News

‘Local Leaders’ completing their recommendations

by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim Gazette

The Local Leaders Water Management Work Group (LLWG) is now wrapping up its work and plans to file its recommendations by the end of the month.

 

“We’re close,” said chairman Gary Smith.

 

The LLWG was formed in 2010 to provide recommendations regarding a soon-to-be-proposed Dungeness Valley water management rule. The proposal is expected from the Department of Ecology by March.

 

Smith said while several issues remain, the group, which has been meeting for more than a year, has put together a significant number of recommendations. These will be delivered to Ecology soon, he said.

“We’re hoping they will be taken into consideration before the draft rule is released,” he said.

 

Cynthia Nelson, watershed lead with Ecology, said she anticipates the department will look at the recommendations before the proposed rule is published and again during the public comment period, when the proposal can be tweaked further.

 

Committee member Anne Soule agreed with Smith’s assessment, saying perhaps most importantly the committee has “established what our priorities are regarding getting mitigation water — that was job one.

 

We feel we’ve set things up well for getting the water as soon as it becomes available and for making it available for the smaller streams as well.”

 

But, she said, “We’re still debating what to do about what people call ‘homeless wells’ — the folks who drilled them in the past and anticipated being able to use them without jumping through further hoops.

 

Now there will be another hoop. We’re trying to think of options to recommend to the state what to do about that.”

 

“Another issue that’s vital to a couple of the (committee) members,” Soule said, “is trying to facilitate getting water out of the river for storage or infiltration projects during winter. And there’s the question of whether the shallower aquifer will be closed to utilization if there’s a deeper aquifer available.”

How much water?

Disagreements remain among the members and among everyone in the discussion, regarding certain seemingly fundamental issues, including the amount of water that regularly flows in the Dungeness River. The new rule would establish a required “instream flow” for the river, defined as the water flow level that would protect and preserve the resources and uses dependent on adequate water.

 

During the group’s most recent meeting, held Thursday, Jan. 5, Tom Martin, a water and wastewater systems assistant with Clallam County PUD, said the instream flows that are proposed are higher than the river’s historical flow.

 

That’s an issue that’s come up many times over the past years.

 

Philip Martin, a physicist formerly with Fermi Lab, has been watching the debate for several years and has done his own investigations. He said that Ecology is “setting instream flows that are higher than historically accurate. They’re setting it to be ideal for the fish, but that’s never been there.”

 

Ann Wessel, who is working on the rule at Ecology, said that very often the natural flow does meet or exceed the instream flow the rule would establish. “We don’t expect it to be there all of the time.”

 

When the flow falls below the new standard, Wessel added, “It would affect new water rights.”

 

Specifically, new water withdrawals would require mitigation and work is under way to establish the mechanisms for providing opportunities for mitigation.

 

“New water users ... would compensate for their water use by getting access to a more senior water right,” Wessel said.

 

“They could go out on their own to do that or we’re setting up a new Dungeness Water Exchange, a collaborative effort — a broker that will help people get credit for water that is not interruptable when the flows aren’t met.”

What about wells?

The proposed rule also calls for further regulating new wells and wells that haven’t been in use for a number of years. That incudes a requirement that all new wells must be metered.

 

In one letter to Ecology, Phil Martin noted, “The late-summer flows in the river appear to be decreasing steadily over the past 10 to 40 years. The decrease is far more than the impact of all the future wells. This decrease is consistent with expectations from climate change. Mitigation of future well usage by a water trust isn’t going to accomplish much relative to this steady decrease.”

 

Marguerite Glover, a Sequim Realtor and an active participant in the ongoing discussion, agreed, saying, “Ecology is on a mission to adopt this rule. Both they and the tribe think it is long overdue. But, why are they hammering on exempt wells, when their impact on the river is so minor?”

 

“I, the county, and Phil Martin, and probably many others, feel that, if new wells are drilled into the second and third deeper aquifers, then the impact from those wells will have been mitigated ­— and the rest of the rule is unnecessary.”

 

Martin said studies conducted by Clallam County showed that a complete build-out of all of the remaining available land within the Dungeness Valley, with wells, would have an insignificant impact on the water flowing in the Dungeness.

 

“With some reasonable assumptions you’re talking about 3 to 5 cfs (cubic feet per second of flow). That’s nothing compared to the irrigation (withdrawals) and just a tiny, tiny fraction of the rainfall.”

 

Other disagreements will be turned over to Clallam County and the Department of Ecology, which will work out the answers in a planned Memorandum of Agreement. The MOA is anticipated to be completed by the time the new rule is promulgated.

 

Topics still under discussion include the rules regarding the treatment of existing but unused wells within the area and how those who hook up to existing Group B water systems will be required to mitigate their impact.

 

Reach Mark Couhig at mcouhig@sequimgazette.com.

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