Controversial Dungeness water rule signed by Ecology director, near finish

By Leah Leach
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM — A controversial new state rule to manage water use, including individual wells, in the Dungeness River watershed will go into effect Jan. 2.

State Department of Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant signed it Friday.

The final rule, which must be certified by the state Office of the Code Reviser before it is released to the public, is expected to be available to view Tuesday, said Dan Partridge, Ecology spokesman.

“There haven’t been significant changes since the draft version of the rule,” which affects the eastern half of Water Resources Inventory Area 18 from Bagley Creek to Sequim Bay and was released in the summer, Partridge said.

The draft set minimum in-stream flows — aiming for a constant of at least 105 cubic feet per second in the Dungeness River, Partridge said — provided for creation of a water exchange and included a requirement that owners of new wells must mitigate their use of water by purchasing credits through the exchange.

Aspects of the new rule, especially the requirement of mitigation for new water uses, drew hundreds to protest at public hearings on the proposal.

“Now the real work begins in implementing the rule,” Partridge said.

“We’re working with the county to try to make the building permit process and water mitigation credit process as painless as possible for building permit applicants.”

Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire, who is negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding with Ecology on the county’s role in putting the rule into effect, hadn’t seen the final version but figured it would have changed little.

“I’m happy with where we wound up on the thing,” McEntire said, referring especially to the possibility that the state will pay for water credits for indoor household use.

Marguerite Glover, co-chair of government affairs for the Sequim Association of Realtors, which opposed many provisions of the rule as it was proposed, said it shouldn’t have been signed before details are worked out about the water exchange and the county’s role in implementing it.

“I know that Ecology has worked hard on this rule for many years, but there are still too many unanswered questions,” Glover said.

“The Memorandum of Understanding between Ecology and the county should have been ironed out before this was signed, and the guidelines [for the water exchange and implementation of the rule] should have been worked out ahead of time,” she said Friday.

The requirement of mitigation for permit-exempt wells is “new for the Dungeness,” Partridge said.

“If you don’t have a building permit already issued to you or you haven’t put your well to beneficial use, then if you are drawing a new well or applying for a new building permit, you have to get mitigation,” meaning that water rights have to be acquired.

A permit-exempt well allows up to 5,000 gallons a day for household uses, Partridge said. Now, no water right is needed before such a well is drilled.

The new rule will change that and will require the acquisition of water rights for such wells, he said.

McEntire said he and state Sen. Jim Hargrove — a Democrat from Hoquiam who represents the 24th District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula — worked on finding a way to take the financial burden from “folks building a house on a piece of property and digging a well.”

“My thought was that the normal, daily-living kinds of things can be paid for out of state funds” while agricultural, industrial or commercial uses “could be included in somebody’s business plan.”

Partridge said Ecology has included in its recommendations to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her budget proposal, which will be issued in December, a provision to provide up to $1,000 per building permit application to pay for water mitigation credits for indoor household use.

According to the proposal, Ecology would provide the funds only through June 30. The department will request that the state Legislature allocate funding after that, Partridge said.

Mitigation credits will be available through a water exchange that will be set up, Partridge said.

But Glover said the water exchange won’t help all property owners.

She said some — such as those living up Blue Mountain, in Happy Valley and in Texas Valley — will not be able to add water use outside their homes because they live in areas outside irrigation diversions and so can’t mitigate their use by acquiring water rights.

“There are some properties that will not be able to buy any water for outside,” though they can get it for household use inside, Glover said.

“They can capture water from their roof, but that’s not enough to water a horse or a cow or a garden,” she added.

Glover provided an email signed by Sally Toteff, regional director for Ecology’s southwest regional office, that said: “Mitigation for the lands in the upper basin above the irrigation network has not yet been identified.

“For a longer term solution, local natural resource leaders are discussing options for innovative mitigation,” the email said.

The unfinished aspects of the rule — how the water exchange will work and the county’s responsibilities — are expected to be completed before the rule comes into effect in January, Partridge said.

Both Glover and McEntire said that was essential.

“It must be in effect and clear to the public,” McEntire said.

“If the rule goes into effect without the other necessary mechanisms, such as the water exchange [and county’s role in implementing the rule] — that’s to be avoided at all costs.

“What I want to do is create the least amount of uncertainty for landowners and builders,” the county commissioner said.

“Uncertainty is a killer as far as the economy goes.”

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Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or at leah.leach@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 17. 2012 5:57PM
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