TULALIP — A key to the Tulalip Tribes’ future was half-a-mile long, green and waiting in the grass next to I-5.
To drivers whooshing past on the freeway Saturday, the hunk of pipe looked a bit like a super-sized paper towel tube.
It’s actually a crucial segment in a $70 million project that will eventually hook Tulalip into the city of Everett’s water system.
When finished, it will allow the Tulalips to develop more commercial land, serve their growing population and even conserve important waterways. The positive economic benefits are expected to ripple far beyond the reservation.
“We’re thinking of the future,” tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon said.
Just before midnight Saturday, crews began the painstaking process of getting that gigantic tube into a hole in the ground.
Workers had already drilled a pathway under the Ebey Slough. Through the weekend, they used cranes and rollers to maneuver the pipe and then pull it into place.
Eventually the pipeline should provide an average of up to 36 million gallons daily during the peak summer months. Up to 10 million of that water is targeted to flow into streams.
To give that number some perspective, the city of Everett provides 55 million gallons of water on average daily to half a million people in Snohomish County.
Everett is water rich. The city draws from Lake Chaplain and Spada Reservoir, which can hold 50 billion gallons of water. That’s more water than all of Seattle’s reservoirs combined.
Water shortages can be a problem in the Tulalip area, especially during the summer months.
Many homes and businesses in the area pull water from an aquifer under the reservation. With rationing there’s enough water now — barely.
Ground water levels dropped 20 feet this summer and as much as 50 feet other years, Sheldon said.
The reservation gets some water through the city of Marysville’s system. It’s still not enough to support the future growth of the tribe, Sheldon said.
The Tribes are financing most of the cost of the $70 million project. The state plans to kick in $2.5 million.
The city of Everett is working with the tribes on the project and has contributed another $5 million, which is paying for design and studies.
The city and the Tulalips agreed to work on this project together in an effort to heal a relationship gone sour.
A decade ago, the tribes filed a $37 million legal claim against Everett, contending that the city’s diversion dam built years earlier on the Sultan River had destroyed a salmon run. There were other hurts too.
The good-faith efforts of the city on this project have done much to heal old wounds, Sheldon said.
“They saw the historical inequities and realized in order to go forward they had to review those and find solutions,” he said.
The entire pipeline won’t be completed for at least a few years.
Its planned path leaves the reservation, travels across the flats next to Highway 529, skirts the eastside of Everett and eventually hooks into the city’s transmission lines at U.S. 2.
Even before the pipeline is completely finished, the Tulalips should be able to hook into a small distribution line in north Everett, bringing 2 million gallons a day to the reservation.
The target for completion of the entire project is 2016, but it might take longer depending on financing.
Right now, drivers traveling toward Everett on 529 can see the next segment being welded together on Smith Island.
The 36-inch pipe is coated with a hard resin that should give it a life span of at least a century.
Reporter Bill Sheets contributed to this report.
Debra Smith: 425-339-3197; email@example.com.