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Water rule mitigation certificates remain elusive
by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Rick Gross, the customer service manager for Estes Builders, has a problem.
He’s trying to build a house in Clallam County.
Under the Dungeness Water Rule, in place since Jan. 2, his clients are required to purchase mitigation water before they can move into the house.
The county is paying the Washington Water Trust (Trust) to provide the necessary water mitigation certificates. Unfortunately, because of an ongoing dispute with the county, there are no certificates available.
Gross said it’s been a subject of concern, but hasn’t brought the construction project to a complete halt.
That’s because the folks at the county’s Department of Community Development have been very accommodating. “They have been outstanding,” he said.
With an assist from the Department of Ecology, Department of Community Development Director Sheila Roark Miller has provided Gross with some leeway.
Gross said while the water certificate should have been “signed and recorded” before the permit was issued, he has been allowed to proceed with construction.
“They recognized that people have to work,” he said.
Gross’s project is one of four within the area governed by the new water rule that have received a permit.
By law, all will be required to have a water certificate in hand before a certificate of occupancy is issued.
Still on hold
At a Jan. 17 technical workshop held in Sequim, representatives of the Trust said the new certificates would be available within two weeks. In response to concerns that Ecology might limit indoor water use to 150 gallons a day, agency environmental engineer Bob Barwin told those present at the workshop that the figure simply reflects the current average use by homeowners served by the City of Sequim and the Public Utilities District.
If a household has a domestic use water certificate, it can use a reasonable amount of water, he said.
There is no limit on usage, as long as it is for approved uses, Barwin said.
The first indoor water use certificates released by the Trust stipulated a limit of 150 gallons of water per day per household, surprising many.
The Trust has since added new language specifying that 150 gallons per day is the average amount used in a one-year period by an average household. “Indoor water usage for households that are larger or smaller than this is limited to 65 gallons per person per day on average over a one-year period.”
Roark Miller said the county is seeking to have the certificates reflect usage (domestic use, irrigation, or both) rather than a set number of gallons.
The issue was discussed at length by the three county commissioners and Roark Miller during a commission work session held Monday, March 4.
County Commissioner Jim McEntire, who has served as the commission’s point man on the rule, noted the figures aren’t found in the rule. “If it’s an administrative number, it has no place in a contract.”
He added that because the figures represent estimates, they may be changed as real-world usage is monitored by the state. “That would be a huge administrative problem,” he said.
Roark Miller and McEntire said they don’t know when the certificates will be available.
Commissioner Mike Chapman said his concern lies with the county being dragged into the issue. He noted that the rule was established by the Department of Ecology, which he said has consistently ignored the concerns of county citizens and county officials.
“The county has brought a lot of good ideas to them and been ignored.”
“What do you want us to do?” Chapman asked McEntire. “My e-mail basket is inundated with complaints. But my name isn’t on any of this. The citizens think the county is ramming this through.”
McEntire told Chapman that he and Roark Miller are “pushing back.”
McEntire told his fellow commissioners that the planning and discussions now under way should prove useful if the county decides to bring the water certificate program “in-house” when the contract with the Water Trust expires at the end of June.
Tom Shindler, the county’s permits center manager, said his office continues to discuss the issue with the Washington Water Trust.
Shindler, whose office secures the certificates from the Water Trust, called it an odd circumstance. While the certificate constitutes a transaction between the Trust and the customer, it will be paid for by the county with funds provided by Ecology. The Trust provides its services under contract to the county, an arrangement paid for through a grant the county received from Ecology.
Ecology is responsible for enforcing the provisions of the certificates.
Representatives of the Washington Water Trust did not return phone calls from the Sequim Gazette.
Who watches the watchers
Roark Miller also presented to the commissioners a recommendation to use the county’s existing Permit Advisory Board (PAB) to oversee the implementation of the rule. She said McEntire concurred in the recommendation.
An oversight committee, McEntire said, was suggested by state Sen. Jim Hargrove.
Commissioner Mike Doherty objected, noting the PAB is mostly made up of developers and other real estate interests. He suggested other committees would be better suited to the task, including the Local Leaders Water Group and the Dungeness River Management Team (DRMT).
Roark Miller told Doherty she had approached the DRMT, but that the group had declined, saying the task is beyond their charter.
The Local Leaders Group was established to provide oversight of the drafting of the rule, McEntire said. With the rule now in place, it has completed its task and has largely disbanded.
“It was an ad hoc committee,” McEntire said. “We need to move back into the traditional structures.”
Doherty insisted the new committee should have greater representation from other interests, including the local tribes and irrigators.
McEntire told Doherty that the group could be “augmented for a year with representation from the Local Leaders.”
“Once it’s fully implemented we can go back to regular order,” he said.
Doherty grew a little agitated, saying, “This lets me know how the two of you (McEntire and Roark Miller) are heading.”
He said his first priority is protecting existing land owners and existing water users as they are faced with a declining water resource.
He also expressed concern with a request in Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget that would provide $2 million to pay for additional domestic water certificates.
“We have a higher duty to existing water users. They need some assurance it won’t run out.”