PUD Protects Source Water in Cultus Mountain Watershed

Posted Thursday, March 12, 2020

For years, Skagit PUD looked for a way to improve water quality protection for its source water. The PUD provides drinking water to over 65,000 people in Skagit County, and serves three cities as well as suburban and rural areas.

Gilligan Creek DownstreamThanks in part to a Source Water Protection grant from the Washington State Department of Health Office of Drinking Water, the PUD recently was able to purchase and protect 250 acres of critical watershed area in perpetuity for its customers.

The Gilligan Creek area of the Cultus Mountain Watershed provides 45 percent of the PUD’s source water for its Judy Reservoir Water System. Until recently, all of the property around Gilligan Creek was owned by timber companies.

In 2012, the PUD went through a comprehensive updating of its watershed control program and determined that finding a way to protect the water quality of this stream was critical to the success of the Judy System. Recent increases in the rates of logging and road construction led to the concept that buying land near the area where water is withdrawn for the water system would work wonders to protect the long-term success of the Judy System.

Over the next several years, PUD staff began a search for partners and funding sources for this idea. “This was no easy feat, as there is great competition for the limited funding available from state and federal agencies,” explained Engineering Supervisor Bill Trueman who headed the project.

One of the first partners to be discovered was the Department of Health Office of Drinking Water. DOH provided a Source Water Protection grant to allow for an appraisal of the property early in the process. Knowing the approximate value of the property helped staff begin discussing the property purchase with the Skagit PUD board of commissioners. Local conservation groups were also brought into the conversation, and representatives of Skagit Land Trust brought up ideas for other funding sources.

A well-established relationship with the landowner helped the PUD start the complicated negotiations to buy the property in the spring of 2017. A $1.5 million deal was struck by September, and the property became the ownership of Skagit PUD in December.

“After five years of hard work, this 250-acre forest at Gilligan Creek will be used to protect the quality of drinking water for Skagit PUD’s customers for many years to come,” Trueman said.