Water fight

A new political group spawns an initiative to hurt water hogs and save salmon.

Water signs: Yes For Seattle's Pam Johnson and Knoll Lowney want your signature.

Water signs: Yes For Seattle's Pam Johnson and Knoll Lowney want your signature.

THE SEATTLE CITY Council made it more costly to be a water hog this week, but a group of determined activists is hoping to make the city’s water policy even more progressive.

On Monday the council raised the price for Seattleites who use a lot of water in their homes and on their yards. With Seattle being less soggy than usual and under increasing judicial pressure to preserve salmon habitats, it is hoped that the higher price will encourage water conservation. By sharply increasing water rates for the heaviest users—who, ironically, last year included the council’s president and chief water maven, Margaret Pageler and the head of Seattle’s water department, Diana Gale—the city hopes to cut down on water usage during peak summer months.

That’s not good enough for Yes For Seattle, a band of environmental activists that includes lawyer Knoll Lowney, political consultant John Wyble, and People for Puget Sound’s Pam Johnson. The group has launched Initiative 63, which would not only charge water hogs even higher rates but would use the funds raised to retrofit low-income residences with the latest in high-tech water conservation measures, such as low-flow toilets, showerheads, and faucets. In addition, I-63 specifies that water saved through the city’s conservation measures would remain in Seattle’s two watersheds for the benefit of salmon, rather than being sold to the suburbs. According to Lowney, “The level of conservation in suburbs is not matching Seattle’s.” Under the city’s plan, he says, “[Conserved water] isn’t going to salmon. It’s going to growth. They’re not planning to put [it] back in the river.”

While Pageler was not able to comment before this article’s deadline, she demonstrated her hostility to the initiative last month at a public hearing on water issues by barking at Lowney repeatedly when he tried to raise the issues addressed in I-63. Beyond the dustup at the hearing, Lowney thinks there’s a far more basic reason for Pageler and the city bureaucracy’s hostile reception: Yes For Seattle itself.

The group was spawned last winter mostly by environmental advocates, many of whom are also experienced local campaign activists. In early March, they commissioned a poll that tested about a dozen progressive initiative ideas with Seattle voters. To their surprise, voters supported all of them; the best-scoring helping-salmon-through-water-conservation idea, which eventually became I-63, drew 72 percent approval.

The results cemented the activists’ determination to form Yes For Seattle and confirmed Wyble’s suspicion that, “We, as the voters, [are] much more progressive than [Seattle’s] elected officials. We should have much more progressive leadership than we do. The city needs a kick in the pants, and a well-run initiative organization can be part of that process.”

I-63 is the first initiative campaign of many that Yes For Seattle hopes to run. The idea, says Wyble, is to mirror the success of conservative initiative guru Tim Eyman: to use one or two initiative campaigns each year to change the dynamics of local public policy. The first campaign, Lowney says, is environmental in its focus to draw on Yes For Seattle’s base and to establish a successful track record, but the group’s dreams are far broader. “We’ve got some policy ideas we want to explore. Right now we’re going to play it by ear and see how it goes,” says Lowney. “Outside the initiative process, we still want to influence city policy.”

Yes For Seattle has until early July to collect the 18,000 valid signatures needed to put the initiative before the voters in November. If I-63 makes the ballot, depending on the level of opposition, Lowney estimates that the group may need to spend up to $100,000 to win its first campaign. Yes For Seattle wants to set the agenda for local politics, but Wyble notes, “To keep this thing going, we’ve got to be running campaigns.” If they succeed, far more than Seattle water bills may change as a result.


To contact Yes For Seattle or the I-63 campaign, call 956-8050 or visit www.yesforseattle.org.

Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

This screenshot from Auburn Police Department bodycam footage shows an officer about to fire his weapon and kill dog on May 13, 2022.
Auburn police shoot dog, and owner claims it wasn’t justified

See videos of attack as well as bodycam footage of officer firing at dog.

File photo.
King County Council approves creation of Cannabis Safety Taskforce amid rash of dispensary robberies

The multi-agency task force will cooperate to find ways to improve safety in the cash-only industry.

Screenshot from ORCA website
New ORCA system launches for regional transit across the Puget Sound

Overhaul includes new website, mobile application and digital business account manager.

Judged by XII: A King County Local Dive podcast. The hands shown here belong to Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, who has been charged with homicide in the 2019 death of Jesse Sarey.
JUDGED BY XII (Episode 4): Foster mom wants accountability in Auburn cop’s upcoming murder trial

Special podcast series explores Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson’s role in the death of Jesse Sarey.

Diane Renee Erdmann and Bernard Ross Hansen. Photos courtesy of FBI
FBI arrests Auburn couple after 11-day manhunt

The couple was previously convicted for fraud and skipped sentencing on April 29.

Screenshot from Barnes and Noble website
Cover art of books that KSD Librarian Gavin Downing says have been under fire: “Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts),” by Lev A.C. Rosen, “If I Was Your Girl,” by Meredith Russo, and “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George Matthew Johnson.
Kent middle school librarian wins intellectual freedom award

Gavin Downing refused to keep ‘silence in the library’ amid attempted book banning and censorship.

Kent elementary school teacher accused of using racist language toward student

River Ridge Elementary instructor placed on administrative leave by Kent School District.

FILE PHOTO: King County Sheriff’s Office deputies.
Dozens of King County Sheriff’s Office employees left jobs instead of getting vaccinated

This added on to the existing number of vacancies in the department.

Joann and Allan Thomas are flanked in court by their attorneys Terrence Kellogg (fourth from the right) and John Henry Browne (far right) on May 10, 2022. Judge Richard Jones is presiding over the case. Sketch by Seattle-based artist Lois Silver
At drainage district corruption trial, it’s a tale of dueling conspiracies

Allan and Joann Thomas are in trial in Seattle on fraud charges.