Yelm neighbors looking for agreement on water issues

YELM, Wash. -- An eroding river bank in Yelm is eroding the relationships along the Deschutes, and community members are conflicted about how best to protect their water.

On a stretch of the Deschutes in Yelm, the river has changed course and is eating away at the bank, which could cut off drinking water to several homes.

"Next winter when it floods, that bank's going to peel off there and then the pipe will be exposed and very likely break," said Mike Hoggarth.

The small Cougar Mountain community has no store, spotty cell phone coverage and even runs its own water association.

When something breaks, residents generally fix it themselves. That's what volunteers recently did on a piece of private land. They dug a trench away from the river and laid half the pipes.

But on Friday a stop-work order popped up on the project, which pleased some neighbors and upset others.

"I want to see blueprints, I want to see builder's permits," said Danelle Serini, who started a petition.

Some neighbors are worried about the integrity of the pipes.

"I feel that the people that are running it don't necessarily have the skills that make me comfortable with the drinking water, and I've actually found out that there's several families out here that won't drink it," said Mabel Barnes.

A complaint prompted Friday's stop-work order. Thurston County's code compliance supervisor said utility work in the community is usually exempt from grading permits, but since they're in a flood plane and within 250 feet of the river, they need shoreline and critical area review permits.

Volunteers say that will slow the project, and hiring help would raise the water rates. But for those who fear contaminated water, it's a price they're willing to pay.

"I'd prefer to pay the expense than to have to pay the medical bills down the road," Barnes said.

The permits could take a month to get approved.