TULALIP — A decades-old feud between the Tulalip Tribes and the city of Everett was washed away Friday.
That’s when a long-awaited water pipeline connecting the city and the Tulalip reservation was turned on for the first time.
“The completion of this water pipeline is a historic event,” Tulalip Chairwoman Marie Zackuse said. “We have secured water for our people and future generations for the next hundred years.”
“It took years of planning, and years more to build the pipeline, which now carries water from Spada Lake to Tulalip,” Zackuse said. “It will enhance our salmon recovery efforts, habitat restoration, and will provide a source of fresh water for our people now and into the future.”
The “Big Water” celebration drew hundreds of people. It featured a symbolic opening of the taps. A total of 10 people including tribal leadership, former board Chairmen Stan Jones Sr. and Herman Williams Jr. and Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson each turned a spigot on a gold colored pipe and drank the first water out of carved ladles.
Then one of the children present opened a tap all the way and splashed those standing nearby.
The 36-inch pipeline was the byproduct of a long-running legal dispute over salmon habitat.
Everett started building dams on the Sultan River in 1916, with the most recent Culmback Dam completed in 1965.
In 2001, the Tulalip Tribes filed a $37 million claim against the city, saying the damming of the river had harmed salmon habitat and led to reduced runs.
Negotiations led to Everett paying a $5 million settlement to the tribes to help fund the $67 million cost of the pipeline.
In October 2016, the tribes and the city signed off on a 50-year contract during which the city would provide up to 30 million gallons per day to the reservation.
The reservation only uses about 1 million gallons of water per day, and likely won’t approach capacity for decades.
The pipeline will help supplement flow to the tribes’ salmon hatchery during dry spells, however, and it also will help bolster the water table. The tribal utility department has been overwhelmed and faucets have run dry during past droughts.
Williams, who took part in the initial talks with Everett, said difficult discussions turned positive as they found common ground.
“We sat down as human beings talking frankly to one another, and out of this came this water pipe,” Williams said.
At one point, Stephanson took Williams aside outside the negotiation room.
“He said, ‘We’re all good people, we’re all trying to do the right thing, let’s take a leap of faith,’” Williams said.
“I’m just tickled pink we get to turn the faucets on today,” he said.
Williams, Jones and Stephanson were honored with woven blankets for their work.
“What this was about more than anything was trust,” Stephanson said.
The mayor added that his father, who died recently, had taught him since childhood about the injustices that had been done to Native Americans.
“I really never thought I’d have the opportunity in my lifetime to right a wrong. And this agreement rights a wrong,” Stephanson said.