MOUNT VERNON — The 2019-2021 state capital budget passed Sunday by the Legislature includes funding for a project that could bring piped water to properties on Little Mountain Road.
The budget, which is now awaiting Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature, earmarks $1.3 million for the Skagit Public Utility District’s Little Mountain Road Pipeline project.
That pipeline extension could serve 68 properties where development is not currently possible due to a lack of access to residential water.
“This is an issue that I’ve been fighting for, and I am so pleased that we’ve been able to find a solution that will open up desperately needed economic development for my constituents in Skagit County,” Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, who sponsored the project’s inclusion, said in a news release. “With this investment, families will be able to realize the full value of their properties.”
Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, also supported funding to get the Little Mountain Road Pipeline project started. He said the money in the budget will support design work and community outreach.
“It’s one little piece of the puzzle that we think will be helpful for the water supply issue in the Skagit,” Wagoner said. “Of course the problem is huge, but part of the solution is to expand the PUD’s reach to some areas that are not going to be developable otherwise.”
Skagit PUD General Manager George Sidhu said the project is expected to cost about $6 million to complete, including construction of 3 miles of 12-inch diameter pipe along Little Mountain Road.
The project would extend from just north of Mount Vernon’s Little Mountain Park to the intersection with Criddle Lane. The majority of the project area is outside of city limits in a rural area southeast of Mount Vernon.
“This project is one type of solution for our rural water supply issues,” Sidhu said.
Rural water supplies in Skagit County dried up due to the state Department of Ecology’s instream flow rule that essentially prohibits new water rights in the Skagit River basin in order to preserve adequate water levels for fish.
That means property owners can no longer drill wells to build homes in many rural areas.
Local, state and tribal representatives have been developing ways to bring water resources to affected areas, including the development of the Big Lake water bank and authorization of rainwater catchment systems.
Sidhu said extending the Skagit PUD’s pipes is also an option for some areas relatively close to the existing pipe system — as long as there are funds to cover the cost of about $200 per foot.
“Piped water is the easiest and best solution for getting water to residents, so we look for projects that are close to our system, and we look for areas where there are no other solutions,” he said. “In this area, piped water is the only solution.”
Sidhu said there are properties in a similar situation in the Conway area, where the Skagit PUD is considering extending its pipeline if it can secure funding from the state.
“Little Mountain Road is kind of like a pilot project,” he said. “If we are successful in getting money and we are successful in building the project, we will go back to the state and try to do the others.”
The Skagit PUD, which uses water that funnels off Cultus Mountain into multiple streams as well as some water from the Skagit River, has sufficient water rights in order to extend its water lines and serve more residents in the county.
“PUD has water rights that are meant to serve growth in Skagit County,” Sidhu said. “This type of project does not add any more burden on the water supply because PUD has the water rights.”
What the Skagit PUD doesn’t have, without the state’s help, is the funding to build extend its reach. Sidhu said the PUD can’t use its revenue from customers to extend its pipelines.
That means it’s typically up to those who want service to pay for the infrastructure.
Sidhu said in parts of the county, property owners have paid tens of thousands of dollars to extend water lines to their properties, and groups of residents have pooled their resources to pay for projects to serve their neighborhoods through what are called local utility districts.
The 3-mile stretch of Little Mountain Road, however, is too large for those models to work.
“In this case, on Little Mountain Road, that would have been very expensive,” Sidhu said.