State Rep. Van De Wege defends Dungeness water rule while criticizing it

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Democratic state Rep. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim said he has issues with the Dungeness water rule, but he also defended it Tuesday at a breakfast meeting of entrepreneurs.

The 24th District lawmaker, a firefighter and the House majority whip, was the featured guest at a Port Angeles Business Association breakfast meeting attended by more than two dozen participants.

He also touched on education funding inspired by a state Supreme Court case filed on behalf of a Chimacum woman and Monday's startup of the special state legislative session.

The water rule, which went into effect Jan. 2, requires property owners to pay water mitigation fees between $1,000 and $3,000, depending on how much outdoor water they want to use.

The regulations apply to property owners who tap into existing wells or dig new wells in the eastern half of Water Resource Inventory Area 18, from Bagley Creek to Sequim Bay.

The rule sets minimum in-stream flows, or the amount of water needed to protect present and future water supplies for marine habitat and human usage and consumption.

“We need to do a better job of incentivizing people to use much deeper wells and lower aquifers,” Van De Wege said.

“If you live next to the river and you have no incentive to go deep, you're going to dig a shallow well because there's water,” he said.

“That has much greater impact on surface water than if you dig deeper.”

One questioner said the Legislature should “dismantle” the rule because no one likes it.

Plenty favor it

“Plenty of people in Sequim are in favor of the water rule,” Van De Wege said.

“There are positive things to it being implemented,” he said.

“It's wrong to say nobody wants that rule.”

Had the regulations not been approved, tribes probably would have sued, Van De Wege said.

A goal for him as a legislator, he added, is to build and maintain relationships with state agencies to serve constituents.

Realtor Dick Pilling called the regulation “a solution wildly in search of a problem.”

“We've got a lot of push-back on this, and I look to [Van De Wege] to do this,” Pilling said, adding that the value of properties without water will “plummet” and that property taxes on other properties will go up.

“How can we as a group push back when you say you can't?” Pilling asked.

“The water rule could have been worse than it is,” Van De Wege responded, calling the assertion that property taxes will increase an “overstatement.”

“The push-back time is somewhat done,” Van De Wege said.

Van De Wege criticism

But he also criticized the rule.

“I don't believe the Dungeness water rule is going to save any water,” he said.

“The money used in the entire program should have been used in a lot better ways, mainly around public education in really teaching citizens on an ongoing basis how to conserve water.”

Van De Wege also said he was proud of sponsoring successful legislation during the session that just ended that mandates the teaching of CPR in high school fitness classes.

But a Republican majority coalition in the Senate and a Democratic majority in the House made it difficult to pass many bills, he said.

“The session was primed for us to not pass a lot of legislation,” Van De Wege said.

“Those numbers are down, but it's not the end of the world.”

Lawmakers who began a 30-day special session Monday to finish work on a new two-year budget face a deficit of more than $1.2 billion for the pending spending plan that ends in 2015.

Van De Wege said most legislators will not return to Olympia until there is a proposed budget deal for them to vote on.

“Budget writers are working on negotiations with the Senate and trying to come to some agreement,” he said.

Van De Wege said that as they go through the budget, lawmakers will continue to fulfill the state Supreme Court ruling known as the McCleary decision, a case named for Chimacum resident Stephanie McCleary, who had a successful 2007 lawsuit over school funding filed on her behalf.

The court ruled the state is not meeting its constitutional obligation to pay for public education and directed legislators to implement educational reforms by 2018.

Those reforms include all-day-kindergarten classes and the focusing of resources in K-3 classes in school districts with lower property values such as Cape Flattery, Crescent, Quillayute Valley and Port Angeles, Van De Wege said.

“This is the first biennial budget of McCleary,” Van De Wege said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 14. 2013 6:12PM
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