The Washington Water Trust and the Sequim-Dungeness Agricultural Water Users Association have completed negotiations on a new agreement that will provide water rights for sale to those building a new home in rural eastern Clallam County.
The Water Users agreed to sell 1,500 acre-feet of water to the Washington Water Trust for $350,000.
The two sides have been negotiating for more than a year and a half.
Ben Smith, president of the association, said he expects the sale to be completed very soon. “It’s sitting on the desk at the title company.”
He said the water should provide enough for “10 to 15 years of new use-type development.”
Smith told those attending a recent meeting of the Dungeness River Management Team that the association’s attorney had suggested the price was too low.
Smith said the association members wanted to first ensure development continues. “We didn’t want to hold the community hostage,” he said.
Under the Dungeness Water Management Rule, in place since January, anyone who drills a well in the affected area must purchase “mitigation rights” before drawing water from the well.
Those with an existing well who put the water to a “new use” also must purchase mitigation water.
Currently new home builders are tapping into “reserve water” — mitigation water set aside by the Washington Department of Ecology to ensure development didn’t grind to a halt as new sources of water were found and purchased.
The Washington Water Trust operates the Dungeness Water Exchange, which is currently the only source of mitigation water in the area.
Putting it back
The new water will be used to replace water that will be removed from area streams by new development and by new uses of existing wells.
Smith said that much of the sold water will simply remain in the Dungeness River to ensure greater flows during the critical late summer months. He explained the plan, saying that in the past the association members have agreed to never take more than the half of the river’s flow or to reduce its flow to less than 60 cubic feet per second (cfs). Under the new agreement they have agreed to never reduce the river’s flow below 60.75 cfs.
Much of the rest of the water will be used for projects that will infiltrate into local aquifers.
Smith said the Washington Water Trust has identified 40 sites that may be suitable for small scale storage and infiltration projects, with perhaps two or three operating by early 2014.
The first infiltration site likely will be near Costco in Sequim, where the Sequim Prairie Tri-Irrigation Association has proposed laying a perforated pipe to provide infiltration water.
The “reserve water” that has been sold will be the first replaced with mitigation water.
Because reserve water is only available for use indoors, the upcoming sale will open the possibility of purchasing water for outdoor watering in portions of the affected area.
The new water is unlikely to have an impact on those areas where no mitigation water for outdoor use has been identified, including Happy Valley and Texas Valley.
Smith said he would like to see some of the mitigation projects in the lower portion of the affected area provide some relief to those upper sites, but noted that such an agreement would have to be approved by Ecology, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.
He said the $350,000 will be kept in the Water Group and may be used to pay member dues.