State asks for help to protect future supplies in the Dungeness

When is a water-management rule not a rule? When it is still under development!

Over the next few months, the state Department of Ecology is encouraging local citizens to take part in setting the future direction of water management in the Dungeness watershed.

Ecology, working with Dungeness area stakeholders, is completing a draft instream flow and water-management rule for the Dungeness River basin. The draft is based primarily on recommendations from the 2005 Elwha-Dungeness Watershed Plan, developed locally and adopted by the Clallam County commissioners. The plan obligated Ecology to develop a water-management rule.

Careful water management is particularly important for the Dungeness watershed, where the Olympic rain shadow affects precipitation patterns. Several factors make meeting current and future water needs difficult: the highest demand for offstream uses comes when stream flows are lowest. The area has a growing population and the watershed lacks water storage facilities. And much of the water is legally spoken for already, especially during summer and fall.

The draft rule would guide decisions on water rights and water availability. It would protect existing water rights and bring consideration of flows for fish into decisions on water use. The Dungeness River supports four fish listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, for which summer flows are critical.

Note that the rule would affect only those who apply for new water rights, drill a well or put water to use after the rule is adopted.

The rule would establish regulatory instream flow levels for the mainstem Dungeness, its tributaries and eight independent streams. The flow levels in the rule would not necessarily be in the streams at a given time but are an administrative tool to protect senior water rights from impairment by new users.

The Legislature has instructed Ecology to "protect and preserve instream resources and values," including fish and wildlife, aesthetics and recreation.

The watershed plan recommended strategies to manage late-season demand. Ecology and others are looking at several approaches to this, including education and other voluntary measures. In addition, withdrawals would need to be mitigated to minimize effects on streams.

The Dungeness, its tributaries and smaller streams would be closed to new uses during much of the irrigation season and fall. The dates being discussed for these seasonal closures include April 15- Nov. 15 for small streams and July 1-Nov. 15 for the Dungeness mainstem. Groundwater directly or indirectly connected to surface water likewise would be closed.

The watershed plan emphasized the need to use existing water systems wherever possible and for those systems to implement conservation and efficiency to make the most of current water rights.

For residents unable to connect to a water system, new water would be available through a "water exchange." The water exchange would provide mitigation to offset potential impacts on water rights, including the adopted instream flows for the Dungeness and streams. The water exchange would buy senior water rights and provide mitigation credits to offset potential impacts from new uses.

Most new water users likely would find it simpler and more cost-effective to buy into a water exchange but a homeowner or bigger entity could opt for developing a separate mitigation plan. For those using the exchange, there is expected to be a one-time buy-in fee along with certain conditions of use.

The water management rule would apply to the Dungeness watershed, from Bell Creek on Sequim Bay west to the Morse Creek drainage. Easternmost Clallam County on Sequim Bay and the Miller Peninsula will be covered later in the Quilcene-Snow instream flow and water management rule.

In the 21st century, effective water management is complex and success depends on local partnerships. Development of the instream flow and water management rule for the Dungeness River basin is one of several efforts by local, tribal, state and federal entities to address the water needs of people, farms and fish. We need your participation to ensure the protection and wise use of your water.

A community forum on the proposed water management rule for the Dungeness watershed is scheduled for 4-7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 18, at John Wayne Marina in Sequim. Watch the Gazette for further rule-related information.

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

Questions? Contact Cynthia Nelson at 360-407-0276 or rule writer Sarah Ferguson at 360-407-6780.

A community forum on the proposed water management rule for the

Dungeness watershed is scheduled for 4-7 p.m. today, Wednesday, Feb. 18, at John Wayne Marina in Sequim.

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