Clallam pens letter to Ecology on proposed water management rule

February 20, 2012
By

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County lawmakers have sent a four-page letter to the state Department of Ecology outlining their concerns over the proposed water management rule for the Dungeness River and its neighboring streams.

The draft rule would affect the eastern half of Water Resource Inventory Area 18 from Bagley Creek to Sequim Bay.

The idea behind the rule is to protect and preserve water for fish, farmers, residents, wildlife and recreation.

It limits water usage by new homeowners and requires metering of new wells to protect water supplies and viable fish habitat during the drought season in the late summer and early fall.

Water credits

If implemented, the state rule would require new homeowners to purchase water credits from the Dungeness Basis Water Exchange to water their lawn or garden.

It would not affect existing homes with working wells.

County commissioners listed 19 questions from themselves and community members in their letter sent last week to Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant.

Public comments made in a Feb. 7 commissioners meeting were incorporated into the questions.

A link to the letter is prominently displayed on the Clallam County website, www.clallam.net.

County commissioners spent more than two hours revising the letter in an open session Monday and another hour fine-tuning it Tuesday.

“I think it’s clear that there are three county commissioners who are well-versed, well-studied on this issue, that are not just making cheap political points,” Commissioner Mike Chapman said in Monday’s discussion session.

Chapman said the county is “trying really hard to do the best thing for our community.”

Some speakers at the public meeting said the rule infringes on property rights because its minimum in-stream flow puts too great a limit on the use of water.

Ecology defines the term “in-stream flow” as the amount of water measured in cubic feet per second for a defined time that is needed “to protect and preserve . . . fish, wildlife and recreation.”

Others said the watershed plan is based on 20-year-old data and needs to be updated.

The Port Angeles Business Association drafted its own letter, saying Ecology is “proposing a number of significant, even draconian, limitations on the water usage” in the interest of protecting fish.

Consequences

Several speakers in the public meeting said the proposed water rule would have bad unintended consequences, such as people running their well pumps to maximize capacity when they don’t need the water.

Other speakers, including a water law attorney and a state Department of Fish and Wildlife representative, spoke in favor of the proposed rule.

The preliminary water management rule is available at www.tinyurl.com/yj95yj6.

In their letter, commissioners invited Ecology to field questions raised by community members in a forum hosted by the county.

Ecology officials attended two community forums last month in Sequim.

Commissioner Mike Doherty said the people who attended those meetings were “generally satisfied” with the answers they received from state officials.

Commissioner Jim McEntire said the rule is “really about managing demand for water.”

“I see an imbalance in the rule, as currently drafted, between demand and supply,” he said.

“I think it’s incumbent of state government to work both sides of the issue.”

A report from the Dungeness Local Leaders water management work group was attached to the letter

Chapman said the work group and Ecology are tasked with three main goals:

■ Preventing permanent reductions in the flows of the Dungeness River.

■ Supplying adequate and reliable water for new users.

■ Maintaining sustainable agriculture in the Dungeness Valley.

“Those are the three main issues facing the area,” Chapman said.

“It’s broad-based, and many people have specific issues or concerns surrounding one of those three.

“But I think we, as community leaders, have to kind of keep our mind and our eyes on the three key goals here, of which are very important to all of us.”

McEntire said he had other concerns about the county’s involvement in the water rule.

He said the county does not have the staff or financial capacity to manage WRIA 18.

“I am not aware of any legal authority that county governments have to do water, and I’m not terribly interested in gaining such tasks in the future,” ­McEntire said.

“If Ecology wants the county to be involved in the operations of whatever needs to be done as the result of this rule, that’s going to have to come with resources, and we’re going to have to have a separate discussion about that.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at [email protected]

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