Clallam prepares for a marijuana-growing future in Dungeness watershed

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– With a potential new industry of marijuana-based agriculture looming for Clallam County, officials are considering the impacts of increased irrigation in the water-starved Dungeness Valley

“There are some places around the area where irrigation is not available, but the zoning regulations make it a suitable place to grow pot,” Clallam County Commissioner Jim Mc­Entire said at a meeting about implementation of the Dungeness Water Rule.

Water use in the basin was restricted by the Dungeness Water Rule, a measure instituted January 2013 by the state Department of Ecology with the aim of preserving water in the Dungeness River for both human use and for aquatic species when its flow diminishes in dry summer months.

The rule requires water users to obtain mitigation certificates to draw water for new uses.

Funding from the certificates will be dedicated to projects that add water to the Dungeness watershed to meet minimum flow requirements.

The rule covers the eastern half of Water Resource Inventory Area 18, from Bagley Creek to Sequim Bay.

The water bank is managed by the nonprofit Washington Water Trust of Seattle.

Last Wednesday’s meeting of the trust, Ecology, county and business leaders was one of a series to address issues that have arisen as the rule has been implemented.

Initiative 502, approved by voters in November 2012, legalized recreational marijuana and created a new industry of state-sanctioned growers, processors and retailers.

Though several applications to grow, process and sell pot have been submitted from Clallam County, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has yet to issue one.

“There’s a potential fairly steep demand waiting there for mitigation,” Mc­Entire said. “I can see a scenario where the demand will be damn near instantaneous.”

He noted many marijuana growers use irrigation methods that minimize water use.

“The guys that have been doing marijuana grows, which are here now, they’ve got it pretty much perfected, insofar as minimizing water use,” McEntire said.

Sequim real estate agent Marguerite Glover said one potential grower had asked her about using water for a potential grow operation.

“For pot, is there a package for them, a mitigation package?” Glover asked.

“Unless the property already has a pre-existing well, they’re going to need to mitigate,” said Mike Gallagher, water resources manager for the state Department of Ecology.

Amanda Cronin, project manager for the Water Trust, said they had not designed a certificate specifically for growing pot.

Cronin asked if it would be considered an irrigation use or a commercial use, noting the commercial water users will be able to purchase water from the water bank.

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.

Gallagher noted five mitigation certificates have been issued this year, with 19 issued last year.

There are special permits available for other water uses from the bank, Cronin said.

The Trust recently put together mitigation packages to allow large animal owners to get stock water.

Those looking to water five to 10 animals can obtain certificates for $1,300; 10- to 14-animal certificates are $1,800 and 15-animal certificates are $2,200.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 23. 2014 5:47PM
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