Thanks to a new state water right and water filtration system, the Columbia Gorge town of White Salmon will get a guaranteed water supply — and an expected boost in economic development — over the next 20 years.
The town of 2,400, about 60 miles east of Vancouver on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River, has been living under a building moratorium for three years. That’s meant turning away businesses interested in locating there.
“Before the recession hit, we had companies, we had people who wanted to build, industry that wanted to go in,” said Mayor David Poucher. The former Forest Service district ranger ran for the job of mayor three years ago specifically to help solve the town’s water woes.
A deal negotiated by the city, the Washington Department of Ecology and the Klickitat Public Utility District will add 780 acre-feet of water to the city’s water rights portfolio, doubling the volume of water available to the community each year.
An acre-foot of water represents the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land one foot deep, about 325,851 gallons.
Some of that water was formerly used at the Goldendale Aluminum plant on the Columbia River, now shuttered.
In addition, the city won grants that allowed it to pay for a slow-sand filtration system on Buck Creek, a tributary of the White Salmon River a few miles northwest of the town. The new water right allows the town to divert water from the creek, running it through the filtration system to remove pathogens such as giardia and cryptosporidium.
Gov. Chris Gregoire applauded the parties for “remaining committed to finding a creative path forward,” adding, “These kinds of partnerships and win-win outcomes are what we need to protect jobs and create new economic ventures.”
Ecology worked with local and state officials and the Yakama Tribe to minimize the effect on fish habitat. The city agreed to divert less water from Aug. 1 through Oct. 31 in exchange for more water at other times of the year. During late summer and early fall, it will rely more heavily on wells.
Klickitat PUD Commissioner Randy Knowles said the agreement will allow White Salmon and nearby Bingen, with a combined population of 5,000, to meet the demand for residential and commercial growth.
Boeing-owned Insitu began manufacturing unmanned aircraft as a startup at the Port of Klickitat in Bingen in 2002. The company, which supplies drones to the U.S. military for use in Afghanistan, now has 500 employees at 24 facilities scattered throughout the Columbia Gorge and in Vancouver. It’s seeking a location for a new 25-acre campus in the Gorge to consolidate its headquarters and most of its other sites. The competition among cities has been intense.
Poucher hopes the lifting of the moratorium will help White Salmon compete.
“Insitu went out for proposals a year ago, looking for places to go,” he said “Now we have water. That was one of their concerns. Like any industry, they want their employees to be able to live near where they work.”
Sounding like the community booster he has become, Poucher said White Salmon is now ideally situated to welcome new green businesses.
“We have a very talented work force, a very educated work force,” he said. “We have a very solid school system. “ The town is on a major transportation corridor, with a busy port that accommodates barge traffic and a rail line, state highway and interstate freeway nearby. We have fantastic high-speed Internet. Now we’ve got water, and we’ve got space.”