Local News

NE Washington Closer to New Water Rights

Nov 23, 2011

Northeast Washington is one step closer to gaining access to water from Sullivan Lake to support new domestic, municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses, and when fully allocated could add $1.4 billion to the tax base of northeastern communities and generate $4 million per year in economic activity.

A secondary use permit issued by the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) will allow 14,000 acre-feet of water to be released from the lake to support streamflows and offset new water uses in six Northeastern Washington counties. The water has been used by Pend Oreille Public Utility District to generate electricity.

Beginning in late 2012, two-thirds of the releases, some 9,400 acre-feet, will be available for new water rights in Pend Oreille, Ferry, Lincoln, Stevens, Okanogan and Douglas counties. The remainder will be managed to benefit fisheries in Sullivan Creek, the Pend Oreille River, and the Columbia River.

In return for the water, the Pend Oreille Public Utility District (PUD) received a one-time payment of $14 million from the Columbia River Basin Water Development Account. The money will pay for projects improving water quality, restoring habitat and stream flows, lowering water temperatures to healthier levels and enhancing local recreation opportunities. Over time, water user fees will reimburse the state for the $14 million investment.

"The PUD is really pleased to see what a positive result this project is for our ratepayers and others in Northeast Washington who have a real need for this new water," according to PUD General Manager Bob Geddes. "It's becoming a real benefit for many."

Ecology's Office of Columbia River (OCR) became interested in the water storage potential at Sullivan Lake when it learned that the PUD planned to surrender its license for the Sullivan Creek Hydroelectric Project. That led to discussions about how to manage Sullivan Lake in the future.

From these discussions, a settlement was reached with many parties including the Pend Oreille County's Public Utility District No. 1, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Kalispel Tribe of Indians, Seattle City Light, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Ecology, Selkirk Conservation Alliance, The Lands Council, American Whitewater, the town of Cusick and local residents.

"These partnerships are providing opportunities for economic growth at a particularly challenging time," said Derek Sandison, director of OCR. "And we're doing so in a way that balances growth with protecting the region's important environmental values."

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