News

Ecology moving forward with Dungeness Water plan

by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim Gazette

The Washington Department of Ecology has spent the past few months answering questions and gathering comments regarding its soon-to-be-proposed Dungeness Water Management Rule, but critics say too many important questions remain unanswered.

 

One important question has been answered: Despite requests, including a formal letter from Clallam County Development Director Sheila Miller, the department won’t pause in its efforts. Ecology officials say they intend to publish the proposed rule on April 18.

 

That will start the clock ticking on the process, which must then be completed within 180 days.

 

Among its more important provisions, the new rule would establish “optimal” flow levels for the Dungeness River, its tributaries and eight independent streams feeding directly into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

 

When water levels fall below this established “instream flow,” additional regulatory requirements would be triggered.

 

The affected area includes much of rural eastern Clallam County.

 

The department officials have a great deal to contemplate between now and April 18. Ann Wessel, instream flow rules coordinator with Ecology, said in addition to the dozens of comments gathered at public meetings, the department also has received 30 to 50 e-mails and letters regarding the proposal.

The Clallam County commissioners provided Ecology with a dozen questions of their own and discussed Ecology’s answers in a lengthy public meeting in early March.

The Local Leaders Water Group (LLWG), a consortium of local organizations convened to study the proposal, recently released their formal findings, a 5,000-plus word document containing their collective and individual comments.

Meter readers

Among the concerns expressed by the LLWG is the proposal’s language requiring that all new water uses must be metered. The report notes that Clallam County “has declined to accept the responsibility for implementing this provision,” leaving Ecology with full responsibility for enforcement.

 

The report says, “Some participants in the LLWG process are concerned that the implied logistics, data management, data analysis and enforcement in carrying this out may not be practical or realistic — especially in the current economy.”

 

The matter is made more complicated because Paul Haines, Public Works director for the City of
Sequim and a member of the LLWG, repeatedly noted that the city believes that in order to properly manage the area’s water resources, all wells, new and existing, should be metered.

‘New uses’ ill-defined

Many commentaries on the rule have stated that existing home and well owners won’t be affected by the rule. Critics say that isn’t the case, pointing out that the rule applies to all “new uses” that occur after the rule’s implementation and further noting that “new use” hasn’t been fully defined.

 

The LLWG report addresses the issue, specifically expressing concern regarding the rule’s impact on those who own an existing well that is unused. The rule, they say, “disadvantages residents who started their transition to move here (by having a well drilled prior to building a house) long before the rule is in effect. Their original investment in a well is diminished when new conditions are imposed on its use. …”

The LLWG report includes a recommendation that the required mitigation fee should be waived for indoor water use for owners of these wells or as an alternative that another funding source could be found to pay for the mitigation.

 

The question of “new use” also extends to those who currently own a home and use their well but change their use patterns. Ecology officials recently said the “new use” provisions wouldn’t be triggered unless a new permit is applied for by the homeowner, but critics note that the language of the rule doesn’t include that provision.

 

New water uses, some say, would include planting a lawn or planting fruit trees.

 

In a recent e-mail exchange with Sequim Realtor Margaret Glover, Wessel indicated those uses likely would trigger the “new use” provisions.

 

“If more than five years has passed without any change in the amount or type of water use at the residence you described, then the existing use is considered a perfected water right under the groundwater permit exemption and a new irrigation use would be subject to the rule. In that case the rule calls for mitigation and a meter for the new water use.”

Underlying study under scrutiny

The LLWG report also reiterates concerns expressed previously about the study that produced the data on which the new rule is based. Tom Martin, an engineer who works for the Clallam County PUD and who serves on the LLWG, found errors in the Instream Flow Incremental Methodology (IFIM) study, which was conducted in the early 1990s.

 

In their new report, the LLWG members, with the exception of the Ecology representatives and Jamestown S’Klallam tribal representative Scott Chitwood, ask that “an independent party answer, as soon as possible, these immediate questions: (1) Are the problems identified in Mr. Martin’s hydraulic analysis of one transect in the 1991 report similarly found for additional transects and sites, and (2) what effect do the alleged errors have on recommended instream flow levels?”

 

The report concludes that the inquiry should determine whether the original “IFIM study contains fatal flaws. ...”

For more information on the rule, see www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/instream-flows/dungeness.html.

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