Water Matters: A team effort

There’s an award-winning team of folks that’s been working behind the scenes for our community … for 30 years.

Team members’ projects attract attention, but the team itself keeps a low profile. No social media page or public face – just face-to-face for three hours each month. For 30 years. (That’s older than my marriage, and certainly beats our record for face-to-face, uninterrupted discussions!)

And it won’t stop at 30 years. To accomplish this team’s lofty goals takes diligence, expertise, vision and long-term commitment. Fortunately, members are deeply earnest about their work together, taking personal responsibility to be present, listen, speak their truth and not expect credit for the outcome.

What is this team and what does it do? If you’re not familiar then I’d like to introduce you to the Dungeness River Management Team, also known as the DRMT.

It started when local farmers, flood managers and fishermen recognized a problem they all shared: the Dungeness River’s cycles of shortage and excess. They got County Commissioners in 1988 to sign a resolution recognizing that “Coordination and communication between agencies is necessary” and a planning group was convened.

Within two years a flood management plan for the Dungeness was complete and adopted by the County, and the group began tackling other issues they had identified including water quality and groundwater protection, and water supply planning.

A national model

The Dungeness had a watershed council before it was a “thing.” In 1995 the council was reactivated jointly by the County and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, co-chaired by county commissioner Dave Cameron and the tribe’s Natural Resources Director Ann Seiter.

The partnership had its challenges but their commitment strengthened with successes and the test of time. By 2000 the DRMT was a model recognized by the state and also nationally. Indeed, earlier this year the Washington state legislature started requiring counties with salmon species threatened with extinction to establish a place-based council to hammer out solutions — face-to-face.

The DRMT’s geographical focus goes beyond the Dungeness and includes all the surface and ground water between Bagley Creek on the west and Sequim Bay on the east. The team meets at the Dungeness River Audubon Center, a.k.a, River Center —the symbolic heart of the watershed — where attendees can stroll out after a meeting to the Railroad Bridge and check flow conditions and snowpack in the mountains.

Indeed, yesterday we watched four wild Chinook jockeying for position in the shallow water under the new bridge span.

The team’s ground rules call for members to commit to treating each other with respect.

Membership is specified in the 1995 resolution and continues to include representatives from local and tribal government, resource management organizations (often professional biologists and hydrologists), the agriculture industry, and river-front landowners. Each stakeholder brings to the table specific concerns as well as a broad interest in the health of the watershed.

While issues can be contentious, the substantial momentum gained from relationships forged over years of continual learning, coordinating, and cooperating means that team members have each other’s backs. Collaborative problem solving around the table really does work.

Measurable progress

After more than 20 years of planning, the Team’s work is more recently concerned with implementing plans. Member entities take responsibility for spearheading habitat restoration and water management projects, and they report progress back to their partners on the team.

Some key examples:

• Clallam County’s dike setback project at Towne Road is a case study in persistence: the land acquisition is complete but permitting has taken many years, even though all parties agree it will be hugely beneficial to salmon as well as the floodway.

• Aquifer recharge (infiltration) projects have been pilot tested and now are being installed permanently to mitigate negative impacts on streamflow stemming from new water uses.

• Dungeness Bay has been gradually re-opened by the state for shellfish cultivation thanks to declining concentrations of bacteria. This progress coincides with continual educational efforts of a DRMT committee directed at owners of potential sources: septic systems, farming, and stormwater runoff.

Though the team doesn’t have governmental authority to pass ordinances or adopt plans, one could say it has a mandate to make policy recommendations. It can help hold local jurisdictions accountable and will send coordinated letters of concern or support, as the case may require, for actions related to shoreline protections, permitting issues, and climate change, among others.

There is more power than is perhaps apparent in this arrangement. As knowledge is imparted and dialog matures among diverse interests, the Team strengthens its own spine.

Save the date!

Unlike many groups serving our community, the Dungeness River Management Team does not hold fundraisers or a fancy gala … but for its 30th anniversary, small exceptions will be made.

On Thursday, Sept. 27, awards in the team’s “visualize your watershed” photo contest will be announced and celebrated on the Railroad Bridge.

The 20th-annual Dungeness River Festival educational booths will also be open to the public that evening, while the next day is focused for school classes.

For details, please see www.dungenessrivercenter.org/dungeness-river-festival.

Tip: don’t forget to check for Chinook salmon from the bridge!

Geek moment

My first exposure to the DRMT was in the early 1990s when I presented results of groundwater nitrates studies and the aquifer protection planning process I shepherded at the time. Since then I’ve attended to hear or deliver presentations until five years ago when I became City of Sequim’s representative on the team.

We meet monthly on the second Wednesday at River Center starting at 2 p.m. The public is always welcome. Check us out online at the DRMT website: www.tinyurl.com/DRMTweb.

New record: On Sept. 7, streamflow dropped to 99.6 cfs (cubic foot per second), a bit lower than the previous low of 101 cfs on Oct. 16, 2017, at the USGS gage (see below).

Recent cool weather and moisture bumped it back up but streamflow is still very low and classified by the U.S. Drought Monitor as “Severe Drought.”

Eleven months into the 2018 water year (started Oct. 1, 2017):

• At Sequim 2E weather station (elev. 25 feet): Cumulative rainfall = 20.1 inches (125 percent of normal); Most rainfall in 24 hours = 1.14 inches on Dec. 18; Highest temp = 86 degrees F on Aug. 20

• At the USGS gauge on the Dungeness River (Mile 11.2), Highest flow = 2,980 cfs (cubic foot per second) on Nov. 23; Lowest flow = 99.6 cfs on Sept. 7, 2017. Range for the past month is 100-150 cfs

On the morning of Sept. 13, 2018:

• Dungeness River = 110 cfs, again about 65 percent of the long-term average of 170 cfs (Note: the gage at Schoolhouse Bridge shows 80 cfs. The difference is due to irrigation diversions as well as some natural gains and losses.) For fish, every cfs counts!

• Bell Creek at Carrie Blake Park = dry; at the mouth at Washington Harbor = less than 1 cfs

Ann Soule is a hydrogeologist immersed in the Dungeness watershed since 1990, now Resource Manager for City of Sequim. Reach Ann at columnists@sequimgazette.com or via her blog at watercolumnsite.wordpress.com.

Water Matters: A team effort