A dispute between two Kennewick-area irrigation districts over water charges could spoil a plan to give a discount to about 20,000 Kennewick Irrigation District customers.
An 80-year-old KID agreement with the Columbia Irrigation District has delivered water to about 900 KID customers without any problem, but now CID officials say they have been delivering more water than the agreed-on amount for years and KID has shorted them 32 percent in payments.
The KID pressurized service areas that get CID delivery of water are in the Tri-City Heights, Lampson Homesites, Garbers and Olmstead additions.
The disagreement, in which the districts have been exchanging letters since September, is connected to a complex regional water rights lawsuit known as the Aquavella agreement, which resolves water right issues throughout the Yakima Valley.
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The dispute comes just as KID's Water Rates Advisory Committee recommended the CID charges be shifted from a district-wide burden on 21,000 customers to the 900 KID customers served by CID's system.
That would have meant a 91-cent discount for most KID customers and $20 added to the 900 customers' annual assessments.
Chuck Freeman, KID district manager, said his board has delayed the change until the dispute is settled.
"We believe we are meeting the terms of the contract," Freeman said. KID officials believe the district is entitled to up to 2,400 acre-feet of water annually through the Aquavella agreement. He said there is no proof KID has exceeded its entitled amount of water.
While the KID board has authorized a 32 percent increase in CID charges in its 2011 budget, Freeman said that does not mean KID is agreeing to pay the increase.
Keith Martin, CID district manager, said his board believes that under the Aquavella agreement, KID is entitled to flow a maximum of 1,028 acre-feet of water at 6.88 cubic feet per second. But pump records show the average flow through CID's system to KID customers from 2006-09 was 1,318 acre-feet.
CID board chairman Jerry Sleater wrote to KID in September that an analysis shows KID is receiving water to serve customers on 356 acres. Sleater said the problem has gone on at least five years, and the board "is obligated to its ratepayers" to resolve it.
"We are committed to working with the CID through this process," Freeman said.
CID charges KID about $18,000 a year to carry the water to the 900 customers on 270 acres. That comes to about $65 per acre.
KID's 11-tiered rate schedule collects about $270 a year for pressurized water on a one-third acre parcel, which means the agency receives substantially more in annual assessments than it pays CID.
Freeman said having to maintain pumps and siphons accounts for part, but not all, of the added costs.
"We are doing a water rates study to justify all this. That's why we have a (water rates) consultant," he said.
KID also is considering letting the 270 acres and the 900 customers become CID's responsibility, Freeman said, which would free up KID water to serve KID customers elsewhere.
What to do and how to do it is a difficult question for the KID board and its Water Rates Advisory Committee, he said.
The committee spent three hours with its attorney in executive session Nov. 15 to "discuss with legal counsel the legal risks of a proposed action."
No details about that meeting have been made public, but that meeting and several others with the attorney and board on the same topic occurred after the committee's recommendation in August to shift the CID charges from being districtwide to the 900 customers.