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State budget includes water funds

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by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim Gazette


After six months of hard work, the Washington Legislature on June 28 approved its new capital budget.

It’s another in a series of bare-bones budgets, but it contains a good chunk of money for a program that is near and dear to the hearts of many in eastern Clallam County.

 

The new budget includes $2.05 million to help pay for the many provisions found in the Dungeness Water Rule, which became effective in January.

 

Specifically, the money will be used “to mitigate consumptive use of groundwater” and to restore flows to the streams within the area encompassed by the Department of Ecology’s new rule.

A little history

Ecology says water drawn from area wells also taps into the flow of local rivers and streams. That imposes on senior water rights holders.

 

The rule requires all those who drill a new well to “mitigate” that use. That is, they must pay for the water they consume and do not return to the aquifer. To do so they must purchase “mitigation credits,” which are created by mitigation projects that will put water back into the ground, — for example, a new shallow pond where the water can filter down into the groundwater.

 

Currently “mitigation water” is only available from the Dungeness Water Exchange, which draws the credits from “reserves” created by Ecology when the rule was put into place. The mitigation water isn’t real; rather the credits were administratively created by Ecology to ensure development in the area didn’t come to a halt while the new projects are built.

 

Officials with the Washington Water Trust, which manages the Dungeness Water Exchange, are negotiating with the Dungeness Water Users Group (local irrigators with senior rights) to purchase substantial amounts of mitigation water. They anticipate the sale will take place later this month.

Who’s covered

In addition to those who drill a new well, those who put water drawn from an existing well to a “new use” also fall under the rule.

 

Another twist in the rule was noted last week when officials with the Clallam County PUD spoke to the Dungeness Water Exchange regarding two new wells they would like to drill to replace a current well.

 

The new wells won’t require the PUD to draw more water than it has rights to, but the new wells will remove water from area streams in different amounts than did the former well. Because that’s the case, the PUD will be required to purchase mitigation credits.

Where it goes

The funding in the new budget includes $300,000 to help local water users pay for mitigation credits.

 

That will greatly extend a current program under which Clallam County pays the required $1,000 mitigation fee for indoor water use by those who drill a new well. The funding is drawn from a $100,000 grant Ecology gave to the county.

 

The balance of the $2.05 million will go to flow restoration projects — projects intended to increase the amount of water in local streams.

 

The bill also provides the Local Leaders Water Group (LLWG) with the authority to “coordinate water supply and mitigation projects for implementation that have been developed in cooperation with local stakeholders.”

 

The LLWG, a consortium of local organizations, was formed in 2010 to provide recommendations regarding the then-proposed Dungeness Water Rule. Following the promulgation of the rule it disbanded, and will likely have to be reconstituted to carry out its new charge.

 

Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire said involving the LLWG should alleviate local concerns that carrying out the requirements of the rule has been largely removed from local hands.

 

He said, “Sen. Hargrove’s language gives the LLWG a strong role in mitigation project prioritization, so there is a ‘governance’ role of sorts for us locals.”

 

Sen. Jim Hargrove led the effort in Olympia to secure the funding.

Concerns

Marguerite Glover, a Sequim Realtor and an active participant in local water issues, said she’s pleased the legislature provided the funding. But she questioned the wisdom of the plan, saying, “This money might just be for the Washington Water Trust to buy water rights from the irrigators, and do aquifer recharge projects at a huge cost. The aquifer was previously recharged very cheaply via the leaking irrigation ditches that they are now paying huge amounts to pipe.”

 

Glover said, “The result of that has been less water in the critical times: to the aquifer, wetlands, and small streams — and back to the Dungeness River. In addition, some wells have gone dry, and the artificially saturated upper aquifer is no longer pushing up against the Dungeness River, so the river is losing more water to the upper aquifer.”

 

She added that because much of the land sits atop bedrock deposits, the new mitigation projects are unlikely to be built in those areas where no outside watering from new wells is now allowed. If water for outdoor use is never restored to those areas, there will be “a huge decrease in property values.”

 

“With so much irrigation water no longer taken from the river by the irrigators, and by farm families who have relinquished large water rights, there should be lots of water in the river. But there isn’t.


Penalizing property owners with wells, in the name of putting water in the river and streams, does not accomplish that goal. Rather than putting water back in the river and streams, it pits property owners against each other. It also deprives productive lands in Happy Valley and other foothills from using well water outside, decreases the value of those lands, and increases the value of acreage with irrigation water.”

 

McEntire said he’s also going to push for new priorities for the mitigation projects to ensure they will be targeted at those areas where currently no water for outdoor use is available.

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