Further clarifications about the Dungeness Water Rule

  • Monday, March 24, 2014 2:02pm
  • Opinion

 

The Washington Department of Ecology would like to thank the Sequim Gazette for your informative articles in recent months on water issues in the Dungeness watershed and the proposed Dungeness Water Management Rule.

That said, I’d like to provide some context for your story of June 6, 2012, that will help your readers understand how Ecology did the Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) for the proposed rule and how the rule would ensure that water will be available to meet current and future needs in the Dungeness basin.

Ecology prepares a CBA consistent with the Administrative Procedures Act that sets forth the process that all state agencies must follow when adopting regulations. The purpose of the CBA is to evaluate the benefits and costs of adopting a rule – to the public, environment and businesses. 

Ecology’s preliminary CBA for the Dungeness is available online at https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/publications/1211020.pdf and subject to public comment through July 9.

Rigorous internal discussion is encouraged in the preparation of these CBAs. While your story of June 6 reported on some internal Ecology e-mails, these e-mails were written months before a final draft of the current 49-page economic analysis was prepared. The first assigned economist asked to be relieved from work on the CBA because he disagreed with Ecology’s policy and legal approach to the analysis. The preliminary CBA subsequently completed by Ecology’s lead agency economist and currently available for public review, projects that benefits of adopting the rule will be four to six times greater than the costs of rule adoption over 20 years.

Ecology’s approach to the CBA and the draft Dungeness rule is firmly grounded in Washington water law. First of all, the purpose of a water management rule is to protect existing water rights (senior water rights), protect stream flows and fish habitat and establish a framework for future water management decisions. 

In the case of the Dungeness, Ecology has worked closely with the community in identifying water supply issues and drafting the proposed rule. The rule has the support of the Local Leaders Water Management Work Group (LLWG). The LLWG includes Clallam County, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, City of Sequim, the Sequim-Dungeness Water Users Association, Clallam Conservation District, Clallam Public Utility District and Ecology. 

If adopted, the Dungeness rule will not apply to property owners who have drilled a well under the state’s permit exemption and put the water to one or more of four beneficial uses: household supply, irrigation, stock watering, and industrial or commercial use. These well owners have established a water right under the law. However, those who have not put water to beneficial use have not established a water right and will be subject to the rule if they begin water use after rule adoption. 

Groundwater withdrawals after adoption of the rule would only be allowed if the impacts to stream flows associated with the withdrawal is mitigated or offset.

What all this means is that there is no “loss” of a “water right” where water use has not yet been established. Thus, no costs are included in the CBA because the proposed rule does not impact existing water rights. This approach to the CBA was taken after consultation with our assistant state attorney general who advises Ecology on how to comply with state law.

It’s important to note that the rule does not change the process for establishing water rights. It’s also important to note that the rule sets up a mechanism that helps property owners obtain needed mitigation so that they can move forward with establishing a water right. 

Now that the proposed rule has been drafted and the preliminary CBA has been completed, the public has an opportunity to weigh in on proposed new water management regulations for the Dungeness. We encourage your readers to closely examine the draft rule and the economic analysis and send us their comments through July 9. 

Your readers are also encouraged to attend a public hearing scheduled in Sequim on June 28. For information on how to comment on the rule and for details on the June 28 public hearing, go to: www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/instream-flows/dungeness.html.

Maia Bellon is Water Resources Program manager for the Washington Department of Ecology.

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