Water trust to start exchange

The foundation for further water management in the Dungeness River basin has been laid.

Now it's time to build on that foundation by testing the mechanisms that will institute the pending in-stream flow rule after its adoption, according to the Washington Water Trust.

The trust is performing a pilot project late this year to check the feasibility of leasing water from senior users, such as irrigators, and leaving that water in the river to mitigate low flows that threaten fish propagation.

Ecology hired the trust last year to create a water exchange to provide water to new users during the times Ecology will close the basin to new water withdrawals.

The 2009 project is a hint as to what that process may look like, although many details regarding the exchange still are to be determined.

"This project is not part of the rule," said trust project manager Amanda Cronin.

"It's designed to get a handle on how parts of the process will work here after the rule has mitigation and restoration requirements in place."

The pending in-stream flow rule is being drafted to protect senior water rights and water in the river while allocating new water rights to new users. The state Legislature asked for the process due to the over allocation of water across the state.

The rule will provide new water rights during closures by charging new users a one-time fee, which is used by the trust to bank water for use during low flows.

The money will be used to purchase or lease senior water rights, to capture water during high-flow periods or any other water banking process to make more available for new people.

The 2009 project will lease water from willing irrigators and landowners.

If they choose to participate, they will be paid to leave land fallow from Aug. 15-Sept. 15.

"This allows them to be financially compensated for not using the water during fish-critical periods," said Cronin. "And since it's the last month of the irrigation season, irrigators will still be able to support agricultural uses and farmers will still be able to have a harvest."

Irrigators must pitch bids to the trust for compensation on a per-acre basis. The trust will not compensate an irrigator for more than $100 an acre.

"This is a mitigation exchange, where the water is leased from a senior water right and used for mitigation in the river," Cronin said.

"Once the rule is established, there will be a similar process for making water available to new users in the basin."

Cronin said Ecology will fund the lease program up to $100,000 if the money still is available after the legislative session.

Cronin said the project will not have a large impact on the general public, other than providing more water for the stream and an example of how the exchange may operate in future years.

The Washington Water Trust, online at, reports landowners and irrigators will benefit from a late-season 2009 water leasing program because:

_ Irrigators can choose a price that makes economic sense for their operation.

_ Landowners are paid for fallowing fields in the late season.

_ More water remains in the Dungeness River for fish.

_ Participation is voluntary and there is no cost to participate.

_ There is limited paperwork to fill out and logistics are handled by the trust.

Reach Evan McLean at

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