King County, District 19 to launch discussions over water moratorium

In a move that King County seldom takes, county officials will sit down with local commissioners next week to see if they can find a way to lift Water District 19’s 14-year moratorium on new water shares.

The process was ordered by the King County Coun-cil in December, when it approved District 19’s comprehensive plan with the caveat that the water district and county embark on a two-year dialogue to determine why the Vashon-based water system is unable to meet demand.

The goal, said Steve Hirschey, a water policy analyst with the county’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks, is to “address whether the moratorium is reasonable.”

“At the end of the day,” he added, “we want to be able to say, ‘Yup, they’re doing the best job that they can, and the moratorium is reasonable.’”

Such a process, he added, “has happened before, but it’s not routine.”

Hirschey and another

county official, Larry Stock-ton, will meet with district commissioners on Tuesday, to launch the public discussion. Steve Haworth, who chairs District 19’s three-member commission, said he welcomes the dialogue.

“I see them as allies,” he said of the county.

Even so, he plans to begin the process by presenting an analysis that lays out what he calls the district’s “responsible efforts to add water service connections.”

The position paper, which reflects Haworth’s thinking, not that of the commission, details the district’s long and complex effort to secure additional water — an effort that has mostly made water for District 19’s customers among the costliest in the state.

But because of the district’s efforts and significant water conservation on the part of its customers, the water system is close to being in a “small surplus situation,” according to his analysis, and will be able to add a few customers from its long waiting list. Such a process, he added, will have to take place “incrementally and gradually.”

In an interview, Haworth said his goal is to make sure the county understands why a moratorium has existed for so many years. “There’s a large amount of data underlying it,” he said.

District 19, the Island’s largest water purveyor, serves the central swath of the Island, including Vashon town. Because of its moratorium, about 100 people or entities are on a waiting list, seeking a water share for property they own within the district’s borders.

Hirschey said it’s possible District 19’s capacity problem could be solved by capital improvement projects — from another new well to a desalination plant. But he also said he realizes “we’re in an era where we just can’t throw money” at the problem.

The goal, he said, is to determine “if there really is any more water source enhancement we can do or are we just kidding ourselves. ... Let’s get out of academia and get more real.”

But some observers say they’re troubled by the county’s decision to step into District 19’s territory, a move they see as a breach of the county’s jurisdictional authority.

Evan Simmons, who co-owns the Burton Water Co., said he wonders if the county is seeking an end to the moratorium so as to get denser development on Vashon and thus a bigger tax base.

“There’s a legitimate concern that that might be the county’s motive,” he said, adding, “Why are they even involved in this?”

The public discussion will take place at 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 30, at District 19’s office at 17630 100th Ave. S.W.

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