Bringing water rights home

Two Clallam County commissioners and Sheila Miller, the Clallam County Director of Community Development, are taking a swing at bringing the Dungeness Water Exchange under local control.


The Exchange was created by the Washington Department of Ecology to provide “mitigation water” to those affected by the Dungeness Water Rule, which has been in place since 2012.


Under the rule, any land owner in eastern Clallam County who hopes to drill a water well must first purchase water rights.


These rights are currently only available through the Dungeness Water Exchange, which is managed by the nonprofit Washington Water Trust utilizing a grant from Ecology.


The only water rights they currently have for sale were created administratively by the Department of Ecology in order to avoid bringing development in the affected area to a complete halt.


Three sign up

The new effort by commissioners Jim McEntire, Mike Chapman and Miller piggybacks on the petition filed in January by the Olympic Resource Protection Council (ORPC).


In its petition, the ORPC asked Ecology to rewrite the rule in light of a recently Washington Supreme Court decision that denied the legitimacy of similar “reservation water rights” established by Ecology in the Skagit River Basin.


In letters sent to Ecology, McEntire, Chapman and Miller note that in much of the affected area no water is available for new outdoor uses.


They say the rule, in place for more than a year, remains a work in progress, with more work needed to “make the operation of the rule fair, clear and predictable for Clallam citizens who now own land within the rule area, or who seek to buy or sell land where no public source of water is available.”


One important step, they said, would be to rework the water exchange, which they note is “currently operated by a private, not-for-profit entity.”


“This and other privately operated water banks operate totally free from any regulatory framework — that we can find.”


While expressing their support for the private sector, the commissioners added that the Exchange is, however, “a private sector entity … carrying out a government function ... ”


They expressed their support for two bills now being considered by the Washington Legislature. HB 2596 and SB 6293 would provide authority “to spend local tax revenues on water rights for water banking purposes.”


McEntire said he’s not optimistic the bills will be passed during this session, but said he’s not giving up. He said the Washington State Association of Counties may “turn it into a request bill” for a future legislative session.


He said he also will pursue other means of accomplishing the effort of bringing the water Exchange under local control, including further discussions with Ecology.


Commissioner Mike Doherty did not sign the letter sent by Chapman and McEntire.


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