Our community requested and received a zoning change to encourage affordable housing in Vashon town — essential to the overall health and vibrancy of our island community. Such housing is within reach, with Water District 19’s 25-year moratorium on issuing new water units expected to end within the next year.
Unfortunately, WD19’s policy of issuing water units in small batches, as capacity allows, makes it unlikely that new water units will ever actually serve affordable housing, that is, built at a scale needed to be economically feasible.
Providing water at this scale would require that WD19 prioritize affordable housing, by setting aside and banking a portion of new water units for statutory affordable housing as future units are issued, and letting that resource accrue until projects become feasible, however many years that may take.
As I prepare to step aside after serving two terms on WD19’s board, I had hoped to realize such a just policy, but now believe this is too big a change for WD19 to make unilaterally. Instead, our community should envision what is possible and ask for it.
Serving as an advocate on WD19’s board, in the position elected this coming fall, is one way to support affordable housing. Candidates begin the process by filing the week of May 17, for the August primary. Potential candidates must live within the WD19 service area, even if not a customer. Supporting affordable housing in your candidate statement and campaigning is one way to support a mandate.
WD19’s board balances competing concerns for our natural environment, water quality and quantity, and affordability for residents and businesses. The board addresses both current needs and long-term resource management in an uncertain future.
WD19 faces challenges: past boards, following community sentiment, kept water rates low and invested minimally in system capacity and maintenance. Infrastructure work did not keep pace with deterioration. Water sources produced less than their potential due to deferred maintenance. More than 10% of treated water is wasted due to system leaks. Brown water remains a nuisance for some customers.
More recently, with community support, WD19 has increased investment in infrastructure and water quality, funded by rate increases and conservation incentives. Costs are daunting: essential work will cost tens of millions of dollars and take decades to realize as we can afford it, one planning cycle at a time.
While the real work is only beginning, WD19 has made great progress. WD19 is finalizing a capital improvement plan for essential infrastructure work. Twenty years ago, WD19’s waitlist had about 300 water units. Today, the list stands at about 35 units, likely to be offered for purchase within the next year, ending the moratorium.
Conservation changes the game: between leak reduction and conservation incentives, scores of new water units may become available over future decades, without increasing overall use of water. WD19 must update its policies to determine when and how to issue these units in our community’s best long-term interest.
Aligning WD19’s goals and plans takes imagination and vision, along with the ability to solve practical problems within a complex regulatory framework. This is challenging and rewarding work. The staff and remaining board are a joy to work with. If you’re considering running for this position, I’d be happy to discuss the challenges facing the district and what board service entails. Please get in touch to learn more.
Bob Powell is a director of Burn Design Lab and owns Meadow Creature LLC (metalcreature.com) which sponsors BDL with prototype stove components.