LYNNWOOD – When it comes to how much water you will have access to in 2003, it may all come down to location, location, location.
For Snohomish County utilities and their customers, things are looking normal.
“We have such a large storage system,” said city of Everett public works spokeswoman Marla Carter. “We are at normal levels in Spada Lake and Lake Chaplain.”
That lake system in the Sultan Basin, which supplies water and power to Snohomish County and is collectively known as the Jackson Project, is administered by the Snohomish County P.U.D. and the city of Everett.
The power generated in that operation meets about 7 percent of the needs of P.U.D. customers in Snohomish County as well as supplying water to a number of systems around Lake Stevens and Granite Falls.
That means the P.U.D. has a large say in the distribution of water if it should be sent outside Snohomish County.
“Any water diverted away from the main turbines at Spada means power we may have to purchase on the open market,” said Clair Olivers, Assistant General Manager of the P.U.D.
Geopolitical history forces an entirely different set of issues on water users in King County, especially in places like Shoreline and Lake Forest Park.
While these communities can look across streets to the water-bountiful homes of Snohomish County and have palatial views of mammoth bodies of liquid such as Lake Washington, this could be a summer of dry lawns, dirty cars and ever tightening conservation measures. Though Seattle Public Utilities spokespeople acknowledge the low accumulations in the hills, they refuse to acknowledge there is a problem with shortages looming on the horizon, at least in 2003.
“Our snowpack is low,” said J. Paul Blake, communications spokesperson for Seattle Public Utilities. “We had about an inch in the Tolt and two in the Cedar this week,” he said. “We have backed off from our voluntary stage of conservation measures to just an advisory stage.”
That may be an understatement. As of Feb. 18, the snowpack above the Cedar River watershed is at 47 percent of normal while above the Tolt River the snowpack is an alarmingly low 27 percent. Seattle is counting on an above average amount of water in storage at the Chester Morse reservoir and praying for a wet spring. By comparison, the snowpack above the Jackson Project is at 65 percent of seasonal normal.
Seattle has had an increasing number of dry years while Snohomish County, despite strong patterns of population growth, has had sufficient supplies.
“We may be doing well because our system was built for a time when Everett had half a dozen mills, all big water users,” said Carter.
According to Everett Public Works Engineering Superintendent Jim Miller, Everett and Snohomish County could be doing well for decades.
“Our reservoirs hold 50 billion gallons of water, more than all of Seattle’s capacity combined,” he said. The city is also part owner of a water right on the lower Snohomish River that is good for as much as another 36 million gallons per day.
So if the dry times continue, would Seattle come looking to Snohomish County for water?
Miller believes they might, but that any help would be limited by the pipes that are in place.
“It is like your bloodstream,” he said. “As the pipes flow south from Everett, they get smaller. As they flow north from Seattle the same thing. We might be able to put five million gallons in there, 10 million on a good day.”
Seattle Public Utilities average a daily use of about 125 million gallons.
Seattle would also find problems looking south to Tacoma. Not only are there similar plumbing issues, but Seattle last year pulled out of a project that would have tied the cities together with a large system near the town of Milton.
Surprisingly, a study done by the city of Everett showed that even with all of the costs added in transporting water to Seattle, Everett water is cheaper for Seattle customers than the water produced by Seattle Public Utilities. But except for emergency situations, the water rights granted Everett early in the 20th century prohibit use of that resource outside Snohomish County.
Miller believes that the future may hold some form of regionalization of the water systems in the area. .
“We only have one source of water here,” he said of Snohomish County. “If there was a problem, having access to Seattle might be critical. And of course, if they continue to have light snowpacks, they will want access to us.”