Clallam County commissioners sign off on Dungeness water rule

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Two weeks before the state Department of Ecology’s water management rule takes effect in the Dungeness Valley, Clallam County commissioners voted 3-0 to approve a memorandum of understanding with the state agency for implementation of the controversial rule.

The unanimous vote Tuesday marks the “end of the beginning” and the “beginning of the end,” as Commissioner Jim McEntire often says, of a drawn-out process to adopt a rule intended to protect water supplies in the eastern half of Water Resource Inventory Area 18, or WRIA 18, which is in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains.

The memorandum includes nine Ecology responsibilities, four Clallam County responsibilities and boilerplate recitals about the state rule that takes effect Jan. 2.

It lacks specific details about the mechanics of a water exchange that will be established to mitigate new uses of domestic water.

“The [memo] simply sort of defines the relationship, in kind of a course grain, between the county and the county government and the state Department of Ecology,” said McEntire, board liaison for the issue.

“That’s really all it does. It just provides a framework for discussion on some of the more fine-grained detail about how this thing works, how it’s implemented, how to make it better, etcetera and so forth.”

“It’s a worthwhile document to have, but it’s not by any means the last word on the relationship between the county and the state, or how that relationship affects our citizens.”

Under the rule, the owner of a new well would be required to mitigate domestic water use in ways that include the purchase of credits through a water exchange.

The rule set minimum in-stream flows in WRIA 18 from Bagley Creek to Sequim Bay.

According to the memorandum, which is available at www.clallam.net, Clallam County will:

■   Confirm that applicable mitigation obligations have been met — and mitigation certificates have been recorded — prior to issuing new permits for land development within the rule area.

■   Notify Ecology when a new water connection is established.

■   Report to Ecology at least once a year on the number of new permits issued and their water source.

■   Support funding of a domestic water-mitigation program.

Among other things, the state will enforce the rule, provide technical assistance to the public and the county, and evaluate the ongoing effectiveness of water mitigation.

The state also will support funding of a domestic water-mitigation program.

McEntire, R-Sequim, worked with state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, to negotiate the memo with Ecology and to secure a $450,068 grant to offset mitigation costs for future water users.

Commissioners tabled a Dec. 4 vote on the memorandum after Sequim land-use attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross warned them about potential liability.

After voting 2-1 to approve the legally vetted memorandum Dec. 11, commissioners rescinded that vote for more discussion this week.

Commissioner Mike Doherty, who originally voted “no” on the memorandum, articulated some overriding concerns he has about diminishing water supplies and state subsidies for large, out-of-town developers.

Doherty said he personally has witnessed a “big change in my lifetime” in the Olympic Mountain snowpack that feeds the Dungeness in the late summer and early fall.

“I think all of us acknowledge that the Dungeness is probably the driest water basin in Western Washington and has a lot challenges, but there’s a lot of potential for solutions,” Doherty said.

“The fact that there’s irrigators with some senior water rights is pretty unique. So those things can be part of the solution.”

Doherty said he will raise his concerns when more specifics about the rule are known.

“My preference would be to help those people who want a quality system available for their needs that are current property owners, current residents versus a huger, large development,” he said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed budget released Tuesday includes a $2.05 million appropriation to Ecology for Dungeness River water supply and mitigation.

In an hourlong debate that ensued after last week’s divided vote, Commissioner Mike Chapman said Doherty’s “no” vote caught him off-guard.

“I 150 percent support an individual commissioner’s right to vote ‘no,’” Chapman said in a Monday work session on the same topic.

“My whole point last week was that I probably wouldn’t have voted ‘yes’ if I had known there was a commissioner voting ‘no.’”

Doherty indicated Monday that he would change his vote “for the sake of trying to keep moving this along in the process.”

“Later down the road, there will be some chances to weigh in on what I think are, again, the role of the sustainable, dependable, clean-water source,” Doherty said Tuesday.

“I think we all agree there — just future stresses on the source of the water, the mid-Olympic snowpack. I think we have to revisit that and try to get the best information on likely supply in the future.

“So I would bring that up later.”

McEntire said it is his intention to schedule a public forum in early January “so that the public will have the opportunity to understand in more fine-grained detail how this thing is actually going to work in practice.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 18. 2012 6:18PM
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