A portion of Sequim’s original Sequim Prairie irrigation ditch is tentatively set to be piped as part of a conservation effort to help the Dungeness River’s flow and endangered fish. Some neighbors and shareholders are opposed to the project because they feel they weren’t given an opportunity to provide input to project owner the Sequim Prairie-Tri Irrigation Association (SPTIA). They feel enclosing the ditch will kill nearby vegetation and negatively impact wildlife. (Lucinda Hayes)

Sequim irrigation pipe proposal draws ire

Conservation District says it’s within legal right

SEQUIM — A group of neighbors, stakeholders and Sequim residents continue to push back against an effort to enclose more than 10,000 feet of original irrigation ditch in pipe through the city and many of their backyards.

A year into learning of the plan, the group has lobbied project owners Sequim Prairie-Tri Irrigation Association (SPTIA) and the Clallam County Conservation District, the project’s managing agency, to pull back for multiple reasons.

Some are seeking to maintain the ditch’s original appearance while others insist the piping is not part of the easement and that the project would dry up their wells, kill trees and negatively impact wildlife.

Under the “Irrigation Efficiencies and Improvement Project,” SPTIA’s directors plan to install 10,200 feet of pipe along the Sequim Prairie’s main ditch for irrigation water south of U.S. Highway 101 and east of the Dungeness River that goes north behind Walmart, through the Jennie’s Meadow development, and then east through dozens of parcels, stopping just before Fifth Avenue.

The ditch was the first to flow through Sequim after the first headgate on the Dungeness River was lifted on May 1, 1895, according to the Sequim Irrigation Festival’s website.

Planning documents state a second portion of the Improvement Project (called Eureka-Independent) plans to pipe 1,300 feet of previously piped ditch on the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s Healing Campus to near behind Domino’s Pizza on Washington Street.

SPTIA’s $2.4 million project looks to improve instream flows in the Dungeness River and save about 1.75 cubic feet per second, or 533 acre-feet of water, according to the Clallam Conservation District.

The Bureau of Reclamation has granted about $1.5 million to SPTIA and the Department of Ecology for the project through the WaterSMART and Irrigation Efficiencies Program.

Gary Smith, a SPTIA board member, said in an interview the project is a continuing response “to endangered species requirements needed to make progress in saving water and leaving more water for fish in the Dungeness River.”

“We’ve been piping for 20-plus years,” he said.

District Manager Kim Williams of the Clallam Conservation District said via email they’ve considered alternatives, but “at this early stage it is unknown if there will be changes.”

She said past piping projects have led to “incredible water savings” of more than 25 cubic feet per second in the Dungeness River, “helping both the fish and the farmers tremendously with a complex and difficult issue.”

“The main purpose of piping our open irrigation ditches is to decrease any water losses that often happen from water conveyance in an open ditch,” she said.

Williams said the Dungeness River’s low flows in the late summer are a critical problem for four endangered fish species — Puget Sound Chinook, Hood Canal summer chum, Puget Sound steelhead and bull trout — and also for a healthy population of species of concern: the Pacific lamprey.

She said the project is a “double win” for fish and farmers “because piping irrigation canals is a solution that saves water in the Dungeness River for fish as well as other in-stream organisms and it helps protect water resources for our farmers and landowners who depend on irrigation water for their livelihood.”

“The time is critical to do all we can to save water in the river especially in light of climate changes such as drought, early snowpack and glacier melt, and low to no rainfall mixed with high late summer temperatures,” she said.

A Conservation District FAQ webpage on irrigation piping, reports that about 90 percent of irrigation water is used by farm related activities and about 10 percent for landscaping activities.

Neighbors’ input

Water shareholder Judy Larson said in an interview many of the neighbors are environmentally minded and she feels there has been a lot of positive impact from the 66 miles of piping the Clallam Conservation District has led, but she wants to know more about the positive and negative impact on salmonids, wildlife and homeowners.

