Officials with the Sequim-Dungeness Water Users Group, the Washington Department of Ecology and the Washington Water Trust have signed an agreement transferring 175 acre-feet of water rights from the Water Users to Ecology.
Officials with the Water Trust and the Water Users said previously released statements that 1,500 acre-feet would be sold were incorrect.
Through the new agreement, the Water Users will provide 130 acre-feet of river water through the early part of the summer (May 15-July 15) for use in mitigation and restoration projects.
During the last part of the season (Aug. 15-Sept. 15) the Water Users will leave an additional 45 acre-feet of water in the river.
Ben Smith, president of the Water Users Group, explained the sale, saying the group has a long-standing agreement in place to never take more than the half of the river’s flow and to never 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.
Amanda Cronin, who operates the Dungeness Water Exchange on behalf of the Water Trust, said the amount of water rights calculates out to 2.2 cubic feet per second.
The purchase price was $350,000.
The mechanism wasn’t for the sale wasn’t simple: the Water Trust negotiated the sale and paid for it with money provided by Ecology. Ecology, however, will hold the water in trust because ownership of water rights is only available to land owners.
Ecology has turned management of the water rights over to the Water Trust, which currently is the only source of mitigation water in the affected area.
A little history
Under the Dungeness Water Management Rule, in place since January, anyone who drills a well in the affected area, which includes much of rural eastern Clallam County, 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 Ecology to ensure development didn’t grind to a halt as new sources of water were found and purchased.
The newly purchased water will be used to “mitigate” the water removed from area streams by new development and by new uses of existing wells. In many cases the water will be drawn from the river and allowed to percolate down to the aquifers underlying the region.
Smith said the water should provide enough for “10 to 15 years of new use-type development.”
Because reserve water is only available for use indoors, the new purchase opens the possibility 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.