By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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Leaders from state and local agencies discussed the projected impacts the limited supply of water in the Dungeness River basin could have on marijuana growers during a bimonthly meeting about the Dungeness Water Rule at the John Wayne Marina last week.
“The marijuana-grow potential has kind of driven a new look at what we need to define as commercial/industrial uses,” Mike Gallagher, water resources manager for the state Department of Ecology, said at Wednesday's meeting.
Those who use water for new uses after the Dungeness Water Rule was implemented in January 2013 must pay mitigation fees to obtain that water from a water bank managed by the Seattle-based nonprofit Washington Water Trust.
The rule covers much of rural eastern Clallam County and was instituted by the Department of Ecology to ensure the Dungeness River's flow is high enough to support both fish and people.
Marijuana growers, operating under the new recreational marijuana market legalized by Initiative 502, will need water to grow their crops.
Growers are licensed in three tiers based on how much they intend to grow.
Gallagher said a tier 1 grower, authorized for up to 2,000 square feet of marijuana canopy, would need 260 gallons per day. -Tier 2 growers, allowed up to 10,000 square feet of canopy, would need up to 1,300 gallons per day, while the tier 3 growers, up to 30,000 square-feet, would need as much as 3,900 gallons per day.
So far, only Thomas Ash's TropicGrow, a Tier 2 facility on Marine Drive, has received authority from the state Liquor Control Board to grow marijuana in the water rule area.
Growers could acquire water for their plants from irrigation companies, Gallagher said, but would only be able to use that water during the summer irrigation season.
Ash was previously using water to grow exotic plants like mangos, papayas, wasabi and vanilla in a greenhouse on his farm property.
Gallagher said those who have already been using water for commercial uses would likely be able to water marijuana without obtaining a mitigation certificate.
“I'm thinking more of a lavender farm that wants to change into a marijuana grow operation,” he said.
Others may need to obtain certificates from the water bank to get water.
Residential certificates are available for $1,000, with fees increasing for those who want to irrigate outdoors, though outdoor irrigation is not allowed in the southern and western parts of the water rule area.
Mitigation certificates are obtained through the county's Department of Community Development.
“The water exchange will probably have to come with some sort of pot mitigation permit,” Gallagher said.
He noted Ecology has recently set up a website to provide information about environmental issues likely to be presented by marijuana grows at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-ecologymj.
Realtor Marguerite Glover asked if growers of medical marijuana also would need mitigation certificates.
Clallam County Community Development Director Sheila Roark Miller noted many medical users are already growing personal stocks of marijuana without certification.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.