by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Jim McEntire, the point man on the Clallam County Commission for matters related to the Dungeness Water Rule, recently proposed a radical idea for revising the rule, which is due to be adopted in late summer or early fall.
And he’s received an answer: Maybe.
Among its many provisions, the new rule would require those building within the affected area to “mitigate” for the water they withdraw from a new well. That means purchasing water rights from someone who now owns those rights. The rule also would require anyone making a “new use” of an existing water supply to mitigate its use.
“Mitigation” will be accomplished with the help of a water bank, which also is called a water exchange.
Ecology says the bank facilitates water right transactions between buyers and sellers, pooling water supplies from willing sellers and offering “credits” for sale to willing buyers.
In his letter to Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant, McEntire wrote, “The next 20 years will see a cumulative impact to groundwater of less than 2 cubic feet per second in the aggregate — an insignificant amount.”
“The state capital budget can support purchase or lease of additional ... groundwater withdrawal mitigation, obviating the need for a local water bank,” McEntire said.
He noted that the Washington Legislature recently appropriated $2.25 million for several watersheds in the Skagit basin.
“We need the opportunity to work with you and our legislative delegation to devise a different way to mitigate future water use,” McEntire said.
At a meeting of the Local Leaders Water Management Work Group (LLWG) held Tuesday, June 5, McEntire told Ecology representatives that such a plan would “remove the uncertainty for builders, real estate and home owners.”
“Let’s not do any more harm to the economy,” McEntire said.
McEntire said purchasing the water would require “a substantial amount of money, but I think the state can carry that cost.”
Exchange brings ‘new solutions’
In a letter dated June 5, Sturdevant responded, saying that because this is a first for the watershed, McEntire’s “discomfort” with the water exchange is understandable. But, Sturdevant added, he has seen water exchanges in Washington work very well, bringing “new solutions to land owners, towns, farmers and streams.”
Sturdevant said the Dungeness Water Exchange “is critical for smart and efficient water management for the future of the Sequim Valley.”
He added that after investigating a number of options, the LLWG had “found the water exchange to be an important tool necessary for water management.” The LLWG, an ad hoc group of local organizations with an interest in water issues, studied the proposed rule for more than two years.
Sturdevant didn’t rule out a bulk purchase of water rights, saying the idea has “real merit, and deserves exploration.” As written, the rule would accommodate such an approach. “I would welcome the chance to work with Clallam County and local legislators in pursuing state support for such an option,” he wrote.
But Sturdevant also provided a bottom line, saying that a decision to pursue state funding doesn’t remove the immediate need for a water exchange.
That opinion was echoed by Amanda Cronin, project manager for the Washington Water Trust, the nonprofit that will manage the exchange. Cronin pointed out that failing to create the exchange would almost certainly result in a one-year moratorium on development, with perhaps another year lost before the plan can be fully implemented.
Kasia Patora, the Ecology economist who prepared the rule’s cost-benefit statement, remarked on the importance of the exchange, saying, “It’s really important for a water exchange to work.”
The Dungeness Valley Water Users Association is expected to provide most of the water rights for the exchange. Association spokesman Gary Smith said his organization is “beginning discussions for mitigation and the possibility of (river) restoration. We feel there will be a way for us to get some water in (the exchange) to get this off to a good start.”
In his letter to Sturdevant, McEntire also asked Ecology to require that new wells be drilled into deeper aquifers, which in theory will reduce the impact of the withdrawals on the flow in nearby streams and rivers. Sturdevant said the rule would only encourage deeper wells.
In previous statements, Sturdevant said drilling deeper wells may disperse the impact of the withdrawal over a larger area.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.