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McEntire questions need for water bank
Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire has asked the Washington Department of Ecology to take another look at its Dungeness Water Management Rule, which was formally proposed today, Wednesday, May 9.
Earlier drafts have called for the creation of a water bank. McEntire said that may be unnecessary.
Among other items, the new rule is expected to require those building within the affected area to pay to “mitigate” for the water they withdraw from a new well. They will have to pay more for water for use outside the home.
The rule also will require anyone making a “new use” of an existing water supply to mitigate its use.
“Mitigation” is accomplished with the help of a water bank, which also is called a water exchange.
Ecology says the bank facilitates water right transactions between buyers and sellers, pooling water supplies from willing sellers and offering “credits” for sale to willing buyers.
In his letter to Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant, McEntire wrote, “The next 20 years will see a cumulative impact to groundwater of less than 2 cubic feet per second in the aggregate — an insignificant amount.”
“The state capital budget can support purchase or lease of additional ... groundwater withdrawal mitigation, obviating the need for a local water bank,” McEntire said.
He noted that the Washington Legislature recently appropriated $2.25 million for several watersheds in the Skagit basin.
“We need the opportunity to work with you and our legislative delegation to devise a different way to mitigate future water use,” McEntire said.
McEntire added that it is “critically important” for the rule to “be able to be enacted quickly, fairly, and without ambiguity, so that your agency will not be tied up in court fighting one lawsuit after another, causing extended periods of economic uncertainty for our county. Unfortunately, I believe the current path toward the draft rule being followed at this time is destined to fail most all of the aforementioned framework goals.”
Rep. Steve Tharinger said the state’s purchase of the water for the Skagit Valley “wasn’t a good precedent.”
He said it was made unusual by two circumstances: first, the area’s senator, Mary Margaret Haugen, had the enormous political clout to secure the appropriation.
Tharinger added that Skagit County was in a bind because it had issued permits for projects, but the mitigation water to be used was later called into question by a local tribe.
“It was a difficult situation, both politically and on-the-ground,” he said.
Tharinger added that many basins in Washington could use a similar injection of funds, but the money just doesn’t exist.
Sturdevant said the proposed Dungeness Water Management Rule doesn’t preclude the bulk purchase of water rights, either by individuals, the county or the state.
Maia Bellon, water resources program manager for Ecology, said even with funding for a bulk purchase the rule likely would remain necessary because it establishes the “mitigation standard” and provides “reserves” of available water. The reserves are water set-asides that will be utilized before the exchange is fully functioning. The reserves may also be used where mitigation water is unavailable for purchase.
As a further example, she noted that purchasing the water rights from the Dungeness Water Users Association would only mitigate for uses lower in the Dungeness River system, but wouldn’t provide for mitigation elsewhere higher up in the basin.
“Purchasing water rights would be very complex,” she said.
During their work session, Tuesday, May 1, McEntire asked his two fellow commissioners to consider signing the letter and presented them with a draft.
Commissioner Mike Doherty expressed his reservations, saying, “There’s been this momentum — now we’re asking to reverse their movement. They’ve been working on this for years.”
Doherty noted that officials with the county and Ecology have provided numerous opportunities to comment on the rule. He said it was “a little late in the game” to send the letter.
McEntire said unless the county finds state funding, a small subset of the population will be required to pay for the rule. Those who are on larger water supply systems, including municipal and county water supply systems, are exempt from the rule, he said.
“I’m a little hung up on slamming the door,” said Commissioner Mike Chapman.
In the end, Doherty and Chapman declined to sign the letter.