Clallam: Current well-water users can continue current consumption, “water lawyer” says

Well-water users in the Elwha and Dungeness valleys can continue their current consumption under a proposed water resources plan, a self-described “water lawyer” said Monday.

Shirley Waters Nixon, a part-time Port Angles resident and staff attorney for the Center for Environmental Law and Policy in Seattle. said the state’s prior appropriation doctrine establishes that “first in time is first in right” to water.

Nixon addressed Clallam County commissioners at their work session Monday.

The three commissioners will hold the last of three public hearings on the Elwha-Dungeness Watershed Plan at 10:30 a.m. today in Room 160 of the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St. in Port Angeles.

Two previous hearings have been before packed audiences, including about 200 at a session last week at Guy Cole Convention Center in Sequim.

Future water allocations

Future users would be the losers in any water-allocation or limitation scheme, Nixon said.

So-called “junior users” would include any stream-flow requirements set by the state, she added.

The Elwha-Dungeness plan sets no such regulations, however.

Commissioner Mike Chapman, R-Port Angeles, said it is a planning and policy document, not a regulatory or legislative one.

“There’s no proposal to get people off their wells,” he said.

Nor does it mandate metering people’s wells. Such actions could come only from the state Legislature, Chapman said.

What’s next?

Commissioners will face three choices after today’s hearing: adopt the plan, reject it, or remand it to planning agencies for refinement.

They likely will make no decision today, said Chapman and Commission Chairman Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness.

The board will probably will spend at least another work session discussing the plan again.

“We’ve got a lot of testimony to digest,” Chapman said.

“We haven’t made up our minds.”

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