Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Legal arguments linger over Hawkins water sale; Lamar questions whether IDWR will approve extension"

I'm glad someone on the Moscow City Council realizes the hypocrisy that was involved with Moscow obtaining a water right to drill a new well while opposing the Hawkins Companies attempting to do the same thing.

From yesterday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Moscow City Councilman Tom Lamar suspects the Idaho Department of Water Resources may deny the city's application to extend its water service area into Whitman County.

Lamar was the lone council member to vote against accepting Public Works Director Les MacDonald's report about the application at Monday's City Council meeting. The city seeks to provide water for the Hawkins Companies' proposed retail development on the Pullman-Moscow Highway, just across the state line.

"I guess I still haven't acquired any additional comfort in doing that, so I just wanted to state my continued concern for this process," Lamar said.

The city agreed to make "prompt application" to IDWR in a settlement with Hawkins, reached during closed-door mediation in February. MacDonald will send a copy of the application to Hawkins for review before it is sent to IDWR.

City Supervisor Gary Riedner said the city will notify the public when the application is sent to IDWR.

The application requests a modification of the city's service area, which usually is the same as the city's corporate limits. The application states the water will be supplied to Whitman County for use by "a commercial development located immediately adjacent to but outside of the city's corporate limits."

MacDonald said the application would not modify Moscow's water rights in any way other than extending services. It does not ask for additional water rights, surrender any rights or make other changes to current services.

Lamar said after the meeting he has doubts there is room in Idaho law for selling water across state lines. He does not know of any example where it was allowed.

He also is concerned that the request could be seen as water mining, which is illegal in Idaho.

"We're taking water out faster than it's being recharged, and now we're going to sell it as a commodity," he said.

City Attorney Randy Fife said he sees no legal problem with Moscow's request "because the Idaho state code provides a mechanism to deliver water outside of the state, and because IDWR agrees that that is an appropriate mechanism."

Fife said IDWR officials want the city to enter a joint powers agreement with a Washington political entity, likely Whitman County, to extend the water service area.

He said he would prefer the city and county reach an agreement before the application is sent to IDWR.

Mayor Nancy Chaney, who does not support selling water to Hawkins, said there should be more communication between the parties involved in the settlement agreement "to ascertain whether being fast or being thorough is preferable" before the application is submitted.

Councilman Walter Steed reminded the council that Hawkins still would have access to 45 acre-feet of water rights should the application be denied.

"Once this is approved and we are able to physically supply water then they are to abandon those water rights and they will be given back to the state of Washington and not be used," he said.

In other business:

MacDonald reported on the city's preparations for Well No. 10, which is scheduled to be drilled on the west end of A Street in 2009.

The city will apply to IDWR to utilize Well No. 9's existing water right for the new well. The amount of water the city can pump will not be increased, but it will be able to pump from either Well No. 9 or Well No. 10. Riedner said the purpose of Well No. 10 is to provide backup in case Well No. 9 temporarily shuts down.

MacDonald said at an earlier meeting he would prefer to apply for a new water right. Councilman John Weber agreed, and voted against accepting the report on the application.

Weber said after the meeting it seems like a waste of time and money to drill a new well but not obtain a new water right.

Steed and Councilman Wayne Krauss said Moscow should not apply for a new right just after asking Hawkins Companies to relinquish its water rights in exchange for the water sale.

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