Water pipeline to Tulalip nears completion

TULALIP — A new pipeline to carry drinking water to the Tulalip Indian Reservation is expected to be completed next month.

The pipeline connects to Everett’s water system on Smith Island and runs north to the reservation.

Tulalip has been receiving its water from Everett through Marysville in a joint operating agreement among the tribes, the two cities and the Snohomish County Public Utility District.

A contract expected to be approved by the Everett City Council this week would allow Tulalip to buy an annual average of 30 million gallons per day, or up to 36 million gallons during peak periods, for the next 50 years.

Jim Miller, Everett’s engineering superintendent, told the City Council recently that the tribes’ current consumption only amounts to about 1 million gallons per day.

“As you know, tribal members look at things very long term, and so it’ll probably be more than 100 years before they reach that level of water demand,” Miller said.

The new pipeline would provide more than enough capacity for the residents on the reservation for quite some time. Miller estimated that 15 years from now only 3 million gallons per day will pass through.

The real benefit to the tribes will be to take the pressure off the water table. Many houses on the reservation rely on well water, and the tribal utility department can get overwhelmed during dry periods.

“With climate change and a growing population needing water on the reservation, the aquifers are under extreme pressure during the summers,” Tulalip Chairman Mel Sheldon Jr. said.

“It’ll go down 20-30 feet, and for us that’s water rationing level,” he said.

The pipeline will help secure a long-term source of water, but it’ll still take years for the tribes to build out or improve the infrastructure so that the water can reach all the homes on the reservation, he said.

There may be future business development in Quil Ceda Village that would involve more water use. Sheldon said the tribes had held discussions in the past with a water park operator.

A water park is not something planned for the near term, and prior to construction of the pipeline, it wasn’t even feasible to consider.

The pipeline is part of a settlement agreement between the city and the tribes stemming from a decades-old dispute over salmon habitat.

Everett built its first diversion dam on the Sultan River in 1916. In 1930, the dam was rebuilt farther upstream. Then in 1965, the city and PUD built the Culmback Dam, creating the Spada Lake reservoir.

In November 2001, the Tulalip Tribes filed a claim against the city, saying the dams had harmed salmon habitat and led to reduced runs.

“Part of the water settlement was to provide water for our hatchery for the salmon,” Sheldon said. The Tulalips’ hatchery opened in 1983.

The tribes asked for $37 million in compensation, which the city negotiated down to about $5 million it contributed toward the $67 million cost of the pipeline. A further $6.5 million was provided by state grants, Miller said.

The remainder of the cost was shouldered by the tribes.

Under the terms of the contract, Everett would charge Tulalip the same rate for water as it does its other wholesale customers.

But the city would not be able to charge or pass along any state utility tax in recognition of tribal sovereignty. Also, some surcharges that the city bills wholesale customers would be capped for the duration of the contract.

The contract would automatically renew for another 50 years unless the city and tribes mutually decided to end the arrangement.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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