When representatives from the Washington Department of Ecology and the Washington Water Trust (WWT) arrived in Sequim last Thursday, they anticipated providing a technical workshop on how to obtain the water mitigation credits required under the new Dungeness Water Rule.
Instead they spent the majority of the five-hour session defending the rule's various provisions before a large and often boisterous crowd.
Under the new plan, those who are seeking a building permit in the area affected by the rule must purchase water rights. They will apply for both the building permit and the water mitigation certificate at the Clallam County Department of Community Development.
Bob Barwin, an environmental engineer with Ecology, said while the builders will purchase the rights from the Washington Water Trust, the plan is "to keep it simple."
The Department of Community Development "will serve as a single point of contact," he said.
Tom Schindler, permits center manager for the county, said, "Our mission includes guiding you through the rule."
He also urged anyone considering buying or building within the affected area to contact him "before you spend any money."
Schindler said landowners may be within an area served by an existing water system and would therefore be required to hook up to that system.
Water rights for indoor use are available throughout the affected area, which includes much of rural eastern Clallam County. The cost for 150 gallons per day of domestic use is $1,000. Through June 2013 that one-time fee will be paid by the county with funds provided by Ecology.
Two additional packages also will be available.
Where outdoor water is available, a homebuilder can pay $2,000 for indoor water and enough outdoor water to irrigate 0.06 acres. For $3,000, a homebuilder can irrigate 0.13 acres.
Larger amounts may be available, but must be negotiated on a case-by-case basis with the Washington Water Trust, which under a contract with Clallam County operates the Washington Water Exchange.
Outdoor water won't be available in much of the affected area for the foreseeable future.
Amanda Cronin, a project manager with the WWT, said no one who is not actively seeking a building permit will be able to purchase a domestic water certificate. She added that landowners soon will be able to purchase an "option" for a domestic water certificate for $250. She said the option can be renewed, but added that the cost of the water may rise from the current $1,000.
Many in the audience expressed concerns with the rule. Sequim resident Pearl Rains Hewitt was one of the first, loudly announcing, "Ecology sucks," which prompted a flurry of applause. "Are we still in the United States?" she asked.
Others had more specific concerns. Realtor Karen Pritchard noted that Ecology always had said it planned to "hit the ground running" with the rule, which became effective on Jan. 2. "The (mitigation) applications aren't ready," Pritchard said.
Cronin responded, saying the applications for indoor water should be available in "a week or two."
Barwin added the rights for outdoor water should be secured and available for sale by "this summer." Ecology is currently negotiating a purchase of water rights from the Sequim-Dungeness Water Users Association.
Several others at the meeting expressed their concern with the 150 gallon limit and inquired about Ecology's plan to monitor usage.
Barwin said 150 gallons per day reflects the current average use by homeowners served by the City of Sequim and the Public Utilities District.
He added that the new water meters that are required under the rule will provide Ecology with better data and may result in a higher daily average. If the average usage is greater, he said, the packages will expand to meet the need. The cost will likely go up, he said.
Barwin also said that the figure of 150 gallons a day is used for planning purposes and isn't a limit on usage. For example, he said, a household with eight children won't be punished for using more water — much more water — as long as it is for indoor domestic uses.
Water used for outdoor irrigation may result in enforcement, he said, though only after all other options have been exhausted.
About the price
Port Angeles businessman Kaj Ahlburg provided his own calculations, noting that of the 150 gallons per day, only 10 percent is expected to be put to consumptive use — not returned to the aquifer.
He said that based on that figure, the approximately two cubic feet per second (cfs) of mitigation water rights to be purchased from the Sequim-Dungeness Water Users Association will be sold for "99 times" the purchase price.
While the Water Users plan to sell the water for approximately $450,000 per cfs, the Washington Water Trust will sell it for approximately $43 million per cfs.
"Where did you come up with that price?" he asked.
Cronin said the WWT will use the funds to build new mitigation projects, including holding ponds and other aquifer-recharging facilities. That involves equipment and the purchase or leasing of land, she said.
She added that the projects are necessary, saying that until new mitigation water is generated, there won't be new sources of outdoor water credits.
Barwin added that in addition to funding additional water mitigation projects, the funding will help Ecology and the Washington Water Trust deal with the risk involved in establishing and maintaining the water exchange.
"Ecology and the trust have all the risk," he said. "We could get revenues from as few as 300 homes."
Under the pricing established by the Washington Water Trust, "we think it's sustainable for 20 or 30 years," Barwin said.
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.