With the date of anticipated promulgation growing closer, State Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege continue to support the final approval of the Dungeness Water Management Rule.
State Sen. Jim Hargrove wants to have a few details ironed out before he gives it a thumbs-up.
The Department of Ecology proposed the rule in May and hopes to have it in place this fall.
If it is approved, the rule will put into place a new regulatory regime that covers much of rural eastern Clallam County, “closing” much of the Dungeness basin to new water uses.
The rule would largely do away with the permit exemptions that now allow those who drill a well within the region to enjoy the resulting water at no cost.
Those who plan to drill a new well, and those who put the water from an existing well to a new use, would be required to purchase "mitigation water," mostly likely through a water rights exchange.
All three legislators also say they continue to have concerns about the proposed rule.
Tharinger in the affirmative
Tharinger said withdrawing the proposed rule now "isn't the answer."
He said it "needs some tweaking, but it's been studied for 10 years."
"We can address the issues" in the rule, he said.
Tharinger said he originally was opposed to creating a water rights exchange, but was convinced by his attorneys that a bulk purchase of water by the state or another public entity would constitute using public money for the benefit of private individuals.
He also said the purchase of senior water rights provides advantages to those who would like to build in the area.
He noted the current law doesn't attach water rights to land. That's a "wrong assumption," he said.
With the new rule landowners will purchase a valuable right, he said.
Tharinger said he agrees with Ecology's statement that the rule won't harm property values.
The rule comes with "added costs and added complications," he said, but the cost will be worth it. He noted that purchasing water in a municipality also requires a one-time fee, with monthly fees in perpetuity. In Sequim, he said, the one-time fee is as much as $6,000-$7,000.
The advantage to the Dungeness Water Rule, he said, is that it provides for a one-time fee.
He said Ecology has found itself in a tough spot in finding a solution to water management issues. "The public owns the water," he noted. "How do we solve the problems?"
Tharinger said on occasion Ecology isn't "as solution-oriented as they could be." But, he concluded, enacting the rule helps those in the valley and Ecology. "It gets us better management for water."
Steve Gale, a Sequim Republican who is seeking to unseat Tharinger this November, had not responded to questions regarding the rule by press time.
Van De Wege cites uncertainty
Van De Wege agreed with Tharinger on many of the points, saying that it's important to support the proposed rule. "Having no rule in place this year would be very detrimental to the affected area because of the continued uncertainty for property owners, developers, farmers and others who rely on adequate stream flow levels."
Van De Wege also cited the possibility that failing to put the rule into place would lead to litigation brought by senior water rights holders who believe their water is being taken by well owners. That would create "even more uncertainty," Van De Wege said, likely leading to a moratorium on building permits. "There currently isn’t a lot of clarity around this issue for all parties involved and the rule-making process would create that much-needed clarity," he said.
Van De Wege said he wants to see the final rule written and implemented in a way that won't be detrimental to future homeowners. "My preference would be to see more limits or a ceiling put on mitigation costs."
Van De Wege said the rule's benefits outweigh its drawbacks. Among its benefits, he said, the rule helps spur development by freeing up water rights applications that "have been on hold for far too long."
"The entire 24th District legislative delegation is keeping a close eye on the ongoing process and we will weigh in with our concerns about mitigation costs and the effect on future homeowners," he said.
Hargrove says rule must be fair
Sen. Jim Hargrove said he, too, has been watching the rule's development closely, saying, "Some sort of water management is needed in the basin to ensure viability of the resource and to stave off any future legal issues …."
He said he's working to ensure the final rule "is fair to property owners, and … understandable and clear."
He added that it's important for the rule to be based on sound science and that it has "goals and benchmarks that are realistic and attainable."
"I have been reminding DOE throughout this process that landowners, water users, developers and realtors are important stakeholders whose needs and concerns must be recognized. I do think we are moving in that direction."
Hargrove addressed some of the comments from the rule's most vocal critics, saying, "The bottom line for me is that the rule needs to be clear, including its financial impacts. No guesswork. The science needs to be solid behind the instream flow requirements and what real water impacts there will be to the stream from exempt wells."
Hargrove said he continues to meet with Ecology officials toward that end.
"I cannot say whether the rule needs to be delayed at this time. I can say that we need to get it right before it is adopted," he said.
Carter wants a delay
Larry Carter, a Port Ludlow Independent, is challenging Hargrove for the District 24 Senate seat.
He said Ecology must be restrained from putting the rule into place in the Dungeness Valley — and he hopes to put the brakes on similar rules Ecology plans to implement throughout the state.
He called for a peer review of the science underlying the rule, saying, "We currently have the fox guarding the science hen house."
"If their science cannot stand up to scrutiny, then it should be placed in the circular file."
Carter also wants to have the rule's cost-benefit analysis reviewed by third parties. He added, "Those who drafted the current CBA should be investigated for their lack of professional integrity."
Carter said he's heard many complaints from voters in the district regarding government oversight. Along the coast, they are "mad as a wet setting hen at the DOE, the EPA and Wild Olympics."
"Folks are upset on this side of the Olympics, too. These rules impact us all regardless of your political affiliation. (The affected) land is owned by Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians and others that will see their property valuations lowered," he said.
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.