Clallam County to support water right application for Carlsborg

Clallam County commissioners have vowed to support the county public utility district in its efforts to obtain water rights for the Carlsborg area, part of a years-long effort to expand development in the area.

County and Clallam Public Utility District (PUD) staff have finished drafting a memorandum of understanding between the two agencies, and at a joint meeting on Sept. 12, commissioners agreed to take the needed steps before signing the document.

“It’s a pretty darn major accomplishment to have this MOU in place,” said Tom Martin, superintendent of water and wastewater at the PUD.

The county is hoping to see development in the Carlsborg area, but to do that, it would need the PUD to expand its water service area.

But PUD officials have been concerned about the impact on long-term water supply and don’t want to increase usage without first securing additional water rights from the state Department of Ecology.

The MOU — which is not legally binding — says county officials will support the PUD in obtaining the water rights.

In order to secure the water rights, the PUD wants to hold stakeholder meetings with people in the local utility district (LUD).

PUD commissioner Will Purser said he wants to protect what he calls the “pioneers” of the Carlsborg water right, the residents who advocated and paid for the creation of the local utility district.

“It’s their water right, they paid for the expenses, paid for the facilities,” Purser said in an interview.

“So do we give away the water rights from the [area] now with the hope that we will get additional water rights in the future? That’s an unanswered question.”

Obtaining a water right is an extremely lengthy process done through the state Department of Ecology (DOE).

To obtain the right, applicants must pass a four-part test laid out by DOE that includes things like demonstrating public benefit, availability and whether the new water right impacts existing ones.

Jimmy Norris, communications manager for water resources program at DOE, said Clallam County PUD has applied for the water right but is still waiting on consultation with stakeholder groups. Norris couldn’t say how long the process might take.

“There is no way to know how much longer it will take, not at this point at least,” Norris said. “It takes years to fully process a water right application.”

Purser said the process can take 12-15 years in some cases.

During the Sept. 12 meeting, county commissioner Mark Ozias said the county supported the PUD’s efforts to obtain additional water rights from the state, and had already spent more than $1 million in support of that goal, including drilling deeper into the local aquifer.

“If there is an existing action that could be taken that would allow for housing development, that is the most helpful thing that we could accomplish in the short term,” Ozias said.

There’s pent-up demand for housing, Ozias said, and as many as 200 units could be built without straining the existing water right.

Ozias said the PUD is currently using only 20 percent of its water right for the area and could service some additional development.

PUD commissioners were concerned that DOE might not grant additional water rights, and that the current water supply is not sufficient to service all of Carlsborg’s urban growth area.

“I have concern about giving away a water right before you have one in your pocket,” PUD commissioner Rick Paschall said. “I don’t want to give up even part of a water right until we have the other one secured.”

Martin told the Peninsula Daily News that studies conducted by the county show the current water right is insufficient for a full build-out of the local urban growth area.

It’s been the PUD’s policy since 2000, Martin said, not to expand the Carlsborg service area without first obtaining additional water right.

“That’s why we asked to have a meeting of the LUD participants,” Martin said. “The water right was basically paid for by those people, and they’re expecting to have water when they’re developing their land.”

One of the stakeholders in the Carlsborg area is the Jamestown S’klallam Tribe, which owns land in the area and has its own Department of Natural Resources which monitors ecological health in the area.

In an email, Natural Resources Director Hansi Hals said the tribe is working on a technical response to the proposed mitigation plan and that the tribal council discussed the issue with county commissioners earlier this month.

“The tribe engaged a hydrologist to consider the proposed mitigation and any assumptions built into the proposal,” Hals said. “Jamestown staff will submit written comment directly to [DOE].”

A date hasn’t yet been set for the stakeholder meeting, Martin said.