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Dungeness irrigators are using less water
by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Washington Department of Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant this week put his signature on a new agreement with Dungeness irrigators, an agreement he said “will help ensure adequate water supplies for the agricultural economy in the Sequim area and provide water for new uses in the Dungeness River Basin.”
The signing took place at a public ceremony at Railroad Bridge Park in Sequim, Friday, Sept. 7.
The agreement with the seven irrigation companies in the Sequim-Dungeness Agricultural Water Users Association reflects the efforts of irrigators to reduce their water use and identifies how much of that conserved water, set aside in the state’s trust water program, they may sell or lease to the community for new uses.
The freed-up rights are expected to provide much, if not all, of the mitigation water that will be sold through the Dungeness Water Exchange to meet the requirements of the Dungeness Water Management Rule, which Ecology plans to adopt before the end of the year.
The new agreement does not establish a price for the water. Ecology has said that the amount of water to be sold, and the price, will be determined “by the market.”
Sturdevant reiterated that the water rights in the Dungeness are all spoken for. “That means we have to find ways to offset new uses, so future development doesn’t come at the expense of current needs. This agreement today is a key part of our plan to mitigate for those new uses and ensure healthy streams and a healthy economy.”
Gary Smith, spokesman for the Water Users, said, “The Dungeness Water Users Association and its members have been working toward better water management in the Dungeness Valley for many years. Over time, irrigation water withdrawals from the Dungeness River have been cut in half, creating an amount of trust water that will be permanently dedicated to river flow and an amount in the irrigators’ name that can be used as a cushion for changing irrigation needs.”
A little history
Sequim’s irrigators started withdrawing water from the river more than 117 years ago. In 1924, a Washington state court gave Sequim’s irrigation companies the right to pull 516 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from the Dungeness River.
“We never used that much,” said Smith.
A 1998 assessment of water use by irrigators confirmed that fact and through a memorandum of understanding with Ecology the water users soon thereafter agreed to reduce their rights to just 156 cfs.
Specifically, said Smith, the irrigators agreed never to divert more than 156 cfs from the river while also agreeing they never would take out more than 50 percent of the river’s flow, regardless of the flow.
The new certificates leave them with just 93.5 cfs of water rights, with an additional 15 cfs placed in reserve. Smith said just a fraction of those 93.5 cfs will be pulled from the river over the course of a year.
The new certificates include an agreement never to reduce the amount of water in the river below 60 cfs, a policy the irrigators have informally followed for many years.
“We don’t want to separate the pie, but to enlarge it by increasing the amount of water available,” Smith said.
Ben Smith, president of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Water Users Association, said the Dungeness Valley is unique.
“The 1998, MOA succeeded because the parties looked beyond their own needs. The farmers, the tribe, the county and Ecology all focused on solutions.”
He said the same willingness to work together made the new agreement possible.
“We’re solution-oriented,” he said.