83-9 Pierce County Critical Water Supply

In 1983, the Pierce County Council designated the water supply as critical. This is the document from county files in PDF form. In the face of the Council Planning Committee Meeting on August 19, 2020 regarding building a dense urban area over a sole source aquifer, this may be relevant to know.
Here are the conclusions:



The following general conclusion statements are based on discussion presented in the Preliminary Assessment.

They were derived from Sections l through 5 which evaluate water systems, water resources, and planning in Pierce County, and are organized according to the three categories of problems identified in the Public Water System Coordination Act:

Water Quality

1. Most of the larger water systems have adequate water quality monitoring programs, but smaller systems have exhibited poor water quality control.

2. Every water system in the Chambers Creek/Clover Creek Drainage Basin is very concerned about future water quality of the aquifer.

3. Due to land use practices, drinking water quality has been shown to be deteriorating to the point that it is a public health concern – particularly in the Lakewood and shoreline areas.

4. A major identified need is for a coordinated effort to evaluate the long-term impact of water use versus waste disposal practices related to Pierce County’s limited, fragile ground water supply.

Water Quantity

1. The ability of Pierce County water systems to deliver adequate water quantity (and quality) is generally related to system size. While most of the larger systems can provide needed flows on a reliable basis, smaller systems exhibit problems related to facility deterioration, inadequate design for fire flows, poor management, and lack of financial capability to make improvements.

2. An adequate quantity of ground water appears to be available for future use by most Pierce County water systems – but only if the resource is carefully managed to maintain drinking water health standards over the long-term future.

3.   Future use of water from the Green River by Tacoma will be subject to “balancing” of various uses of the resource and a stringent management program.


1. Pierce county is currently experiencing a proliferation of small water systems and individual wells (and on-site waste disposal), along with its increase in short plats. This has a potential impact on expansion of large water systems as well as ground water quality.

2.   Existing county land use plans do not adequately address future provision of water service, thus leaving a large burden on the many Pierce County water systems to respond to development in a “piecemeal” fashion.

3.   Most water systems which require plans are operating with approved plans. However, little coordination has taken place between adjacent water systems during development of these plans, resulting in an unorganized regional approach to provision of water.

4. There are many service area (and franchise area) overlaps, resulting in competition between water systems for provision of water to new development and leading to inefficient service. No formalized service area agreements between utilities exist. In addition, no regional mechanism exists to establish service areas and basic, minimum levels of service.

5. Pierce County has established a variety of policies which have not been coordinated with land use plans or water system plans. Two current major issues relate to fire flow criteria and franchise fees. No annexation policy has been instituted by the county, resulting in overlaps and concern about level of service near some cities.

Alternative Solutions

Following are several alternative methods which could be utilized to deal with some of the concerns expressed in the Preliminary Assessment:

Public Water System Coordination Act – Pierce County could initiate the planning process outlined in the Public Water System Coordination Act (Chapter 70.116 RCW). The county, existing water purveyors, and DSHS would participate on the Water Utility Coordinating Committee responsible for developing a Coordinated Water System Plan. Major features include establishment of minimum design standards, service area agreements, a process for determining when and under what conditions new water systems will be developed, and a ground water management strategy.

Implementation of this coordinated plan is assured as county, water system, and DSHS decisions are required to be consistent with the plan. Also, state grant money is currently available to assist in preparation of the coordinated plan.

County Water Program – Pierce County could develop a master water supply plan which determines availability of future water resources and establishes a management program. Under This alternative, the county would take an active part in determining where future water supplies will come from and how they would be protected.

Development of a water program which only addresses source issues does not offer a complete, established process in solving all of the concern (such as service area overlaps). Water systems may not be included in ormulating the program, their plans may not be integrated into the program, and it is likely they could not be bound to abide by the program.

County Services Act – Under the County Services Act (Chapter 36.94 RCW), the county would have the power to plan for, construct, purchase, and operate water systems. This alternative could be used if Pierce County desired to become directly involved in developing and operating water systems. It is conceivable that the county could use this law to provide financial and technical design assistance to problem or new systems, but contract out actual operation. The Water General Plan required by this law considers some of the same elements as the program required by the Public Water System Coordination Act.

The thrust of the County Services Act is towards County operation of water systems. It does not provide a clear planning process that involves water systems or other levels of government. Nor are all the concerns identified in the Preliminary Assessment required to be addressed. State Grant money is not available for this alternative, unless it is combined with the Public Water System Coordination Act.

Planning Enabling Act – Under the Planning Enabling Act (Chapter 36.70 RCW), the county could develop a water element of the Growth Management Plan.

Although water is vital to the county’s current growth management planning, the scope and depth of planning needed to address the concerns identified in the Preliminary Assessment is incompatible with the county’s effort. In addition, this process does not provide for enforcement of service area agreements. The Planning Enabling Act, and the county planning process, does not provide for the same level of involvement of water systems in developing a comprehensive water program as does the Public Water System Coordination Act. State grant money is not available for this alternative either, unless it is combined with the Public Water System Coordination Act.

Status Quo – After evaluating water system concerns identified in the Preliminary Assessment, and assessing benefits and costs of the alternatives available to deal with those concerns, the county could decide to take no action.

Obviously, a county determination to maintain the status quo by putting its resources into other priorities would compromise the ability of water systems to provide good quality drinking water to existing customers as well as future development. Potential contamination of the Chambers Creek/Clover Creek Drainage Basin could occur, and inefficient delivery of water due to lack of coordinated county policies and service area overlaps would persist.


The variety and depth of problems and concerns identified in the Preliminary Assessment and summarized in the conclusions need to be dealt with in a comprehensive manner. Water system expansion, long-term protection of ground water, and organized county direction for growth and provision of water service all relate to each other. Thus, a coordinated process which can address the scope of these water concerns and arrive at realistic solutions should be implemented. The Public Water System Coordination Act provides such a process. In addition to its features of a clear process and comprehensive/coordinated approach, there is currently a fifty percent grant available to accomplish the necessary planning and management program.

The Pierce County Ad Hoc Committee for Water System Planning, consisting of representatives of larger water systems and state and local government, has studied concerns faced by Pierce County utilities and recommended use of the Public Water System Coordination Act to deal with the concerns.

history of water co’s 1983


One Comment Add yours

  1. Loretta Fulk says:

    Hey Marianne. Loretta Fulk here. Your article is so interesting to me. Just yesterday in our GBA mtg. I asked our guest speaker who was giving us a full update on the whole corridor plan that very question. I asked if the water issue had been taken care of and his reply was her didn’t know of any issue!

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