Realtors worry over water rule

If people aren't concerned about the state Department of Ecology's proposed "instream flow rule" for the Elwha-Dungeness watershed, they should be, said Marguerite Glover from Peter Black Real Estate in Sequim.

"It's really a big deal. We want to get the word out to people who own property with an as-yet-to-be-drilled well or an unused well," she said.

The "Water Resources Management Program Rule" for Water Resources Inventory Area 18 will govern water use planning and decision-making for future domestic needs along with protecting instream water levels judged necessary for fish.

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

She said the U.S. Geological Survey studies in the watershed have improved and it's "pretty clear" aquifers and surface water are connected.

'Pretty complicated'

How much water is allowed to be drawn from the aquifer has a direct impact on the amount of surface water, which directly impacts fish.

"Hydrogeology is pretty complicated. There's a range of impacts," Nelson said.

"Someone living near a small stream and with only in-house water use won't affect the river or watershed very much, for example," she said.

The Dungeness River supports four fish listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, plus others for which summer flows are critical, Nelson said.

"A lot of hard work is being done to restore the Dungeness River. The rule needs to protect that work," she said.

Nelson said Ecology is conducting targeted outreach that includes meeting with representatives from the city of Sequim, Clallam County and the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe along with real estate, agriculture, timber, environmental and business interests.

Filing rule soon

"So we're having broad conversations to see people's concerns and then we'll look at the draft rule to see if it needs changed.

"We're looking at filing the rule this spring; it's been in the works for quite awhile," she said.

Part of that outreach was a March 3 presentation to a group of real estate agents at Sequim Bible Church.

Reaction from audience members was "really varied," Nelson said.

"Some just don't think it's time to make these kinds of changes; some want to hold the line on damage to fish habitat from water withdrawals," Nelson said.

"There also were people in the middle of the road and others who told me afterward that they understood why we are doing this."

Glover said one sticking point for that group was how much water the river has had historically.

"If you look at it, 90 percent of the time the river doesn't have enough water in it."

The proposed rule could restrict people's access to water by requiring them to hook up to a community water system instead of an individual exempt well, she said.

"In the proposed rule, there's only so much water available. So you can't use your property if you have no access to a community water system,

"I've been following this a long time and I don't think it will put any more water in the river," Glover said.

Ecology is supposed to set minimum river flows - at the behest of the Legislature - but instead is setting optimum flows, she said.

Glover said once the rule is in place, property owners must pay an as-yet-undetermined mitigation fee and put a wireless meter on their wells.

"It was nice of them to come. I'm glad them came," she said.

"They did their best. We just don't agree with them."

Nelson said the agency is developing a process to transfer existing water rights into a mitigation exchange.

Then, as people develop property, they can buy mitigation credits that offset that development's watershed impact or get water through the exchange, she said.

Reach Brian Gawley at bgawley@

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