ENVIRONMENTALISTS FILE water conservation initiative. Council member sets up committee to review initiative. Environmentalists file ethics complaint.
Who says water policy is dull?
Fighting from the green corner are the folks from Yes for Seattle, a coalition of environmentalists seeking to influence city policy through the initiative process. Fighting from the other green corner is Seattle City Council President Margaret Pageler, who sees the group's Initiative 63 as an obstacle to regional cooperation on water issues.
"Pageler is on a personal crusade to try and stop this thing," says Yes for Seattle's Knoll Lowney.
Under I-63, the city would raise water rates for the city's biggest residential and business water users and use the proceeds to fund expanded water conservation programs for low-income citizens. The water saved through this and other conservation efforts could not then be used to serve new suburban development. Since Initiative 63 has enough signatures, it will probably be on the November ballot, although the council also has the option of simply approving it or placing it on the ballot with an alternative proposal.
Pageler argues that such unilateral city actions could spur a repeat of last year's water wars. In early 2000 County Executive Ron Sims threatened to invoke a little-known state law and set up a regional water-planning agency, based on suburban concerns that Seattle was being stingy with its water resources. Lowney notes archly that Pageler managed to stir up that flap on her own, without the help of Initiative 63.
But Yes for Seattle is most concerned about a review process recently set up by the City Council to study and report on the legal, fiscal, and policy impacts of local initiatives. They claim that Pageler, who proposed the review process, has stacked the membership of the I-63 panel with corporate attorneys and representatives of major water users. Pageler staffers reply that at least four members of the 14-member panel are affiliated with organizations that have endorsed I-63 and that critics have unfairly characterized the credentials of panel members (for example, "corporate attorney" and panel co-chair Will Stelle is a past regional director of the National Marine Fisheries Service).
Pageler says I-63's provisions might interfere with the type of drought-related "mutual aid" agreements Seattle recently negotiated with adjacent water districts. "I'm not sure we could have done that a year or two years ago," she says. "I'm not sure there was enough trust or collaboration in the region."
Lowney argues I-63 is good for the whole region, noting the streams and rivers directly benefited by this initiative are located outside the city (such as the Cedar and Tolt Rivers, the major sources of Seattle's water supply). He also notes that provisions in I-63 allow for temporary diversions of the conserved water to other jurisdictions that need to maintain their own salmon stream flows. "This issue about regionalism is a red herring," he says.