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The city of Bridgeport and the state have signed an agreement that ends a longtime water dispute and provides the city access to a reliable supply of drinking water now and into the future.
For nearly twenty years, Bridgeport has challenged the state Department of Ecology's interpretation of how much water it may draw on its existing water rights, which date to the 1950s. Tom Tebb, central regional director for Ecology said, "Interpreting 50-year-old documents is difficult, and so is balancing the needs of water throughout the region."
In May 2010, the city of Bridgeport asked Douglas County Superior Court to confirm its position that its water rights total 1,282 acre-feet per year. Ecology however interprets the city's water rights as creating a total 500 acre-feet per year.
Officials say that to avoid the time and cost of further litigation and to provide greater certainty to the city and its residents, the agreement calls for the city and Ecology to tap into new water reserves being developed by Ecology's Office of Columbia River.
Tebbs says water now stored in Sullivan Lake and Lake Roosevelt on the Columbia River will soon be available for new municipal uses through agreements with Pend Oreille County's Public Utility District No. 1 and with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
He said, "Having access to new water in Eastern Washington is helping us resolve old disputes and meet the modern-day needs of communities up and down the Columbia River."
In 2006, the Washington Legislature directed Ecology to aggressively pursue development of new water on the Columbia River for both instream and out-of-stream benefits. One-third of the water developed supports streamflows, fish and habitat. Two-thirds is allocated for individuals, cities, farms and industry. Officials say that both the Sullivan Lake and Lake Roosevelt projects have significant fish benefits in addition to providing water to cities like Bridgeport.
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