by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
The Washington Department of Ecology is now accepting comments on its proposed Dungeness Water Management Rule and is issuing its first responses.
The rule, proposed May 9, is intended to provide a reliable source of water for development within Water Resource Inventory Area 18 East, which includes much of rural eastern Clallam County.
If it is promulgated, the rule also will require those who drill a well in the area to pay to “mitigate” for the use of their water. Those who live and work there now enjoy significant amounts of free water but they too will fall under the rule if they initiate a “new use” of water.
Drafting the rule has been a tough task for Ecology officials and for locals with an interest in the outcome. The debate has been intense. In 2010, an early draft of the rule was sufficiently controversial that Ecology decided to pause and take another look at the rule.
Since then it has been the subject of a good deal of scrutiny, including an ongoing effort by the Local Leaders Water Group (LLWG) to research its implications and possible ways to improve it. The LLWG, an ad hoc group formed two years ago, received the input of the City of Sequim, Clallam Conservation District, PUD, Ecology, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe — and members of the public.
LLWG filed its formal response in March.
Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant recently responded to LLWG’s report, saying he supports much of what it conveys. In fact, he said, he and his staff concur with nine of the 11 recommendations it contains.
On the other two, however, he disagreed. In his response he also addressed ongoing concerns regarding the Instream Flow Incremental Methodology (IFIM) study, which provided much of the data on which the proposed rule is based.
Exempting Group B
The LLWG report asked Ecology to exempt those who sign on with a Group B water system from the “new use” portion of the rule.
Under the current rules, these small water systems, which serve 2-14 homes, can draw up to 5,000 free gallons of water daily.
The LLWG report pointed out that unless new homeowners who hook up to the system are exempted, they may be required to pay mitigation fees that don’t apply to their neighbors.
Sturdevant said exempting the new users from the mitigation rules would be counter to Washington’s water law and case law.
The LLWG also said the new rule requires drilling new wells into deeper aquifers, pointing out that drawing water from deeper aquifers will reduce the impact on area streams and the Dungeness River.
Sturdevant said his agency originally supported the notion, but after “further consideration and review,” they are choosing to simply encourage deeper drilling.
Sturdevant said drilling a deeper well simply “spreads impacts out into the small streams rather than mainly impacting the Dungeness (River).”
He added that he has no objection to Clallam County adopting such a rule on its own.
Sturdevant also addressed concerns regarding the validity of the IFIM. The study was instrumental in formulating the new rule, including the establishment of 180 cubic feet per second as the recommended “instream flow” in the Dungeness River during the critical August through October period. The flow level was established to ensure the health of the river’s fish.
Tom Martin, an engineer who works for the Clallam County PUD and who served on the LLWG, found errors in the study, which was conducted in the early 1990s.
The LLWG report concludes that an inquiry should be undertaken to determine whether the original “IFIM study contains fatal flaws. …”
Sturdevant said he has confidence in the study, but agreed there may be value in additional scientific review.
As a result, the new rule includes a “trigger” for additional analysis.
Specifically, the rule states that when flows in the lower Dungeness River are reliably at or above 105 cubic feet per second (cfs) during the low flow time of year, Ecology will assess whether new instream flow or other technical studies are warranted for the Dungeness River.
Tom Loranger, deputy program manager for Ecology, explained the language, saying, “The thought was, ‘Let’s focus on a flow restoration goal we can all agree on in the rule and when we reach it, have a re-look at the science behind the 180 cfs flow.’”
Loranger said the scope of the reexamination hasn’t been determined. “We are keeping our options wide regarding the extent of our review at this point,” he said.
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.