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Water exchange may provide year-round supply

As your neighbors work alongside state Department of Ecology staff on a rule for managing water resources in the Dungeness watershed, they face some tough challenges.

One of the most daunting is to determine a process by which year-round water supplies can be made available for new uses in a watershed where:

_ Most available water is legally spoken for.

_ Water is naturally limited, especially in the summer when demands are highest.

_ Four fish species are on the federal endangered species list.

_ The rate of population growth is among the highest in the state.

How do you balance between protecting existing water right holders and fish, and provide for new water uses?

Of particular concern is how to manage water needs during the dry summer and fall months when water demands are highest.

The main option being considered is mitigation. New water uses during dry months would be offset or "mitigated" to avoid further harm to the Dungeness River and small streams.

The primary mechanism for mitigation would be a water exchange.

Water exchanges buy or lease existing water rights and make mitigation credits available for other users to buy.

In the Dungeness, the primary source of mitigation water rights would be irrigation districts and companies, who hold the majority of rights on the Dungeness River.

New users would purchase credits from the exchange to cover the amount of their use, plus water to restore flows for environmental and fish protection.

Water exchanges are not new - they are used in the Yakima Basin and the Walla Walla watershed, and throughout the U.S.

Ecology and Clallam County are establishing this state and county-assisted mitigation plan. The Washington Water Trust, an independent nonprofit organization that specializes in water right management, stream protection and flow restoration, is developing the details of how the exchange would operate.

The rule would affect only those who apply for new water rights or drill a well after the rule is adopted - expected in November.

If you already have a water right or well, or are served by a public water supplier - the rule will not affect your use.

What's the bottom line? First, if you can hook up to a public water system, you will be required to do so.

If you cannot get water from a public system, you still will have access to a year-round supply of groundwater for drinking, bathing, cooking, laundry and so on.

Conditions to access this water will include a a one-time buy-in fee to the water exchange to mitigate effects of your water use during the critical summer low-flow period.

But the importance of your daily actions cannot be overemphasized: Using water as efficiently as possible, every day, will have a significant impact on the ability to supply new needs of people, farms and fish.

There are many opportunities for public involvement; see announcements at the Ecology Web site (www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/instream-flows/dungeness.html). There, you also can subscribe to the Dungeness e-mail list (at the Web site listed above) to receive

periodic updates and new information.



A community forum on managing water in the Dungeness watershed is scheduled for 4-7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 18, at John Wayne Marina, 2577 West Sequim Bay Road, Sequim.



Cynthia Nelson is the Washington state Department of Ecology's watershed lead for the Elwha-Dungeness watersheds.



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