She said some residents who have had their ditches piped reported they’ve lost trees, shallow wells and saw wildlife go away.

Larson said they’ve received 60-plus petition signatures from residents opposed to the project.

Virginia Shogren, a SPTIA shareholder, and other neighbors feel SPTIA is also relying on an outdated environmental impact statement and doesn’t account for anything above ground, such as trees.

At the Jan. 9 Conservation District meeting, Shogren testified that the project would destroy Jennie’s Meadow’s “Core Protection Zone and Wildlife Corridor” that creates tree canopy and habitat for bald eagles and other wildlife. She said its plat map doesn’t show an easement that would allow piping in the zone, and it would require removal of an extensive number of trees.

“The (Conservation District) has no authority to destroy a designated wildlife corridor, either directly or indirectly, via the SPTIA,” she said. “The Jennie’s Meadow Plat Map and associated Priest Pastures Bald Eagle Nest Territory Site Management Plan constitute further grounds for finding that the piping project is lacking in lawful authority and must be terminated.”

Clallam resident Rob White said at the same meeting that, “there have been a lot of questions asked, nothing’s been answered” from SPTIA and the district.

He said he felt current projects have been destroying all the remaining green space in Sequim.

“This is a culture thing: wells trees, green spaces … [and] here we are, destroying fish, wildlife. This affects everybody,” he said.

“What are we going to have, an Irrigation Pipeline Festival?” he asked. “I think this just needs to be ended. There are some serious problems here.”

“I know every square inch of this ditch. I’ve walked every square inch of that ditch. I’ve maintained it.”

Shogren said in an email she has “a growing concern that 66 miles of ditches have been piped in without an adequate review of the environmental impact, including immense loss of tree canopy.”

“Given the lack of piping easements on our project, I also question whether sufficient easements and permits are in place for past projects,” she said.

Response

Smith said after they received a cease and desist letter from Shogren and they hired a lawyer, they found the history of local piping projects and wrote back to her that they have the legal right to do the project.

“We’re going to do it similarly to how it’s been done the last 20 years: a low-pressure pipe that reduces risk,” he said.

As for finding compromise, Smith said they won’t consider piping only a portion of the project because “it’s not consistent with the reasons for piping.”

“We need to do the whole project,” he said.

Smith said he and his wife were raised in the area and he understands the historic point neighbors are making.

“It’s the original ditch,” he said. “I have some sympathy for that, but it doesn’t overpower the need to save water and be more efficient.”

“We do have a section of ditch that’s open and will stay open on Hendrickson (Road) and Sequim Avenue by Sequim Middle School.

“There’s still a lot of ditches not piped in the valley. About half are open.”

According to the Conservation District’s FAQs page, “how landowners are informed about piping projects is up to each irrigation district and company.

“Landowners cannot prevent the piping of a ditch, but irrigation districts and companies commonly try to work cooperatively with landowners and accommodate their needs, as long as it does not unduly affect the project.”

Smith said the project’s purpose is to save water.

“There’s always going to be more demand than water,” he said.

“(2023) was a good example of that. All the irrigators stopped irrigating about a month early.”

“Also the pressure from Endangered Species Act. They have the right to shut us down if we’re not in compliance.”

Timeline

Williams said a cultural resources compliance survey is completed and they’re waiting for the Bureau of Reclamation to approve and process the report that will also go out to area tribes for review.

Joe Holtrop, former project manager and current district manager for Jefferson County Conservation District, said this is the most populated area of all the ditch piping projects he’s worked on in the last 20-plus years.

Williams estimates the first portion of the project, the Eureka-Independent’s 1,300 feet of pipeline by the Healing Clinic, will have its design finished soon and go out to bid in February. It’s tentatively set for completion by the end of March.

She anticipates selecting an engineer and for engineering to begin on the Sequim Prairie main’s 10,200 feet of pipe in the early part of this year and going to bid in late summer.

Construction on the Sequim Prairie portion would begin after Sept. 15, she said, with work finished by the end of March 2025.

________

Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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