By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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Various sectors affected by the state Department of Ecology’s Dungeness water rule, which regulates water use in the Dungeness River watershed, met Thursday at John Wayne Marina for the first meeting to gauge the impacts of the rule, which went into effect Jan. 2, on the area’s economy and ecology.
Thursday’s discussion, attended by about two dozen, centered on what might be discussed at future gatherings of the 17-member panel.
“This is just a way to have a structured session about the rule implementation,” said Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire, who chaired the panel with Sally Toteff of Ecology.
The rule covers the eastern half of Water Resource Inventory Area 18, from Bagley Creek to Sequim Bay.
It sets minimum in-stream flows, which is the amount of water needed to provide for downstream use, to protect present and future water supplies for marine habitat and human usage and consumption.
Property owners who tap into an existing well or dig new wells must buy water mitigation credits from a “water bank” managed by the nonprofit Washington Water Trust, which is under contract through June 30.
Water from where?
The primary request at the meeting was for a detailed explanation of how the water trust will purchase water rights for the exchange.
Amanda Cronin of the Washington Water Trust said the nonprofit is acquiring rights from Dungeness Valley irrigators.
Costs paid by landowners to mitigate water use are used to pay back the cost of acquiring the water rights, she said, with no profit.
Sheila Roark Miller, director of Clallam County’s Community Development Department, said water users in the valley are selling their excess water after implementing practices to conserve water use.
Another common request was for a breakdown of the products that will augment the water supply and eventually allow all homes in the area to use water for outdoor irrigation.
“What can we do to turn those yellow homes green?” asked E. Michael McAleer, president of the Sequim Association of Realtors.
A map outlining the water shows properties in yellow and properties in green. Those marked green can acquire the right to irrigate outdoors for an extra fee. Those in the yellow cannot irrigate outside.
Ecology and Clallam County officials have petitioned the state Legislature for funding to create new projects to store water to keep the river’s flow above the minimum level.
Builders and Realtors on the panel said they want clear rules about what property owners can do with their land in the water rule area.
“In any market, clarity is important,” McAleer said.
For instance, how many horses can a landowner have under the new rule?
Mike Gallagher, water resources manager for Ecology, said that is unclear. Two or three horses likely would not need mitigation, he said; more might.
“The consensus is, you know it when you see it,” he said.
Several worried the new rule would reduce property values in the water rule area.
Clallam County Assessor Pam Rushton, though, said that is impossible to know until property sales from the area begin to be reported.
Tom Shindler, permit manager for the county, reported four mitigation certificates have been issued for new buildings in the area, though two of those were for cottages apart from a main house, aka accessory dwelling units.
Gallagher said he fielded several questions from people wondering if they needed certificates because they plan new uses on their properties. Only one of those did, he said, because they were building a new home.
The panel plans to meet every two months through the middle of 2014.
Others serving on the panel include Sequim City Manager Steve Burkett and Sequim Public Works Director Paul Haines; Clallam Conservation District Manager Joe Holtrop; Clallam County Public Utility District General Manager Doug Nass; Dungeness Water Users Association spokesman Gary Smith; Jamestown S’Klallam Natural Resources Department Director Scott Chitwood.
Also, Lower Elwha Klallam Environmental Coordinator Matt Beirne; North Peninsula Builders Association Board President Garret DelaBarre and Executive Director FaLeana Wech; Port Gamble S’Klallam Natural Resources Director Paul McCollum; Sequim Association of Realtors state Director Marguerite Glover; Washington Water Trust Executive Director Susan Adams; and Hal Beecher, state Department of Fish and Wildlife in-stream flow specialist.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at email@example.com.