Because the Dungeness Water Exchange is currently the only entity with an approved Department of Ecology mitigation plan, it is currently the only source of those “mitigation credits,” though new users can create their own mitigation projects.
The mitigation credits are now being drawn from a “reserve” created by Ecology. The reserve isn’t real water, but a legal construct.
Once that’s used up, new mitigation credits will be drawn only from “wet water” mitigation efforts — projects that put water back into the ground.
The Water Exchange, created by the Washington Water Trust under an Ecology-funded contract with Clallam County, also is working to create the mitigation and flow restoration projects called for by the rule, thus expanding the available amount of mitigation credits.
The Dungeness Water Exchange Advisory Council met for the first time this week, gathering at the City of Sequim’s Transit Center to go over details regarding the functioning of the new Water Exchange.
The council, established in the new Dungeness Water Rule, includes representatives from seven public agencies, plus the Dungeness Water Users Association, the collective of local irrigation companies that is now negotiating the sale of mitigation water to the Dungeness Water Exchange.
Amanda Cronin, who operates the exchange on behalf of the Washington Water Trust, chaired the meeting.
Among those on the council with a particular interest in exchange policies were Clallam PUD representatives Mike Kitz and Tom Martin and City of Sequim representative Paul Haines. The three inquired about the possibility of purchasing mitigation credits through the exchange.
PUD moving wells
Although the utility won’t seek additional water rights, it will need new mitigation credits because the water drawn from the new wells will modify the way water is removed from various streams in the regulated area.
Tom Martin, PUD’s assistant water and wastewater systems superintendent, explained he was inquiring about “ways that the district can mitigate for moving our well — an existing well — to several new locations.” He told Cronin the move was planned because the existing well, which is a stone’s throw from the shore, is subject to saltwater intrusion when it draws too much water.
The new wells will allow the district to “pump the water we have the rights for,” Martin said.
Moving the wells several hundred feet from the shoreline will require 3,252 gallons per day of mitigation.
The loss to area streams ranges from 8 gallons per day at Bell Creek to 1,657 gallons per day from the Dungeness River.
Martin said the figures were determined using a mitigation calculator provided by Ecology.
Martin said in planning for the future, the PUD always is looking for mitigation and water rights. He said the Washington Water Trust doesn’t have a monopoly — anyone else can start one, he said — but added that he hasn’t heard of anyone else interested in doing it.
Any alternative exchange would require an Ecology-approved mitigation plan before it could begin operating, a process the agency acknowledges is difficult.
Martin added that in the end, Ecology has authority over all water in Washington. “As far as the Trust’s role, it seems largely administrative to me.”
Haines said he spoke at the meeting to ensure there is better “awareness that the Class A (large public) systems need equal access to the available water in the basin. We hope that it’s just not focused on individual, unregulated wells.”
He said he has spoken with Cronin regarding the availability of water rights, saying, “the amount of water we now have would generally only serve about the half the needs of the Urban Growth Area.”
He said there’s no emergency, with sufficient water to “serve our current customers for 20 years.” But, he added, it’s best to buy the water sooner rather than later because the price will certainly go up.
All new water withdrawals must be mitigated for their impact on all of the area streams in the affected region.
“That’s where (the Exchange) comes in,” he said. “The bank is set up to help folks with mitigation. They have a bank that has water that comes from all sorts of different places.”
The price of mitigation water for smaller packages, including those for domestic use, are now in place.
The $1,000 fee for indoor use is paid for by the Department of Ecology through a grant to Clallam County.
The county and Ecology recently signed an extension that will continue providing the funding through the end of 2013.
Another $2 million for mitigation water is now being discussed by the Washington Legislature.
Bob Barwin, an environmental engineer with Ecology, said in the future the cost of mitigation water will be established by the market, with prices going up or down.
As the Exchange operates over time and more agreements to purchase water or construct other projects come on line, the cost of each of those negotiated agreements will affect prices, Barwin said. “Again, the driver is a willing-buyer, willing-seller market mechanism.”
Though the price of water will be decided by buyers and sellers, Ecology will continue to play a role “through periodic review of the mitigation plan. The mitigation plan must demonstrate the mitigation program run by the Exchange is sustainable.”
Cronin said she doesn’t anticipate the prices will be changing anytime soon.
However, she added, the price of new mitigation water will be determined by the market. The Water Users can charge whatever they like, she said. “That’s their prerogative.”
She added that they are the only immediate source of mitigation water. No governmental agency has oversight over the transaction, or over the Washington Water Trust, she said. But Ecology “has oversight over our contracts, including a statewide contract.”
Mitigation water for outdoor uses is currently unavailable in a large portion of eastern Clallam County.
Cronin said the Exchange “will have to have mitigation water in all of the areas” before those rights can be sold. She added that it’s possible they could sell mitigation water for that purpose drawn from the reserves, but that decision would have to be made by Ecology.
In the meantime, the mitigation projects are slated to begin in the spring of 2014.