The Dungeness Water Rule, enacted on Jan. 2, remains controversial. That includes its source — that is, the reason for the rule.
During a recent water rule workshop held in Sequim, Bob Barwin, an environmental engineer with the Washington Department of Ecology, said much of the impetus for the rule was provided by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.
He pointed to text in the rule’s documentation, which includes comments by Ann Seiter, the former natural resources director for the tribe. In a 1994 tribal document, she wrote, “By the 1990s, faced with the situation of a serious decline in the runs of salmonids in the river, and the numerous factors contributing to their decline, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe had the choice of taking the issue to court, or attempting (a negotiated process) to see if the needs of the fish, agriculture and a rapidly growing populace could be met by negotiation.”
Barwin also wrote the rule’s “risk story,” which provides much of the basis for the rule’s cost-benefit analysis, which states that a failure to implement the rule would result in a financially disastrous lawsuit.
Ann Wessel, instream flow rule lead for Ecology, later added a brief bit of text to the risk story, writing, “The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe has indicated that they place great weight on the collaborative process …. They have expressed their expectation that the rule will be adopted and desire to avoid the litigation that would likely ensue without a rule.”
Wessel said her comment was “based on general statements made by Ron Allen and his staff on numerous occasions at meetings with Ecology, the county, Dungeness Water Users and others.”
This week Ron Allen, the tribe’s chairman and executive director, put a different light on the issue.
“I don’t think it was driven by the tribe’s intention to sue,” he said. He said the tribe never planned to sue, because suits too often end up producing more problems than solutions.
“But,” he added, Ecology “had an interest in getting a rule.”
Allen noted the tribe has a treaty in place with the federal government, under which federal agencies are required to protect the rights of the tribes to their salmon stocks. The tribe used that as leverage to push for a new water management rule in the Dungeness Valley.
Allen is unapologetic, saying, “Somebody had to be the heavy-handed one.”
“We didn’t threaten — it was an implied threat to bring in the feds.” The agency was told, “You don’t want to drag your feet.”
He said that had the agency failed to move forward, one result may have been a federally imposed plan. “The ultimate trustee (of the treaty rights) is the federal government,” he said.
The lead-up to that might have included a Department of Justice lawsuit against the state, he said.
Ecology got the message. In a 2011 internal agency e-mail, Ken Slattery, who at the time was program manager of Ecology’s Water Resources Program, expressed his frustration with the reluctance of those living on the peninsula to embrace the process. He wrote, “… we should leave them all (Clallam County included) to the tender mercies of NOAA Fisheries and the Jamestowns.”
Allen said the rule’s 20-year gestation was “frustrating,” but added that “Ecology wanted to be inclusive.”
“They reached out to community leaders — planners, irrigators, developers — so they could get feedback.”
He added that he finds the resulting rule imperfect, but said it’s a necessary first effort. “We had to start somewhere,” he said.
The collaborative process required a big effort, he said. “We had a challenge to provide access to a resource that everyone thought was available in abundance.”
He added that he’s pleased with the rule’s plan to create more mitigation projects — projects that will store water when it’s plentiful in the winter for use through the long, dry summers.
“There are ideas that work, but they cost money,” he said. “We need an array of options to see what works.”
He said a big part of any plan will be water reuse. “If you want a green lawn, you better find a new way. We’re used to sprinklers. A drip system is a better way.”
Eventually, he said, the county has “to put a meter on every well.”
Allen also responded to critics who say the fishing methods used by the tribes are depleting the fisheries. “That’s an old, old argument,” he said.
“Our fishery fleet is down to nothing,” he said.
Scott Chitwood, natural resources department director for the tribe, said perhaps a dozen tribal members now earn their living fishing, with another dozen working in shellfish.
He noted that the tribe stopped using gill nets in the river “many, many years ago.”
And, he added, the tribe rigorously enforces its own rules.
Allen said area streams are much reduced from when he was a boy. “Oh, my God, yes,” he said. “The river really flowed then.”
Chitwood said the drop in flow is due to a number of factors, including a declining snowpack and the shrinking of the glaciers.
He also said the climate has changed. “We used to have huge amounts of snow, even in town,” he said.
Allen said the increasing number of people, and the changes in the way they use water, also has harmed the area’s streams.
Allen also said that salmon represent more than economic opportunity to those in the tribe.
“Culturally, we often refer to ourselves as “Salish People” — “People of the Salmon.”
A look at the history of the region shows, he said, that “every river has a people.” The importance of salmon is reflected in “their art, expression and religious beliefs,” he said.
“That’s why we’ll spend so much of our resources protecting the salmon,” he said.