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Ecology considering comments on Dungeness Water Rule
The people have spoken and many of them don't like the proposed Dungeness Water Management Rule.
A survey of the comments, which Ecology this week posted on its website, shows the agency still has its hands full in winning over the hearts and minds of Clallam residents.
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.
Ecology representatives have spent the past three months explaining the rule to Clallam citizens, but they haven't convinced everyone.
The public entities that support the rule's promulgation include the three S'Klallam tribes, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Marine Fisheries Service.
Scott Chitwood, Natural Resources director for the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, explained the tribe's positions, writing that "In the Dungeness watershed, water equals habitat equals fish."
Chitwood said that while the rule ensures "people will always have rights to water … it is now time for the state to assign rights to water for other resources that cannot live without it, our fish and wildlife."
Chitwood added, "The proposed rule will only begin the process of managing the public's water. We need to first stop treating our water resource as if there is no limit to the supply. Then we need to begin the long and costly job of restoring instream flows, which the Dungeness Water Exchange has the potential to facilitate."
In their comments, the Clallam County commissioners cite a number of continuing questions. So do the Sequim city councilors, who point out that the city was largely left out of the rule-making process, which they say is a defect that calls into question "the rule in its entirety."
Sheila Roark Miller, Clallam Community Development director, also expressed her reservations, particularly regarding the rule's impact on small businesses.
Doug Nass, general manager of the Public Utilities District 1, sent four pages of suggested changes to the rule.
And then there are the regular folks, 211 of them, who wrote to Ann Wessel, the Ecology official charged with collecting the comments.
Of the 211, 15 support the rule, including the Salmon and Steelhead Conservation Society and the Coastal Watershed Institute.
Of the rule's remaining supporters, most sent in the same form letter stating their support for the rule but asking Ecology to remove the provisions in the rule that provide for "water reserves." These reserves will be created by Ecology to ensure development within the area can continue while the planned water exchange gathers an inventory of rights that can be purchased by those in the affected area.
Ecology didn't provide reserves in Kittitas when a similar rule was put into place, resulting in an immediate moratorium on development.
The form letter calls it a "loophole" that will, "in all likelihood, prevent the river from achieving the 180 cubic feet per second minimum flow in late summer the rule sets to sustain fish and the river itself."
It continues, "I urge Ecology to adopt the rule but not the proposed reservations for future use until we know the minimum flow amounts will be met."
Just say no
As many as 1 in 10 of those speaking against the rule also utilized a form letter, one that cites concerns that "these limitations will ultimately stifle development, decrease land values, adversely impact the business-generated and real estate-related tax bases, and, likely, result in lawsuits over what could be construed as a government 'taking' of land."
Lawsuits, and the possibility thereof, are a common theme of many of the commenters speaking against the rule, including several sent in by attorneys and public interest organizations.
Many of the critical comments are simple statements of disagreement, while others are very angry.
Others are extended and thoughtful, including one by Tom Shindler, who describes himself as a government employee who is "trying to fairly and helpfully administer development regulations."
Rather than a broadside, Shindler provided an outline of a plan for a "political alternative" to the proposed rule, including the creation of an Aquifer Protection District.
"I know the damage that is done by governmental over-reaching, even if the reasons are well-meaning."
He concludes, "We need the citizens of Clallam County to continue to trust government action, and this proposal, when other alternatives are available, will seriously damage that trust, making all future efforts to protect our environment more difficult."
To read the comments, go to www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/instream-flows/wria18_pubcom.html.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.