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Is everybody ready to discuss water planning? Tough, that's what we're talking about anyway. Recent squabbles over that old H2O have Seattle Mayor Paul Schell and King County Executive Ron Sims (a.k.a. The Two Good Boys of Regionalism) ready to stage a fistfight in the corridor (the winner takes on Sheriff Dave Reichert).
Here's the story so far: Sims announced in February that the county might invoke an obscure state law and form a water-planning agency. Seattle, which provides water to about two of three county residents, suggested that King County butt out. Sims agreed to shut up for a while, but only if Seattle got busy working out a power-sharing arrangement with the 26 area cities and water districts it serves.
Of course, seeing as this is a bureaucratic tangle, someone had to write a snide letter. The missive in question was signed by Seattle Public Utilities Director Diana Gale, but was edited by City Council President Margaret Pageler while Gale and Schell were out of town (letter-editing duties apparently fall to the council president when everyone else is on vacation). While Pageler claims her edit was intended to clarify the issues, her final sentence proved a bit too plain spoken. "We must say a firm 'No' to Executive Sims' demand to impose another layer of bureaucracy," concluded the letter, which was sent to jurisdictions that purchase Seattle water.
Sims, who has sincere, serious concerns about water planning but gets really pissed when people talk trash behind his back, naturally threw a fit. He's made it known that Seattle has only a month or two to get the situation fixed, or else.
Short tempers aside, there have been a few good points raised. First, the argument that since Seattle has the water it should do the planning has lost its luster with the suburbs dealing with rapid growth. Even Pageler acknowledges the unfairness of the Seattle City Council making decisions that affect thousands of suburban residents unrepresented in the proceedings. Seattle had already agreed to work with the Cascade Water Alliance, an association of suburban water buyers. But the CWA coalition was slow to coalesce, recently missing an important deadline. In this light, Sims' sudden combativeness could be considered a little not-so-friendly coercion to convince Seattle to continue its deal making. And suburban jurisdictions appreciate Sims' efforts to rein in the region's OPEC of water. "We're trying to create less of a monopoly, here's-what-we're-going-to-give-you, form of relationship," notes Bellevue Mayor Chuck Mosher.
But Sims could still end up pushing for countywide water planning. County officials say Seattle's current approach doesn't address maintaining stream flows for salmon habitat or reusing treated waste water for lawn watering and industrial cooling. Pam Bissonnette, director of the county Department of Natural Resources, says that the water reuse information is imperative in planning for King County's massive new sewage treatment plant. "If we're going to have an answer, we need to get started now," she says.
One thing is for sure: Suburban officials aren't happy with the current system of two-tiered water rates ("new growth" pays big; older areas get their water cheaper), enforced conservation plans, and even the possibility of water-related construction moratoriums. Let's hope this water fight gets mopped up before any serious casualties result.
Finding fish a home
Do you find that reading stories about that new super-sized Seattle Aquarium makes your head hurt? First it was the decision to have the new public/private partnership panel review the deal between the city and the Seattle Aquarium Society after it gets signed (their next task will be to decide whether blowing up that Kingdome was such a smart idea). And now the good folks at the Aquarium Society (called SEAS for short) are whining over a few council members' attempts to reopen the question of where to put the new facility.
SEAS knows where it wants to build: on the large Pier 62/63 open space, which now serves as the site for the Summer Nights at the Pier concert series and provides a sweeping view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. But council members Nick Licata, Judy Nicastro, and Peter Steinbrueck have recently raised questions over the lack of a siting process. They have also indicated to SEAS, a private organization, that those annoying Seattle citizens might be consulted. Naturally SEAS isn't taking this lying down. "Consideration of other sites not only goes against previous city policy decisions, it also flies in the face of consensus reached at" a 1998 planning meeting, scolded SEAS officials in a March 25 letter to Licata. It turns out the meeting cited was a closed, invitation-only event which, by the way, didn't include any discussion of alternative sites.
It's also instructive to note that the only time the public has spoken on this issue, it rejected a pair of 1988 ballot issues to double the size of the aquarium and implement Mayor Charles Royer's Harborfront Plan. (It should be further noted that Royer and successor Norm Rice went and did most of the stuff the voters didn't want anyway.) At least SEAS officials now admit that the council has the authority to change its mind. For these folks, that could be considered a major concession.