By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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At the same time, Clallam County officials scrapped efforts to draft an extension to the contract with a nonprofit firm enlisted to manage a water exchange required by the rule, which came into effect Jan. 2.
The Olympic Resource Protection Council was formed earlier this year to raise funds to mount a challenge to how the Dungeness water rule is being implemented.
Greg McCarry, one of the organizers of the council, said Tuesday the group had received pledges for more than $100,000, the amount it sought to pay lawyers to challenge Ecology.
“We’re ready to take action now,” McCarry said.
The group now plans to hire an attorney.
McCarry said the council does not intend to file litigation to have a court review the rule unless Ecology will not negotiate with their attorney.
The Dungeness water rule sets minimum flow levels for the river and its tributaries intended to protect water supplies for marine habitat and human use.
The rule covers the eastern half of Water Resource Inventory Area 18, from Bagley Creek to Sequim Bay.
As a term of the rule, water rights will be purchased from large users, such as Sequim Dungeness-Valley irrigators, and sold to new developers.
Those builders acquire water by purchasing mitigation credits.
Funding from those credits is intended to be used to pay for projects that will store and preserve water for future uses in the valley.
The rule directly affects the owners of nearly 4,000 parcels if and when they are developed, according to the Clallam County Department of Community Development.
Clallam County has contracted with the Washington Water Trust to manage the water bank.
That contract expires June 30.
McCarry said the council wants the state to consider having the county manage the water bank to ensure local oversight.
“We want to insist that the Department of Ecology yield this to local control because we can’t elect the people in ecology or at the trust, but we can elect our county officials,” he said.
Clallam County officials had planned an extension to contract with the Washington Water Trust until they found out it wasn’t necessary.
“Unbeknownst to us, but the Washington Water Trust doesn’t need a contract with Clallam County to operate a water exchange here, or so says the Department of Ecology,” said county Commissioner Jim McEntire, who has been overseeing the water rule for the county commission.
McEntire said the county learned as it was planning to negotiate an extension that the trust didn’t need an agreement with the county to run the water bank.
“Now how they came to that position, I’m not sure,” McEntire said.
Dan Partridge, spokesman for Ecology, said that while the trust can operate the water bank without a contract with the county, the state agency still feels an agreement should be in place.
“It’s our opinion that a contract between the county and the Washington Water Trust would be a good idea,” Partridge said.
He did say Ecology has the authority to allow the trust to run the water exchange sans such a contract.
Ecology provided the county with $100,000 to use through June to pay for the new builders’ mitigation certificates.
New builders can buy certificates giving them the right to use indoor water for $1,000, with certificates allowing some property owners to irrigate available for more money.
Outdoor irrigation is prohibited by the rule in the southern section of the water rule area.
Since Ecology provided the county the $100,000 to pay the trust for mitigation, Partridge said an official agreement would be good for the county, even if it isn’t necessary.
Calls to the trust requesting comment were not returned as of Wednesday.
A pair of meetings on the Dungeness water rule are slated in Sequim today.
At 8:30 a.m., a 17-member panel of government and building industry concerns formed in April to monitor the rule’s impacts and progress will meet at the John Wayne Marina, 2577 W. Sequim Bay Road.
Another meeting of state, county, tribal and water trust officials to discuss the rule will be held at the Sequim Transit Center, 190 W. Cedar, at 1 p.m.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.