Credits for Dungeness water use in new rule

SEQUIM — When it comes to protecting the Dungeness Valley’s water supply, the future looks more complicated for newcomers who want to garden, while irrigators who sell their long-held water rights can make money.

New homeowners who want to garden will have to buy “water credits” from the Dungeness Basin Water Exchange.

“They will sell mitigating credits to people who require water,” said state Department of Ecology spokeswoman Ann Wessel on Tuesday at the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon at SunLand Golf & Country Club.

Irrigators with longtime water rights in the valley will go largely untouched under the state’s new water resources management rule, formerly known as the in-stream flow rule, which is expected to come into effect later this year, Wessel acknowledged.

In effect, it is a water rule that honors the “first in time, first in right” concept, dating back to a 1924 ­Clallam County Superior Court decision.

Tuesday presentation

Wessel and Tom Loranger, Ecology’s deputy program manager, addressed more than 50 people at the luncheon.

Both have been helping to coordinate public outreach on the controversial proposal that was met with consternation when it was introduced in 2005 to Realtors, developers and property-rights advocates in both Clallam and Jefferson counties.

Figuring that population growth stresses water supplies, threatening water tables and river flows that support endangered fish species, state lawmakers authorized Ecology to enact in-stream flow rules in water basins throughout the state.

Ecology’s task in the past six years has been to set minimum levels for water in streams and rivers and address out-of-stream water use.

August adoption

The rule for Elwha-Dungeness Water Resources Area 18, which also encompasses nine streams between the Elwha and Dungeness rivers, is scheduled for Ecology’s adoption sometime in August, officially going into effect 31 days after the official adoption date.

Two open houses about proposed changes in water management in the Dungeness River watershed are planned Monday at 5 p.m. and Tuesday at noon at the Guy Cole Center in Carrie Blake Park, 202 N. Blake Ave., Sequim.

Once in effect, new permits for water will not be allowed in areas where public water is available in “a reasonable amount of time,” Wessel said.

New water users will be required to find a senior water user willing to give up and sell the water right equal to what the new user needs.

“Limited reserves will be available for public use,” Wessel said, with potable indoor uses allowed along with some “incidental” outdoor use “not for gardening.”

The state will meter or find a metering partner such as the Clallam County Public Utility District to help enforce the new water regulations, she said.

The in-stream flow rule is being developed in the Dungeness Valley, with water basin stakeholders to address surface and ground water management.

Washington Water Trust — in cooperation with Ecosystem Economics of Bend, Ore. — is working jointly with basin stakeholders, Clallam County and Ecology to develop a water exchange.

The primary objective of the water exchange is to support some new water allocations in the watershed while restoring and protecting stream flows in the Dungeness River, its tributaries and small independent streams.

Ecology, Dungeness Valley irrigators and Clallam County have reached an agreement on steps to take for water supply and stream flow restoration in the watershed.

While snow melt on the North Olympic Peninsula is the main source of water in the Dungeness River in spring and early summer, flows drop rapidly, and by late summer, streams and rivers are almost entirely fed by ground water, Loranger said.

Farm irrigation and lawn watering are at their peak in the summer and early fall, the same time spawning fish need water in the streams.

Species in the Dungeness River are threatened, including the Dungeness chinook, summer chum and bull trout, Ecology said, with insufficient stream flow a critical factor.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at [email protected]

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