Yelm is about to acquire additional water rights

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By Daniel Warn / For the Nisqually Valley News

Yelm could be days away from final news that it has received the additional water rights the city has been seeking since 1994.

As of April 2021, several thousand water connections were being used within the city, with only a meager 175 available at the time. Since then, that number has continued to shrink, although Yelm has given several subdivisions and apartment complexes the green light ahead of the additional rights.

The state Department of Ecology released a draft investigative report this February calling for public comment on the city’s near-completed expansion of its water rights. The public comment period ended last month.

“No comments were received, which is a good thing,” Cody Colt, Yelm’s director of public services, told the Nisqually Valley News. “It means that nobody had any problems with our water rights.”

However, there is still some interaction with local tribes such as the Nisqually, Squaxin and Puyallup tribes that Ecology and Yelm are waiting for before the source of additional rights opens up, believing that local sovereign entities should have a say, what happens to them water.

“We want to make sure they get their views on the water rights before we go ahead and release the full proposal as the final water law,” Colt said. “It’s important to get their feedback. We want your feedback, ecology does. That’s why we give them the opportunity to give more feedback. …We expect[ecology]to finally release with these tribal comments in the next week or two.”

In April 2021, the city submitted a watershed mitigation package to the Department of Ecology, where it was required to demonstrate that its current plan to withdraw water from the basin for its use did not have an adverse ecological impact on the basin.

Yelm had to perform an environmental net benefit analysis during the process that completed the overall package.

“Since September (at least) we have been working with Ecology to produce an investigative report, our ROE,” Colt told the Nisqually Valley News. “And that relates to all of the strategies that Yelm will use to mitigate its impact on watersheds and water supplies as it draws water from the ground.”

In 2011, Yelm submitted its first mitigation package, which the State Department of Wildlife touted as the gold standard for exceptional ecological mitigation—like habitat restoration as a means to offset the impact of water use on rivers and streams. But a decision by the Washington State Supreme Court, known as tThe Foster decision resulted in the community’s request for more water rights being denied.

In part, the Foster decision made it so that ecological mitigation without species was not a valid mitigation strategy for the application of new water rights.

Now, however, a new ruling has opened up out-of-kind mitigation as long as applicants go through a mitigation sequencing project to show there is no other way to mitigate water by water or drop by drop.

Now the city has recovered from its 2011 decline and is nearing the light at the end of the bureaucratic tunnel, so to speak.

The City of Yelm has requested access to resources of 920 acres, a number that – as of 2011 – would serve the people of Yelm for 20 years.

This forecast has increased as the community has become more efficient with its water use.

The 920-acre feet should provide enough water for the city even if the population swells to 20,000 by 2045 as projected by the Washington State Growth Management Act, according to previous reports from Nisqually Valley News.

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