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Dungeness Water Rule: Signed, sealed, almost delivered
After more than 20 years of work by his agency, Washington Department of Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant this week signed the new Dungeness Water Management Rule. The rule is designed to enhance flows in area streams while protecting the interests of senior water rights holders.
The rule will become effective on Jan. 2, 2013.
Sturdevant noted most rules don’t have a six-week delay between signing and implementation, but said his agency still has several tasks to complete before the Dungeness rule can be implemented.
Ensuring the rule is ready to go on day one always has been a “key objective,” Sturdevant said.
The rule will put into place a new regulatory regime covering much of rural eastern Clallam County, “closing” much of the Dungeness Basin to new water uses. It largely does away with the permit exemption rules that now allow those who drill a well within the region to enjoy the resulting water at no cost.
Those who want to drill a new well, and those who put an existing well to a new use, will be required to pay a mitigation fee for that water. A new “water bank,” or “water exchange,” will open for business on Jan. 2, bringing willing buyers and sellers of water rights together. The Dungeness Water Exchange will be run by the Washington Water Trust.
In concert with state Sen. Jim Hargrove and Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire, Ecology has in recent weeks added a few new twists. Perhaps most importantly, the agency will provide Clallam County with a $100,000 grant that will be used to pay for mitigation water for indoor uses.
The agency now estimates that will likely cover the cost for the first 100 homeowners who apply, which they estimate will provide coverage through June or July 2013.
McEntire said he believes the funding also would be available to those existing well owners, who by changing their water use, also would be required to purchase mitigation water.
Other changes to the rule provide more detail on what constitutes home domestic use, which was formerly an open question. Hargrove said it specifies that such uses as cleaning windows and filling a kiddie pool are allowed.
Hargrove said the new funding is important because previously “no one knew how much (mitigation) was going to cost, and who was going to pay. There were potential lawsuits.”
By providing for indoor use, Hargrove said he hopes they have avoided those suits. “We won’t spend all of our money in court fighting over this thing,” he said.
Ecology also has agreed to set up a committee with Clallam citizens to oversee the rule’s implementation.
More funding requested
The agency will request an additional $300,000 in funds from the state Legislature to continue paying for indoor water once the initial $100,000 has been spent. In that way, they say, the funding should be in place for two or three years of development.
The $300,000 request is part of a larger $2.05 million agency request. Ecology hopes the Legislature will provide the capital from the 2013-2015 budget, drawing it from the State Building Construction Account.
The full funding would implement a number of strategies for ensuring sufficient stream flows, including developing off-stream reservoirs for water storage.
The Dungeness Exchange doesn’t yet have any water rights to sell, but Hargrove, McEntire and Sturdevant all agreed it should be possible to obtain water rights that fit in the $1,000 per household budget. Because the state is coughing up some cash, state officials will be instrumental in negotiating a good deal, they said.
Most of the water rights are likely to be purchased from the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Agricultural Water Users Association, a coalition of local irrigators that signed an agreement with Ecology in September that allows the members to sell a portion of their water rights.
Sturdevant said the water rights sales agreement with the water users is moving forward and that the Exchange is well on the way “to getting the first chunk.”
He added that there are “a lot of potential providers, so there is competition among providers.”
Ecology and Clallam County still are working toward completing the memorandum of understanding (MOU) regarding the roles of each in overseeing the new program.
The MOU will be discussed at a Nov. 26 work session of the county commissioners with the full board considering approval during its Dec. 4 meeting.
Well owners with a building permit or new water use established before Jan. 2, the effective date of the rule, do not need to meet the mitigation requirements.
Congratulations all around
McEntire and Hargrove both praised Ecology’s willingness to work toward changes that make the new rule more palatable.
Hargrove said with Sturdevant’s help, “substantive changes have been made.”
He noted that he and McEntire had “no real authority to engage with Ted. He just stepped back and worked with us.”
McEntire agreed, adding, “Facts aren’t negotiable, but everything else is. We wanted to see how we could make this thing work and to create as little hurt as possible for people while creating as much environmental benefit as possible.”
Sturdevant said the two both worked well with Ecology. “That’s not standard operating procedure,” he said. Rather than simply declaring the issue controversial and complex, and then avoiding it, “instead both spent a lot of time learning about this.”
The two engaged with Ecology in “serious substantive conversations that shaped the package and funding. It’s clearer, easier and cheaper,” Sturdevant said.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.