.”
* July 2007, Senior Water Rights holder JZ Knight takes on Yelm in a high-profile water rights case. Knight’s case started in July, 2007 in front of the Yelm Hearing Examiner and continued through appeals to the Yelm City Council and State Superior Court. “In 2007, five developers filed applications with the city of Yelm (City) for preliminary plat approval of proposed subdivisions.” “After a hearing examiner granted Tahoma Terra preliminary plat approval, JZ Knight, a nearby property owner and senior water rights holder, appealed to the Yelm City Council (City Council), arguing the hearing examiner’s conditional approval of the plats erroneously allowed the developers and the City to delay showing adequate water provisions for the subdivision until the building permit stage. The City Council affirmed the preliminary plat approvals, and Knight filed an action in Thurston County Superior Court under the Land Use Petition Act (LUPA), chapter 36.70C RCW.”
The Senate Environment, Water and Energy Committee asked about why the lawsuit against the city came forward. Mayor Harding said the litigation is a land use issue. He opened his remarks by saying funding for city improvements to roads could not have been accomplished without the growth here, and to limit growth because of this water case would hurt the city in the long term. [Editor’s Note: That was not exactly true, as many of the existing street and sidewalk improvements were completed with federal or state grants. Most of the miles of new roads and sidewalks added to the city’s grid were in new developments, for which the developers and L.I.D. financed.] Harding went on to tell the legislators, “The opponent (JZ Knight) used water and water timing as a mechanism to stop growth in the area.” That was false. While Knight originally filed a land use appeal (LUPA) in Thurston County Superior Court, her intent was only to protect her senior water rights.
* May 2009, Thurston Highlands default story was first reported by the Yelm Community Blog. *Thurston Highlands, LLC defaulted on the entire Highlands property, a 1,200 acre property in southwest Yelm that proposed 5,000 residential units with up to 1.5 million sq. ft. of commercial space (comparable to the square footage of 8 Super Wal-Marts). The records showed that the amount to be collected was almost $12 1/2 million dollars. including massive new additions to the citys water & sewer systems. In order to accomplish this, The City of Yelm had proposed to obtain enormous new water rights by application to the State Dept. of Ecology, and fund water/sewer rate increases on the backs of property owners for massive new additions to the city’s water & sewer systems.
* June 2009, The Yelm City Council implemented a water rate increases for an updated Water System Plan. The mayor said purpose of the Water Rate increase is to meet debt service obligations and will be solely used to keep Fund 401 in-status [an operational and maintenance fund]. Staff Representative Stephanie Ray said the City Council can raise rates for operations as they see fit – the last time there was a water rate increase was in 2003. She added there was a need to raise rates to keep up with operational costs.
* September 29, 2009, Thurston County Commissioners briefed on the Yelm water issues. Commissioners Cathy Wolfe, Sandra Romero and Karen Valenzuela requested this briefing from Thurston County and Ecology Staffs and were all very interested and engaged in learning about the nuances of what Commissioner Romero described as one of the most critical issues in the years to come for government. Commissioner Romero asked why the Commissioners were not notified of nor did the County respond to the City of Yelm MDNS during the public comment period.
* December 2011, WA Supreme Court overturns city’s appeal, Yelm loses water case. In a stunning 7-2 decision written by Justice Charles Wiggins and finalized January 2012, “the Supreme Court held that Knight established that the land use decision is likely to prejudice her water rights and satisfies the statutory standing requirement.” The City of Yelm had approved 5 development plats without proving the city had water rights availability at the time of plat approval. Knight pressed the city to follow the process, arguing that not doing so would have adversely impacted her senior water rights downstream of the development.
* March 12, 2012, Yelm water rights not a ‘Slam Dunk.’ On November 18, 2011, Sara Foster submitted an Appeal against the City of Yelm and the Dept of Ecology to stop the pumping of 942 acre feet of water, every year for 20 years, from the aquifer. Ecology had just rubber-stamped Yelm’s Mitigation Plan and the city was approved to begin pumping. This amount would have had a huge environmental impact to the aquifer. It means wells in a vast surrounding area [outside of Yelm city limits] could drop in static level and property owners would have to drill new wells. In 2009, the Yelm community became aware of this same Mitigation Plan submitted to Ecology, and wrote over 85 letters in protest, which was subsequently withdrawn.
* May 2012, Council purchases golf course water rights for $151,000. [City staffe]r Stephanie Ray reported the settlement agreement would settle proposed potential litigation on water rights that were owned by Tahoma Valley Golf and Country Club and were subsequently transferred to the City of Yelm for municipal water use. The City had been working with Tahoma Valley Golf and Country Club for the previous few months to come to an equitable and fair resolution to the transfer of these water rights that were already put to beneficial use. Councilmember McGowan feels the agreement is fair for both parties involved but does not feel that the public was properly notified and will not be voting on this item for that reason. 5-AYES, 1-NAY (MCGOWAN). CARRIED. $151,000 = 77 afy of water
* June 2013, City of Yelm water rights appealed by local citizen Sara Foster. Yelms water rights, which were granted by the Department of Ecology and affirmed by the Pollution Control Hearings Board in March, were appealed by Yelm resident Sara Foster. The appeal was to be heard in Thurston County Superior Court. Fosters lawyer was Patrick Williams, from the Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) in Seattle.
* June 2014, NVN: “Foster Appeals Yelm Water Right Ruling” “Southwest Yelm Well: Citizen Seeks Direct Review by State Supreme Court” Steven Wyble wrote this in the Nisqually Valley News: “Yelm resident Sara Foster has appealed a recent court ruling affirming the city of Yelms water rights. Foster is seeking direct review to the state Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court decides not to take the case, it will go to the Court of Appeals.”
“For a second time, the Washington State Supreme Court has ruled the Department of Ecology was wrong to cite an overriding public interest in permanently redistributing rights in a water-short basin.
The court ruled 6-3 Thursday that DOE erred when it permitted the Western Washington city of Yelm to draw more groundwater to accommodate growth.
The withdrawal would have put the basin’s rivers and creeks at risk of occasionally falling below state-mandated minimum flows, a water right senior to Yelm’s new right.
DOE argued that the move was in the public’s interest and that a mitigation plan would actually enhance the environment. Yelm resident Sara Foster, who feared the city’s withdrawal would harm her domestic well, sued and received support from the Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Carnegie Group, a Thurston County landowners’ organization.
Writing for the majority, Justice Charles Johnson dismissed the mitigation plan as irrelevant and said a growing city was hardly unusual.
He stated that overriding public interest could only justify temporary water withdrawals. Using it to support a permanent transfer of water rights was ‘an end-run around the normal appropriation process, he wrote. Read more
“The Yelm Farmers Market will be extending the market days into November and December, the dates are November 7th , November 21st , December 5th and December 21st. We hope everyone will come out and do some of their holiday shopping at the market and help support our local vendors through the holiday season.” Read more
Editor’s note: Just one of the fine Yelm Farmers Market vendors I visited this season was Shannon, owner of BasketCaseNW [Facebook access: basketcasenw]. Available this weekend at the Farmers Market in Yelm as well as the LeMay Fall Bazaar at Marymount in Spanaway.