The new Dungeness Water Rule, in place since January, requires those living in most of rural eastern Clallam County to purchase water rights before drilling a well or putting the water from an existing well to a new use.
But not all of the landowners in the area are treated equally.
The rule breaks the affected area into two parts. In the “green” area, new buyers can purchase water for use inside the home and outside.
In the “yellow” area, water is only available for indoor use.
What that means to buyers of land in the yellow area has been the subject of long debate, including a lengthy discussion during a recent rule “implementation forum.”
The forum, held Wednesday, Aug. 7, included representatives from the Washington Department of Ecology, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, the Dungeness Water Users Group and Clallam County. Local real estate professionals also were on hand.
Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire, who serves as the commission’s lead in working with the rule, said $2.05 million recently provided by the Washington Legislature for implementing the rule should result in “turning all of the yellow to green.”
To do that, a number of “mitigation projects” will be created. For every drop of water these projects return to area streams, an equal amount of “mitigation credit” is created.
No one believes turning the yellow to green will be easy. Gary Smith, a spokesman for the Water Users Group, pitched an idea during the forum, saying some of the mitigation credits earned by projects in the green area should be applied to those in the yellow area.
Tom Loranger, a deputy program manager for Ecology, said that might not be possible.
He noted that such a plan would require approval from his agency, the local Indian tribes and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Ecology Environmental Engineer Bob Barwin said his department shares the goal of trading benefits “down low to impacts up high,” but added, “We don’t have an agreement about how to translate the benefits.”
He acknowledged that it will be difficult to establish mitigation projects in the yellow area, including holding ponds, because the terrain is so steep. But because it’s steep, the development pressure isn’t as high, he said.
Currently the “mitigation water” for indoor use is provided from a “reserve” established by Ecology. It isn’t real water, but rather derives from an administrative action put into place to ensure that development in the area didn’t come to an immediate halt.
Considering land values
Those in real estate say these are important questions. They say the rule already has had a major impact on real estate sales in the area.
Local builder Greg McCarry has compiled the relevant statistics, saying that the recent uptick in the real estate market isn’t similarly reflected in sales of large lots.
He said in the first half of 2013, sales of used homes were up 44 percent from the first half of 2102. At the same time, sales of larger lots are static, with 11 in the first half of both 2012 and 2013.
People are buying houses, he said, but not land. “The risk went up. People want certainty.”
“There is no incentive to buy in the yellow area.”
Marguerite Glover, a Realtor and an active participant in water talks, said so far she hasn’t lost any business to the rule, mostly because potential customers tell her they’re not interested in looking at property in that area.
Re/Max Fifth Avenue broker Mike McAleer said his clients have a difficult time understanding “what they can do and what they can’t do.”
He said he makes sure they are informed about the rule.
McAleer said he had one client who, after hearing about the rule’s provisions, flatly stated, “I don’t believe it.”
At the current time he has one pending contract for a property in the yellow area, a purchase by a local person who, McAleer said, “knows what he’s doing.”
E. Michael McAleer, also a broker with Re/Max, said he’s lost one sale because of the rule. He noted that it wasn’t in the yellow area. The couple, both firefighters, wanted a little “elbow room,” he said, and were eyeing a 5-acre parcel in the green area.
They dropped the idea when they learned about the water purchase fees and discovered they could only purchase enough water to irrigate a small garden.
“They went immediately from being a land buyer to buying an existing home on acreage,” he said.
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.