PORT ANGELES — Clallam County has been told it will receive a $4 million grant from the state Department of Ecology, the first major funding for a project intended to ensure enough water for farmers and salmon in the Dungeness River basin.
“This is the first big piece of the puzzle,” said County Commissioner Mark Ozias.
Ecology sent a letter to the county Jan. 24 informing it the “high priority” project is being offered up to $4,092,854 in funding for the Dungeness Flow Restoration and Aquifer Recharge Off-Channel Reservoir.
The final funding agreement will be based upon negotiations between the county and Ecology on details of the project, the letter said.
The $24 million to $35 million Dungeness Off-Channel Reservoir would include a new 88-acre reservoir along the Dungeness River inside a proposed 320-acre Clallam County park off River Road in Sequim.
The proposed project’s purpose is to store water in the winter and spring to help with river flow late in the irrigation season, contain possible flooding during heavy rains and help endangered salmon returning to spawn.
The project was first envisioned about 10 years ago by the Dungeness Reservoir Working Group coalition, which includes Clallam County, the City of Sequim, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Dungeness Water Users Association, Clallam Conservation District, Ecology and the Washington Water Trust.
The 1,600 acre-foot reservoir would capture late winter high river flows from the Dungeness River and store it in the reservoir. Water from the reservoir would be used for irrigation, saving 25 cfs of flow in the Dungeness River to help support migrating salmonids.
“Ecology appreciates your commitment to streamflow restoration and enhancement,” Ecology wrote in the letter to the county. “We look forward to working with you to complete this high-priority project.”
Ozias said the money would be used to purchase land from the state Department of Natural Resources and that remaining money likely would go toward design and engineering.
Ecology told the county that the offer letter is not binding in any way, but said, “Ecology is committed to negotiating and signing a funding agreement in a timely fashion.”
Ozias said that while there’s no firm plan yet, he anticipates the timeline for the project to become more clear in the coming weeks.
He expects this year to be the start of two public processes where the working group would receive feedback about the reservoir and the surrounding park.
“I do expect there will be a public engagement processes related to the park aspect so we can understand what kinds of uses the county residents would like to see at this place,” he said.
While that process is happening, officials will continue to focus on the details of the project and figure out where the next piece of funding will come from.
Ron Allen, Chair and CEO of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, said in a press release that the grant award provides recognition that low snowpack years, exacerbated by climate change, threaten to compromise existing restoration work.
This year the Dungeness Basin is at about 50 percent of normal snowpack.
“These conditions promise that there will not be enough water for instream and out-of-stream needs in the future if we fail to act,” Allen said.
The funding is made possible because of the Streamflow Restoration Act, which the state Legislature passed in response to recent Supreme Court Cases. It makes $300 million available over the next 15 years for projects to help fish and streamflows.
The Legislature appropriated $20 million for 2018-19.
This year, 46 applicants seeking more than $78 million in funding. Ecology is offering funding to 15 applicants.
“Not only is this a project of regional importance, it’s one the state is looking at as a potential model for collaboration that can be replicated in other areas of the state,” Ozias said.
“While it’s a steep climb, we have a lot going for us.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.