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Water rights, rules discussed at forum


Amanda Cronin, a project manager with the Washington Water Trust, talks to the audience about water banks. Mel Rudin, center, of the League of Women Voters, and Cynthia Nixon, right, look on. Sequim Gazette photo by Amanda Winters

 

Close to 100 people gathered Wednesday, Aug. 11, to learn about water management in the Dungeness Valley at a forum hosted by the Clallam County League of Women Voters.


Presenters Cynthia Nixon, a lawyer and member of the league, and Washington Water Trust Project Manager Amanda Cronin addressed the challenges of water usage in the Dungeness Valley and the role of the Department of Ecology in water management.

Nixon said water law is a thorny issue, based on the prior appropriation doctrine. The prior appropriation doctrine is a first-come first-served system where every water right has a priority date and the older the priority rate, the more senior the water right, she said.

At times of low river flow under the soon-to-be-proposed instream flow rule, it is possible people with junior water rights, or the youngest priority date, would have to interrupt their water right, or forfeit water use, so that senior right holders may access their full quantity, she said.

The instream flow rule is expected to be proposed this month by the Washington State Department of Ecology. The rule would set water levels that are in essence the water rights of the streams and rivers in the Dungeness Valley, Nixon said.

"Prior appropriation dictates anyone who gets water rights after the rule is set would have to be shut off during water scarcity," she said.

The rule would not reduce or diminish existing or senior water rights, including household wells.

Cronin's presentation covered the circumstances of the Dungeness basin, including over-allocation of many streams. Cronin said many streams have more water rights allocated than actual water. The Dungeness basin is one of 16 in the state deemed "critical," she said.

Growth in the basin forces the need for re-allocation, she said.

Over the past 20 years, the significant increase in the number of wells in the basin has had a cumulatively large impact on the water supply, she said.

Projects including the irrigation ditch conservation project have been helpful in conserving water and preventing waste. The Washington Water Trust also has started leasing and purchasing water rights in order to keep the water in the streams, she said.

In 2009, the trust had 10 water right leases from August through September.

During the question and answer period of the forum, Mel Rudin, acting as moderator, read an audience member's question regarding hooking up to existing water systems.

Nixon said there is a slim chance of a new water system getting a water right, but for existing systems with extra capacity, it is a good idea for people to hook up to it.

Hooking up to a water system will save people the worry about their water rights being interrupted in the case of a low instream flow, she said.

Cronin said the instream flow rule is likely to require new developments to hook up to an existing water system if possible.

Another audience member asked if the United Nations was dictating the instream flow rule. A representative from the Department of Ecology said Washington water law started long before the United Nations was formed, with instream flow rules developing in the 1950s.

Dixon said Washington state law dictates water management, not the United

Nations.

For more information on the instream flow rule go to www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/instream-flows/isfhm/html.



Amanda Winters can be reached at awinters@sequimgazette.com.

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