Guest opinion column: Suit would threaten Dungeness water future
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Washington Department of Ecology
Water Resource Inventory 18 includes the portion at the right in the Dungeness River watershed that's affected by the water management rule taking effect next week.

Ted Sturdevant is the director of the Washington Department of Ecology.
By TED STURDEVANT
Special to Peninsula Daily News

RECENT NEWSPAPER STORIES and columns have reported on a threatened lawsuit that could delay implementation of all or part of the new water management rule for the Dungeness watershed.

What these articles have not addressed is what the new Dungeness rule looks like, and what could happen to water supplies in the Sequim area without it.

The new water management, or in-stream, flow rule adopted by the state Department of Ecology in November and effective on Jan. 2, was many years in the making.

The rule became necessary to avoid future uncertainty and likely litigation over water supplies in the Dungeness basin because there is no new water to meet the current and future needs of people and fish.

Much of the water in the Dungeness watershed is already legally “spoken for,” with some senior agricultural rights dating back more than 100 years.

In late summer and early fall, when water demands are highest, stream flows are alarmingly low.

Depleted stream flows have contributed to the listing of four fish species in the Dungeness as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

We have problems that need to be resolved for everyone in the watershed.

If we just closed the Dungeness to future groundwater withdrawals and left local water users to figure out on their own how to sustain agriculture and accommodate growth without adequate water supplies, we wouldn't be doing our job.

In that context, a lawsuit would be understandable.

What we've done instead is crafted a rule and supporting mechanisms that address the interests of all those needing water now and into the future:

Building-permit applicants in areas affected by the rule will be required to mitigate or offset their water use so stream flows are not further depleted, but their plans can continue for new homes and businesses.

An agreement with local irrigators will ensure that the agricultural economy in the Dungeness will always have adequate water, but at the same time irrigators will be allowed to sell water rights they don't need.

Those rights will provide mitigation credits for others.

With a state grant, we are supporting the establishment of the Dungeness Water Exchange or water “bank” that will enable prospective water users to purchase cost-effective mitigation from those selling water rights.

For the first six months of the rule, we are helping prospective water users adjust to the new mitigation requirements by providing up to $1,000 for each property owner needing mitigation credits for household domestic use.

Without a rule, we run the risk of stranding people without new water supplies, opening the door to endangered species litigation or prompting senior water-right holders to seek the curtailment of water use by junior water-right holders.

That said, is a lawsuit really the path forward to better management of our water resources?

We stand by our new water management rule, confident in the fact that no in-stream flow rule has ever been successfully challenged in Washington state.

We're equally confident that any time and money spent in litigation would be better spent in working together to ensure that those who need water will have the water they need to build a better future.

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Ted Sturdevant can be reached at ted.sturdevant@ecy.wa.gov.

More information about Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 18 and the Dungeness water rule is accessible via http://tinyurl.com/pdn-wria18.

You can read past news stories about this controversy in our electronic archives at www.peninsuladailynews.com.


Last modified: December 25. 2012 9:23PM
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