By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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In place since Jan. 2, the water rule in effect in the Dungeness River basin that comprises the eastern half of Water Resource Inventory Area 18 requires that new homeowners pay to mitigate their water use.
That payment will be proven by mitigation certificates that will be recorded with the property's deed. Those certificates are not yet available.
Washington Water Trust, the nonprofit hired by Clallam County to provide the certificates, told the Sequim Association of Realtors at its weekly meeting Wednesday that the hang-up is between the county and the state Department of Ecology.
Amanda Cronin, project manager for Washington Water Trust, said the issue is whether the certificates will specify the amount of water homeowners will be able to use.
Draft versions of the certificates have stipulated a limit of 150 gallons of water per day per household.
Subsequent language pointed to that as the average amount used by an average household. Houses larger or smaller than average would be limited to 65 gallons per person per day.
“[Trust Director Susan Adams] and I, honestly, we're not making these decisions,” Cronin said. “Ecology wants that on there.”
Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire, however, said he and Sheila Roark Miller, the county's director of community development, have been negotiating with the trust over the certificate's language.
“That's not who I've been talking to,” McEntire said of Ecology.
“If the Washington Water Trust is now saying it's not up to them, it's up to Ecology, then I know exactly which door to knock on down there.”
Ecology spokesman Dan Partridge said Ecology wants a specific amount listed on the certificate so landowners, as well as state and local officials, have a clearly printed figure of what the expected use should be.
“It's really a guideline; it's really an expectation of what we believe the average water use is going to be,” Partridge said.
Average water use
Cronin said the 150 gallons-per-day figure was roughly the average water use by customers of water systems owned by the city and the Clallam County Public Utility District.
Cronin said the number is used to account for how much water the trust provides homeowners from an allotment it received from the state.
New wells drilled under the water rule also are required to have meters.
Partridge said Ecology will not penalize those homes whose daily water use exceeds 150 gallons.
If a meter reads use in excess of that daily average, the department likely only will check that water is being used for approved purposes, he said.
But real estate agents like Karen Pritchard of Sequim worry that having that number listed on the certificate could give the state the authority to eventually use it as a cap that can bring penalties on those who exceed it.
“Now we're being asked to sign a legal document,” Pritchard said.
McEntire said that is why the county is trying to have certificates reflect how water can be used on a property — for domestic use or for irrigation — instead of having the quantitative number.
“We're not interested in trying to put a backdoor limit on somebody's water use,” McEntire said.
“To put an administrative number on what amounts to a contract between a landowner and state government — as much as you try to caveat it — makes it a contracted amount.”
$1,000 and up
The certificates cost $1,000 and up. A $100,000 grant from Ecology covers the cost of certificates purchased through the end of June.
In the meantime, four homes have been issued building permits from the county within the water rule area.
None will be able to receive certificates of occupancy until water-mitigation certificates are recorded with the county.
“Those people are taking a risk that by the time they finish their houses, the county and Ecology will have the certificates ready,” said Greg McCarry, a member of the Olympic Resource Protection Council, which is seeking funds to force Ecology to rewrite portions of the water rule.
“Right now, it's not a problem, but if we let it fester, let it continue . . . eventually, we're gonna have people not be able to move into the house they just built,” he said.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.