A dispute over the wording of the new water mitigation certificates, which are required for home construction on hundreds of lots in eastern Clallam County, may finally be settled.
It’s unlikely, however, that everyone will be happy.
Under the Dungeness Water Rule, in place since Jan. 2, anyone who drills a well in the affected area must purchase mitigation water before a certificate of occupancy is issued.
The county is paying the Washington Water Trust (Trust) to provide the necessary water mitigation certificates. Because of an ongoing dispute with the county, until this week there were no certificates available.
At a meeting with Sequim Realtors on Wednesday, March 13, two Trust managers addressed the issue. Amanda Cronin, who is managing the Dungeness Water Exchange for the Trust, told the Realtors the issue was largely out of their hands and had to be settled by the county and the Department of Ecology.
said Ecology had provided the language for the certificates.
County Commissioner Jim McEntire, who has served as the commission’s point man on the issue, announced Tuesday, March 19, that he had successfully negotiated a change in the language in the certificate with the Trust and with Ecology. The certificate specifies the 150-gallon limit is an average, but also says those who exceed the average may be subject to civil enforcement by the Washington Department of Ecology.
Ecology has specified in the past that the fines could be up to $5,000 a day.
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. He agreed that a family with eight children could use 800 gallons of water a day.
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.
Additional language was later added 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.”
The new certificate removes the reference to “65 gallons per person per day” and includes an asterisk next to the 150-gallon limit. The asterisk points to a note that reads in part, “The household water use for domestic purposes normally varies based on the number of people in the household. Annual average domestic water use in the Sequim area is 150 gallons per day serving a household of about 2 persons. This number is not an absolute limit on domestic use. If the Exchange observes water usage that significantly exceeds the average range, the Exchange may contact Grantor or Grantor’s successor in an effort to determine why water use exceeded the expectation.”
The document also says that if the Exchange can’t resolve these questions, they “may contact Ecology, which may use “its technical assistance and civil enforcement authority to address non-compliance issues arising from violations of Washington state law.”
Mike Gallagher, who heads up the Water Resources Program in Ecology’s Southwest Regional Office, said he doesn’t anticipate the new language will lead to a large number of enforcement actions. “When we look at violations, our first line of approach is technical assistance,” he said. “Often people do it because they don’t know they’re exceeding the limit.”
A little bit of timely advice goes a long way, he said. If that doesn’t work, Ecology will follow a step-by-step escalation in its response. Fines are usually only brought about by a refusal to follow the rules, or willful ignorance, he said.
He added that the agency isn’t seeking out violators and instead usually responds to citizen complaints. “It’s not like we’re the state police, looking for speeders.”
County Community Development Director Sheila Roark Miller, whose office requests the water certificates on behalf of home builders, was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.
Tom Shindler, the permit center manager for Development, said there are currently four permits that will require a water certificate before a certificate of occupancy can be issued. “We’re in touch with all of the permit holders to watch their deadlines,” he said. “It’s not holding anybody up.”