Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire says he now supports the adoption of the Dungeness Water Management Rule.
The rule, proposed in May, represents the culmination of 20 years of work toward creating a regulatory structure that will ensure water is available for the basin’s fish and for future development.
McEntire, who has served as the point man for the commission on the issue, said he’s satisfied with the assurances provided this week by Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant. Sturdevant provided the commissioners with a four-page response to the concerns they outlined in their formal comments on the proposed rule.
Among those concerns, McEntire said, is the “sufficiency of the Department’s economic analysis supporting the rule.”
McEntire also had formally asked the department to provide for a bulk purchase of water rights to mitigate for future development, thereby alleviating the rule’s uncertainty and costs for developers and the regulatory complexity of the rule.
In a statement released Tuesday, McEntire says Sturdevant has since “responded positively to both concerns.”
The rule’s cost-benefit analysis has been subject to a good deal of criticism, in part because Ecology economist Tryg Hoff told agency higher-ups the rule’s costs far exceed its benefits. Hoff’s comments were included in internal e-mails published by the Sequim Gazette.
Hoff, the first agency economist assigned to the rule-making effort, has since been replaced.
Responding to a number of requests, Sturdevant said he won’t “hit the pause button” on the rule. He explained his position, saying, “because disagreement has largely revolved around underlying legal questions and not around the economic assumptions of the rule, I do not believe that additional independent economic review is likely to provide much in the way of useful new information.”
He continued, “That would merely stall the rule process ….”
While the letter states the final economic analysis “will be peer reviewed by another agency economist,” McEntire said he has since been told by Ecology Southwest Regional Director Sally Toteff that the agency “plans to have an outside review conducted by an academic schooled in economics.”
“(That’s) a good step in the right direction,” McEntire said.
He added, “On this hangs the existence of any rule — state law requires a rule to have more benefit than cost.”
McEntire said Ecology also has agreed “to put in their budget a sum of money for purchase of water to mitigate future permit exempt wells’ domestic use.”
The exact amount is still to be determined, he said, “but this will give the state Legislature something to work with next year to provide for the lump sum purchase of mitigation water for the next 20 years of future development in eastern Clallam County.”
He called the decision “a huge step forward.”
In his letter, Sturdevant noted that “a bulk or wholesale mitigation concept has great merit as a complement to, but not a replacement for, the proposed rule.”
He said the mitigation standards contained in the rule are required to promote effective mitigation efforts.
He added that the rule’s reserves — water set aside to ensure development doesn’t come to a halt — also are needed to provide water in the areas where it will be difficult to purchase mitigation rights.
McEntire added that he’ll continue to watch the development of the rule. “It’s not ‘game over,’ but we’ve made some excellent progress in almost completely removing the rule’s impact on the economy and property development.”
McEntire called it a “huge improvement over where we all were just a few weeks ago, when the draft rule would have required the owner of a new well to pay a large sum of money to mitigate its calculated impact on streamflow. Protecting streamflow is a public benefit, therefore it is appropriate for it to be paid for by state government.”
McEntire says the rule will now be “good enough.” It will preserve streamflows, protect senior water rights “and most important to me … do no harm to our economy and property rights.”
“I intend to keep vigilant and to urge both Gov. Gregoire and our state’s next governor, along with our 24th District legislative delegation, to get this done in next year’s legislative session,” he said.
McEntire also cautioned, “This is not over by a long shot — only when the next governor signs a budget bill with money for this purpose in it will we be assured that the rule truly will accomplish these three things.”
McEntire added that he is grateful to Sen. Jim Hargrove, who he said has been vital “in bringing us to this point.”
He also thanked his fellow commissioners, Mike Doherty and Mike Chapman, for “their stalwart support.”
“Credit also goes to Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant. I strongly appreciate his willingness to listen to different views and to work toward achieving a better rule.”