For more than a decade, Eastside residents have benefitted from an innovative partnership of the area’s cities and water districts known as the Cascade Water Alliance. The partnership has allowed the local governments to provide essential water services and conservation programs far more efficiently and strategically than on their own.
It’s proven to be a successful and cost-efficient model of governance that other cities and municipalities are hoping to emulate. But costly and time-consuming legal limitations limit its usefulness. That’s why Rep. Deb Eddy (D-Kirkland) has introduced a bill to make it easier for municipalities to come together and jointly provide essential water, sewer, stormwater and flood control services by authorizing a partnership that does away with the legal problems. The bill was heard today in the House Committee on Local Government.
“We have local governments that are willing and wanting to serve their residents more efficiently and at a lower cost, but they can’t without a battalion of lawyers and lobbyists,” says Eddy. “We should be making it easier, not harder, for these groups to work together, especially when the end result could mean a lower utility bill for ratepayers.”
Eddy was on the Kirkland City Council when efforts to launch the Cascade Water Alliance first began in 1999. The alliance sought to bring together the cities of Kirkland, Bellevue, Issaquah, Tukwila and Redmond as well as three neighboring water districts. Eddy says strict regulations made it exceedingly difficult for the governments to jointly operate water services. The only other partnership in the state is the LOTT Clean Water Alliance serving customers in Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and Thurston County.
“The amount of money and time spent patching together a legal framework and getting necessary permissions was too high,” she says. “Our shared goals were good, but the cost and hassle meant that other governments would not try to replicate our efforts.”
Eddy’s House Bill 1332 would allow local governments and sewer, water and stormwater utilities to create joint municipal corporations and pool their resources to provide services together. Groups in Clark, Spokane and Lewis counties are currently trying to form joint corporations and hoping the bill will make it easier for them to do so. Representatives from many of those groups spoke in favor of the bill at today’s hearing.
“Currently the mechanism for establishing regional water, sewer and utility systems is pretty convoluted and there really is no assurity it will stand up under legal scrutiny,” testified Robert Johnson, Community Development Director for Lewis County. One example Johnson highlighted was the county’s efforts to link two of the county’s small cities in need of new and upgraded sewer facilities, Vader and Toledo, to a new facility in Winlock that has the capacity to serve the southern portion of the region. “The statutory mechanisms for setting that up are tenuous at best. This provides the kind of certainty that’s necessary to do that.”
Senator Craig Pridemore from Clark County is sponsoring a companion bill in the state Senate.