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Knight’s water war with Yelm is one worth fighting

Post by Cheryl Tucker on June 8, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
June 8, 2011 5:07 pm

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Ramtha may or may not have been a great warrior 35,000 years ago, but his purported modern incarnation – New Age guru JZ Knight – is fighting a good fight of her own.

Knight, whose 80-acre estate and Ramtha School of Enlightenment is just outside Yelm city limits in Thurston County, has been battling in court for four years to prevent five housing developments from going in nearby.

She’s taken her cause from the Yelm hearing examiner to the City County to Thurston County Superior Court, to the state Court of Appeals and, now, to the state Supreme Court, where a decision is pending.

Knight’s argument: that Yelm had overestimated its ability to provide water to the developments, and so would be forced to drain water from sources where she owns senior water rights. Her claim is supported by the state Department of Ecology, which says that Yelm has been overcommitting its water resources since 2001.

The high court’s decision in this case would reach much farther than Yelm, a city of just under 7,000 that has experienced fast growth due in large part to expansion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Yelm’s size would skyrocket by about 20 percent if the five subdivisions were to come on line, creating 568 residences.

Although four of the five developers have retreated since Knight started fighting them in court, it’s important to establish just what questions local governments must be able to answer regarding water supplies before giving the green light to development – especially high-density.

Knight and the DOE make an excellent point: Those questions need to be answered way in advance – before development plans are finalized. If local governments can’t prove they have enough water to accommodate the new growth, then they shouldn’t permit it.

Water supplies may seem plentiful today, but that’s not the case in all parts of the state. And if climate change scientists are correct, areas that have few water problems now may have them in the future if global warming results in less winter snowpack.

Density and development need to go where it makes sense. Water is such a basic human need – and expensive to import if it’s not readily available. If Yelm can’t show that it can provide sufficient water to thousands of new residents without encroaching on personal property rights, then Knight’s battle to prevent the new subdivisions will have been one well worth fighting.

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