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AGO 1972 No. 15 - July 25, 1972
AGO Opinion Header Image
Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES ‑- SEWERS ‑- WATER ‑- ESTABLISHMENT OF COUNTY WATER AND/OR SEWERAGE SYSTEMS UNDER CHAPTER 36.94 RCW

(1) Under chapter 36.94 RCW, a county may either construct a single system of water and/or sewerage disposal for the entire county or it may create several separate such systems for separate portions of the county.

(2) If a county establishes separate systems of water and/or sewerage disposal for separate parts of the county, each system must be covered by a separate "general plan" under RCW 36.94.030, and there must be a separate review committee under RCW 36.94.050 for each such proposed system and plan.

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                                                                  July 25, 1972

Honorable Henry R. Dunn
Prosecuting Attorney
Cowlitz County
318 Court House
Kelso, Washington 98626

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1972 No. 15

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office upon certain questions which we have divided and paraphrased as follows:

            (1) Under chapter 36.94 RCW, may a county construct several separate systems of water and/or sewerage disposal for separate portions of the county?

            (2) If question (1) is answered in the affirmative, then ‑

            (a) Must each separate system or combined water and/or sewerage system be covered by a separate "general plan" under RCW 36.94.030?

            (b) Must there be a separate review committee under RCW 36.94.050 for each such proposed system and plan?

            We answer question (1) and both parts of question (2) in  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Question (1):

            RCW 36.94.020 provides in material part as follows:

            "The construction, operation and maintenance of a system of sewerage and/or water is a county purpose.  Subject to the provisions of this chapter, every county has the power, individually or in conjunction with another county or counties to adopt, provide for, accept, establish, condemn, purchase, construct, add to and maintain a system or systems of sanitary and storm sewers, including outfalls, interceptors, plants and facilities necessary for sewerage treatment and disposal, and/or system or systems of water supply within all or a portion of the county:  Provided, That counties shall not have power to condemn sewerage and/or water systems of any municipal corporation or private utility."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            The terms "system of sewerage" and "system of water" are defined in RCW 36.94.010 as follows:

            "As used in this chapter:

            "(1) A 'system of sewerage' means and includes:

            "(a) Sanitary sewage disposal sewers;

            "(b) Combined sanitary sewage disposal and storm or surface water sewers;

            "(c) Storm or surface water sewers;

            "(d) Outfalls for storm or sanitary sewage and works, plants, and facilities for sanitary sewage treatment and disposal;

            "(e) Combined water and sewerage systems;

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] "(f) Any combination of or part of any or all of such facilities.

            "(2) A 'system of water' means and includes:

            "(a) A water distribution system, including dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, plants, pumping stations, transmission and lateral distribution lines and other facilities for distribution of water;

            "(b) A combined water and sewerage system;

            "(c) Any combination of or any part of any or all of such facilities."

            Read with these definitions in mind, we think RCW 36.94.020, supra, is clear and unambiguous on the point raised by your first question.  Plainly it authorizes a county to adopt one or more systems of sewerage and/or one or more systems of water supply within the whole or any portion of the county.  Consequently we answer this question in the affirmative.

            Question (2) (a):

            Assuming the foregoing answer you have next asked whether each separate county water and/or sewerage system must be covered by a separate "general plan" under RCW 36.94.030, which provides as follows:

            "Whenever the board of county commissioners of a county deems it advisable and necessary for the public health and welfare of the inhabitants of the county to establish, purchase, acquire and construct a system of sewerage and/or water, or make any additions and betterments thereto, or extensions thereof, the board shall adopt as an element of the comprehensive plan for the physical development of the county pursuant to the provisions of RCW 36.70.350 (5) and/or chapter 36.63 RCW, a sewerage and/or water general plan for a system of sewerage and/or water for all or a portion of the county as deemed necessary by the board."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            The general meaning of this statute is likewise quite clear.  Whenever the board of county commissioners shall determine ". . . to establish . . . a system of sewerage and/or water, or make any additions and bettermentsthereto, or extensions thereof, the board shall adopt . . . a sewerage and/or water general plan . . . for all or a portion of the county . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)  Plainly this statute requires that each "system" must be incorporated in the "general plan" which in turn must be adopted as an element of the county's comprehensive plan.  Your question, however, is whether the legislature had in mind a separate plan for each system or whether several systems might be lawfully included in a single general plan.  On that point the statute may be considered ambiguous and subject to construction.

            The basic goal of all statutory construction is, of course, to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the legislature.  Cory v. Nethery, 19 Wn.2d 326, 142 P.2d 488 (1943).  The necessary means of ascertaining such intent is to review all parts of the enactment and harmonize them whenever possible.  DeGrief v. Seattle, 50 Wn.2d 1, 297 P.2d 940 (1956).  Furthermore, each word and phrase of the statute must be given its proper significance and must be read in the context in which such word or phrase is employed.  See,State v. Lundquist, 60 Wn.2d 397, 374 P.2d 246 (1962);Mercer Island v. Kaltenbach, 60 Wn.2d 105, 371 P.2d 1009 (1962).  Finally, words in a statute should be given their ordinary and common meaning unless it is clear from the legislative enactment that the legislature intended a different meaning.  State v. Vosgien, 82 Wash. 685, 144 Pac. 947 (1914).

           We have already noted the definitions of the terms "system of sewerage" and "system of water" as they appear in RCW 36.94.010 (1) and (2), supra.  In accordance with the last cited rule of statutory construction we must also look, however, to the meaning of the word "system" itself in order to answer your question.  Webster's New Third International Dictionary (1966), at p. 2322, defines this word as follows:

            ":  a complex unity formed of many often diverse parts subject to a common plan or serving a common purpose:  b.  an aggregation or assemblage of objects joined in regular interaction or interdependence:  a  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] set of units combined by nature or art to form an integral, organic, or organized whole:  an orderly working totality: . . ."

