Trench cut in dirt with an intersection of iron pipes and a lightly colored stormwater crossing.
Eight-inch diameter ductile iron water main with "tee" connection and gate valves crossing under stormwater pipe. (Donna Breske)

SPU oversteps their authority per state law and overcharges developments for new water service connections. Here’s how to fight back.

It is time to take action to prevent Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) and and other agencies from mandating egregious and non-code-supported project-crushing exactions. Those seeking to acquire development permits must become aware of the limits of authority within permitting agencies, including but not limited to the City of Seattle. It is time for those using the permitting process to understand and assert our rights and expect permitting departments to adhere to the required code to ensure fair, reasonable, consistent, and predictable permitting outcomes.

To address this challenging concern, Donna Breske & Associates is proud to announce a Permitting Impediments Presentation Forum to take place both virtually and in-person at Seattle University Campus, Casey Commons Building Room 530 on Wednesday April 26, 2023 from 10:30am to 2:30pm. Registration and payment at

Don’t miss this opportunity to be on the forefront of the shift to swing the pendulum to require permitting agencies to review and issue building and development permits within the limits of authority per code. SPU and other agencies are not properly adhering to state law as they set fees. The presentation will dig into how this code drift has happened and what you can do to protect your projects.

Fees for connection to new water service are limited to that allowed per Washington State RCW (Revised Code of Washington). Accordingly, fees must be established via ordinance by local jurisdictions. Those fees, whether direct or indirect, are limited to an equitable share of the impact of the development.   

A graphic reads: "Land use and the permit power - How municipal code limits permitting authority - lunch provided. Navigating permit impediments and unsubstantiated permitting mandates. A permitting impediments presentation forum hosted by Donna Breske. Wednesday April 26, 2023 from 10am to 2:30pm PDT."
The Permit Impediments Presentation Forum is Wednesday April 26th. Obtain tickets at (Donna Breske & Associations)

For a current 2-lot short plat development in the City of Seattle, the additional water service required is one new 1-inch water meter. The applicable fee that the City can charge to mitigate for the impact of the new service is the fee of $7,980 that was established per City ordinance.

Despite the fact that an existing water main is available for the new connection, the City of Seattle issued a WAC (Water Availability Certificate) requiring 270 feet of new water main to provide a desired gridding connection between two existing parallel water mains.

A WAC showing SPU requiring developer provide 270 feet of water main. (Seattle Public Utilities)

The anticipated cost is $500,000 to install the 270 feet of water main. This is considered an indirect fee since the applicant bears the cost of the installation, however the City benefits from the new water main gridding.  It is also a duplicate fee in addition to the $7,980 connection fee.

SPU asserts verbiage created in their Director’s Rule DR 440-WTR provides the authority to required upgrades: “VIII. Distribution Water Main Extensions The cost of the water main extension is borne by the applicant.

However, a Director’s Rule is an administrative document, not code. Administrative documents cannot overstep the authority allowed per codes, including the overarching code of Washington State.  

There are four significant limitations for the collection of fees per our Washington State RCWs. The city of Seattle and the agency of SPU therein, have limited authority to charge new water service connection fees per Washington State Law:

  1. Connection charge is limited to equitable share: RCW 35.02.025
  2. Arbitrary and duplicate fees not allowed:  RCW 82.02.050(1)(c)
  3. Indirect Fees are not allowed: RCW  82.02.020
  4. Fees must be established by Ordinance RCW 82.02.050(1)(b)

SPU is an agency within the executive branch of the government. The mandates within Director’s Rule DR 440-WTR overstep the limits of authority. The only method allowed for establishing fees for new water connection is via the City ordinance process which includes opportunities for public input and vetting by the legislature (i.e., the Seattle City Council). Ordinance process ensures the fee is consistent with the applicable RCWs to ensure the fees are equitable and are not duplicated via an indirect fee.

Obtain tickets to the April 26 presentation at

Article Author
Donna Breske (Guest Contributor)

Donna Breske is a licensed Professional Engineer in the State of Washington. She owns Donna Breske & Associates and with her staff provides land use consulting and civil engineering design for numerous infill projects within multiple jurisdictions in the Puget Sound Area. She has a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Washington and an MBA from Seattle University. She is married to her husband Fred with whom they share two adult children. She grew up in Seattle and is passionate about eliminating absurd impediments from permitting departments and ensuring consistent and predictable outcomes.