There recently have been a number of editorials regarding the state of water in our valley most of which greatly misrepresent reality. These are the facts as I see them.
By Washington statute all the water on, over or under the land belongs to the state.
Use of Washington’s water is granted by the state in the form of “water rights.”
By court decisions, “existing stakeholders” of water rights hold precedent over new users.
Existing stakeholders include, all Indian tribes, irrigators with water rights, and municipalities and water systems with water rights. By some court interpretations of treaties, the Indian tribes of Washington are entitled to half of all the water in the state.
As you might imagine this represents a vast source of wealth. But there’s a problem. How can anyone cash in on this bonanza? The Tulalip Tribe’s solution was to sue the Department of Ecology to “manage” the resource. The DOE and Gov. Gregoire settled the suit by agreeing.
Step one, create by regulation a mechanism that allows them to take control of all water in a basin. This is called the instream flow rule. Whenever instream flows drop below the “optimum” level the DOE can stop anyone without a water right from using any of the state’s water in order to “protect the salmon.”
DOE hired consultants to write propaganda articles published in newspapers implying (but never saying) that we are running out of water and killing the salmon, all the while the vast majority of the water that lands in the Olympic Mountains every year flows down through our aquifer and into the sea. They talk in clouds of imaginary science about wells up on Palo Alto Road drawing water out of the Dungeness and about “water banks” of “virtual water.” They talk in warm and fuzzy ways about “water for farms and fish and people.” They offer public information presentations and solicit public input, in order to conform to state law, all the while knowing that they will set an instream flow that will rarely, if ever be achieved.
Because the state determines what the “optimum” flow is, they are able to set the instream flow above any historical level and in one stroke control all water in a watershed. (To make this clear: The “optimum” instream flow as defined by DOE, has almost never occurred even before the first well was ever dug in the valley).
Step two. Now controlling all the water in a watershed, the DOE is in the enviable position of being able to establish a “water market” in which they can sell water to anyone that wants to build a home (They don’t say “sell” — they say “mitigate,” but the effect is the same; money comes from your pocket and goes to the DOE).
They even get to establish who will broker that sale (and earn a commission), and the law dictates who will get paid. That is, of course, the “existing stakeholders” half of whom are the Indian tribes of Washington state.
Meanwhile, keep in mind that if that new home isn’t built and no well is drilled, the water that might have been used to grow our community, its tax base and its jobs simply will flow out to sea with the rest, not affecting the salmon one way or the other.
While this plan may well have some merit in the deserts of eastern Washington or even on the tiny watersheds of Marrowstone or Squaxin Island, it is clearly nonsense in Sequim, but that isn’t even the punch line. They also have started the process in Shelton, Quilcene and Forks because they too are “running out of water.”
Please see this entire plan for what it truly is; a political means for extracting money from one group to pay off another while growing the power and bureaucracy of the DOE. In short, everything that is precisely wrong with our government at all levels.
Tom Williamson is a retired custom furniture and cabinetmaker. Today he is a part-time musician, a substitute schoolteacher and real estate agent with John L. Scott – Sequim.