Saturday, October 4, 2014

City, Tribal Partnership Creates a New Water Source for Olympia

Above: Tribal elder Bob Sison holds a commemorative glass given to participants of today’s dedication of the McAllister Wellfield, the site of Olympia's new water supply.
By Janine Unsoeld

“This is the beginning of a new journey. Father, Grandfather, hear me, Spirit of our People, hear me. We thank you, thank you for joining hands with another world. We thank you for the mountain, for it brings us the water, the water that we will share. May the mountain never run dry, or if it does, so will our lands, so will our people. Watch over and guide and protect everyone who is here. Give them your physical, mental and spiritual strength…show them the way….You’ve brought our people a long ways, you’ve left us the gift of water. Let the rivers never run dry…the pumps…keep them strong. Keep the water flowing, for this is an honor to join hands with Olympia, their people. We pray that the water will give them strength, especially to the children. Help them to remember, teach them, teach them the way, the way it was. The pure of the water, the pure of the land. We ask this, we thank you Grandfather, Creator of Heaven and Earth….Masi…masi…” Tribal Elder, chaplain Bob Sison, offering the blessing at today’s dedication of the McAllister Wellfield.

And so began an emotional ceremony today as local city and state officials and tribal representatives spoke at the dedication ceremony of Olympia's new water source at the McAllister Wellfield today.
Words such as ‘commitment,’ ‘visionary,’ and ‘challenging,’ were also used to describe the efforts that led to today’s event, which marked a unique partnership between the City of Olympia and the Nisqually Tribe.

The city’s new wellfield replaces McAllister Springs, which is located on Nisqually tribal land, as the city’s primary water source. Located about a mile away from the Springs on 20 acres of city-owned property on St. Claire Cut Off Road SE, the new site includes over 160 surrounding acres that are protected from future development.
The McAllister Wellfield water supply will provide high quality, protected drinking water to the regional community over the next 50 years and beyond.

Putting that figure into perspective, the Nisqually Tribe has been using McAllister Springs, which they call Medicine Springs, for 10,000 years.
Living in peace and prosperity in their original homeland of over two million acres, Nisqually land encompassed the present towns of Olympia, Tenino, Dupont, Yelm, Roy, and Eatonville, and extended to the top of Mount Rainier.
In her remarks, Nisqually Tribal Chairperson Cynthia Iyall said, “….Looking around, you see fir trees, you see cedar, you see cottonwoods, you see oak trees…all these different trees are living together, harmoniously, and they share the same water. I was told when I was younger that cedar loves to be near the water, near the river because they loved to dig their roots in, to get their toes wet. And that was so important to the Nisqually tribe because it was such a mainstay in our lives. It’s used for clothing, for protection, for housing, all kinds of things, so we’re glad to be a part of your forest, and you’re a part of our forest and we are so glad that all these seedlings…coming up for the next generation will have safe water….”

Iyall thanked her mentor, tribal elder and former Nisqually tribal councilmember, Larry Sanchez, for creating much of the early framework and shared vision for the project.
She later said that the Nisqually Tribe will develop a water supply at the wellfield in a future phase.
Above: Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder and Lacey Mayor Pro-Tem Cynthia Pratt cautiously peer into the drain after the Wellhouse 1 pump is turned on for show and tell. The pump uses a 700 horsepower motor, the same as a NASCAR race engine, and pumps 6,000 gallons of water per minute. The well is at a depth of 425 feet.

Rich Hoey, public works director for the City of Olympia, explained the project as a steady stream of elected officials, city staff, and those associated with the project walked through Wellhouse 1.

Seeing the infrastructure first-hand helped to visualize the process of how water from the ground manages to travel the eight and a half miles to the city of Olympia.

There are three wells, each ranging from 370 to 425 feet deep, with an initial pumping capacity of 15 million gallons of water per day. The wellfield project cost $13.7 million to design and construct, paid largely with low-interest loans from the Washington Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
Aside from physical pipes and plumbing, today’s ceremony was also about partnerships. In a process that began nearly 22 years ago, the Olympia-Yelm-Lacey water supply project has involved a collaborative effort assisted by the state Department of Ecology, the state Department of Health, the cities, and the Nisqually Indian Tribe.

“It’s a spectacular piece of property,” said Hoey before the ceremony. “It’s an amazing accomplishment, knowing it’s high quality water – we’re in good shape. It’s a remarkable thing to have this level of confidence in our water….”
Ecology Water Resources Program Manager Tom Loranger was the most specific in detailing the lengthy legal process it took to get this point.

“It took persistence and partnerships and risk taking. There were discussions about mitigation and offsets. What does the law say? How do we develop projects? There were tough times and discussions….There was no template for doing it. New court decisions changed what we had to do….” Loranger credited the Smith Farm acquisition several years ago as a critical piece of the project.
According to City of Olympia records, the cities of Olympia, Lacey and Yelm jointly purchased about 200 acres of the farm because it was a critical cold water spring source. Ceasing intensive agricultural activities on the land combined with habitat restoration directly improved the summer flows to large portions of the Deschutes River.

“….It was huge…a mile of riparian habitat restored gave it the final legs that could get it done. We have not seen anything like this. I talk about it all the time around the state. There were so many partners, and a number of pieces in play. It’s the gold standard of mitigation to improve the environment….(The state department of) Fish and Wildlife has testified to that…the amount of persistence…you made the choice to take some risks and get this done.”
After the ceremony, Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder said, “The fact that all these communities came together is historic and something to be proud of…it should be used as a model for more accomplishments, like clean air. This project was a new trail, it took time. It was true regionalism.”

Andy Haub, public works planning and engineering manager for the City of Olympia, said that the city will start tapping the McAllister Wellfield in about a month.

 Above: Reese Gaer,3, and his father Ken Gaer, look over the McAllister Wellfield area after today’s ceremony. Reese's mother, Shari Gaer, is employed with the wellfield 's design consultant, Gray & Osborne, Inc.
Editor’s Note: Several Native words were used in the remarks by tribal elder Bob Sison and Nisqually Chair Cynthia Iyall. Little Hollywood apologizes for not knowing how to write those words. Asked later what “….Masi…masi….” meant, Sison said, “It means thank you. It’s a very thankful word….”
A Brief History
McAllister Springs has supplied most of Olympia’s drinking water since 1949. Studies indicated that the springs are susceptible to land use impacts, which could diminish water quality during periods of heavy demand and drought. To address these concerns, the City of Olympia decided to replace its supply source with high-capacity wells.

In the 1990s, the city identified and purchased 20 acres for a wellfield. Studies of the site showed that the wellfield site taps a large sustainable aquifer with high quality water.
In May 2008, the City of Olympia and the Nisqually Indian Tribe entered into a historic agreement - the first such agreement between a tribe and a municipality in the country - to jointly develop the new regional water source at McAllister Wellfield.

In 2012, after working together for many years to gather data, refine computer models and predict potential impacts, the state Department of Ecology presented the Olympia City Council with the final approval for transferring water rights to the new wellfield.
Subsequent construction projects included a nearly one mile of 36-inch diameter pipeline to connect the new wellfield to the city’s existing water transmission main at McAllister Springs.

Above: Participants of today’s celebration and dedication of the McAllister Wellfield include, left, public works director for the City of Olympia, Rich Hoey, local elected officials including Olympia and Lacey city council members, Nisqually Tribal members and staff, and members of the public. Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum, in brown suit with blue shirt, is standing next to Nisqually Tribal Council Chairperson Cynthia Iyall.