            From these definitions it appears to us that so long as there is some established connection or relationship between the various parts of such a "system", a "system of sewerage" or a "system of water" or a "combined system" could, within a given county, be comprised of whatever facilities the board of county commissioners deems necessary for providing sewerage disposal or supplying water, or both, for all or any part of the county.

            Thus, among the variety of alternatives legally available to it, a board of county commissioners might establish several separate systems for separate totally unrelated portions of the county.  Alternatively, the board might establish two separate systems, one for water and one for sewerage disposal, either for the entire county or for the same or partly different areas less than the entire county.  Certainly, if the boundaries of the areas covered by such systems coincided exactly, the "two" systems might be considered more properly as a combined system under the broad definition in RCW 36.94.010, supra.  However, if there is no interconnection between the respective facilities thus established, and the areas served by them do not coincide, it would seem to be a severe strain upon the ordinary definition of the term "system" to describe such facilities as a single "system" for incorporation in a single "general plan."

            We are cognizant of the fact that the term "sewerage and/or water general plan" is also a defined term in RCW 36.94.010, supra.  Subsection (3) of this statute defines this term as meaning ". . . a general plan for a system of sewerage and/or water for the county . . .".  It might be argued that this definition contemplates only one such general plan for the entire county, regardless of the number of systems established.  However, such a construction would clearly conflict with the intent of RCW 36.94.020 and 36.94.030,supra, and other provisions.  RCW 36.94.020 (as we have seen in answering your first question) plainly authorizes counties to adoptseveral separate systems of sewerage and/or water supply within the whole or any portion of the county.  That statute necessarily implies a legislative intention to authorize two or more such systems in two completely separate  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] and noncontiguous parts of the county.  RCW 36.94.030 further requires that each such system or combined system must be incorporated in a sewerage and/or water general plan.  And finally, RCW 36.94.110 provides as follows:

            "After adoption of the sewerage and/or water general plan, all municipal corporations and private utilities within the plan area shall abide by and adhere to the plan for the future development of their systems.  Whenever the governing authority of any county or counties or any municipal corporation deems it to be for the public interest to amend the sewerage and/or water general plan for such county or counties, notice shall be filed with the board or boards of county commissioners.  Upon such notice, the board or boards shall initiate consideration of any amendment requested relating to the plan and proceed as provided in this chapter for the adoption of an original plan."

            This latter statute clearly contemplates the necessity of a separate plan for each separate system, so that other utilities operating within the system can abide by ". . . the plan" as required thereby.

            Therefore, on the basis of all of these statutes and the rules of construction above noted, it is our opinion that while a county may constructone or more separate or combined sewerage and/or water systems for the entire county, or for any separate portion or portions of the county, RCW 36.94.030 requires that each such system or combined system must be included in a separate sewerage and/or water general plan.  The board of county commissioners has a great deal of latitude in determining what constitutes a separate "system" within the meaning of that chapter; however, a properly termed "system" should constitute in some manner a single unified entirety.

            Question (2) (b):

            RCW 36.94.050 requires that

            "Prior to the adoption of or amendment of  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]] the sewerage and/or water general plan, the board or boards of county commissioners shall submit the plan or amendment to a review committee. . . ."

            Your final question is whether there must be a separate review committee for each proposed separate sewerage and/or water system and general plan.  Our affirmative answer to this question is based upon the further provisions of RCW 36.94.050 which govern the composition of a review committee as follows:

            "The review committee shall consist of:

            "(1) A representative of each first and second class city within or adjoining the area selected by the mayor thereof (if there are no first or second class cities within the plan area, then one representative chosen by the mayor of the city with the largest population within the plan area);

            "(2) One representative chosen at large by a majority vote of the executive officers of the other cities or towns within or adjoining the area;

            "(3) A representative chosen by the executive officer or the chairman of the board, as the case may be, of each of the other municipal corporations and private utilities serving one thousand or more sewer and/or water customers located within the area;

            "(4) One representative chosen at large by a majority vote of the executive officers and chairmen of the boards, as the case may be, of the other remaining municipal corporations within the area;

            "(5) The chairman or chairmen of the board or boards of county commissioners within the planned area; and

             [[Orig. Op. Page 8]]

            "(6) In counties where there is a metropolitan municipal corporation operating a sewerage and/or water system in the area, the chairman of its council or such person as he designates."

            Clearly, the members of the review committee are to be selected upon the basis of their representation of the area or areas affected by the plan and/or amendments thereto.  And, having concluded in answer to question (1) that the planning process may focus initially upon one or more distinct areas of the county, with the result that there will be one separate plan for each separate area, it follows that, in order to secure the desired representation of the persons most directly affected by the system of sewerage and/or water contemplated by the plans, there must be as many review committees as there are separate and noncontiguous areas covered by separate and distinct plans.  Had the legislature intended a contrary result, the review committee's representational structure would have related to the county as a whole, and a negative answer to your first question would perforce have followed.  However, inasmuch as the legislature has scrupulously keyed the structure of the review committee (or committees) to those areas directly affected by the planned systems of sewerage and/or water, we cannot but conclude that each such separate area is to be provided with its own review committee comprised of persons representing the interests of those residing in the areas affected by the plans.1/

             We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General


DONALD FOSS, JR.
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 

1/Cf., RCW 35.58.120 relative to the representational structure of the governing body of a metropolitan municipal corporation.

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