City council says Ecology is overstepping


Sequim Gazette staff

Sequim city councilors unanimously agreed Monday afternoon to send a letter to the Department of Ecology opposing many points in the proposed Dungeness Water Management Rule.


City Attorney Craig Ritchie said the comments were prepared in response to concerns the councilors have with the rule.


“(The letter) is comprehensive, and if we can get it all out front by telling them what the problem is, then we can get things out on the table before it goes into effect,” Ritchie said.


In the lead-up to the filing of the proposed rule, Public Works Director Paul Haines repeatedly expressed his belief that requiring meters only on new wells would provide insufficient data on water use. The council’s letter calls for all wells to be metered.


Among the most serious concerns expressed in the 11-page letter are those dealing with the agency’s statutory authority to “close” the Dungeness basin.


Under the rule those who purchase land would be required to purchase water rights. Those who have active wells within the area also would  be subject to the rules if they increase their use of water.


The letter states council members’ objections:

Ecology changed the definition of Water Resource Inventory Area 18, effectively cutting the City of Sequim out of the rule negotiations. “… creating a new and different WRIA … is not authorized by the enabling statute,” the letter says.


• The rule states that it is not intended to affect federal and tribal reserved rights, but “there is no definition of federal and tribal ‘reserved rights.’”


“Nowhere in water law is there a provision where DOE is allowed to withdraw from appropriation water from any basin because of shortage or pending shortage, and then turn around and ‘sell’ water rights under the guise of mitigation. While this may be crucial to (Ecology’s) concept of ‘water banking,’ it is not authorized by statute.”


• “The ‘mitigation’ definition does not fit any statutory requirements and it must do so. It is respectfully submitted that (Ecology), in a rule, is not entitled to contradict, supersede, or expand the statutory definition.”


• “’Reservation.’ While this definition fits the rest of the rule, there is no authority for a reservation as so defined. … the findings in this rule seem to imply that there is no water available to ‘reserve.’ You can’t reserve for future use water which does not exist.”


The letter, signed by Ritchie, is being submitted as the city’s formal comment on the rule. It concludes, “The City of Sequim recognizes the efforts of the Department of Ecology to try to deal with the many conflicting interests in water rights regulation.


However, the City encourages DOE to offer executive request bills to change the statute. It is respectfully suggested that attempting to do indirectly what is not lawful to do directly is a dangerous course fraught with potential legal challenges.”


An open house on the rule is held at 3:30-6 p.m. June 28 at Sequim Community Church, 1000 N. Fifth Ave., with a presentation and question/answer session at 6 p.m.


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