Clallam County approves letter to Ecology on Dungeness water rule

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — After a week of deliberation, the three Clallam County commissioners reached consensus Tuesday on a letter addressing the state Department of Ecology’s proposed water management rule for the Dungeness Valley.

The revised three-page letter raises eight concerns the county has about the state-initiated rule that would set minimum flows in the river, create a water exchange and require the owner of new wells to mitigate his or her use of water by purchasing credits.

The controversial rule would affect the eastern half of Water Resource Inventory Area 18 from Bagley Creek to Sequim Bay.

Concerns raised by the county include the requirement for meters on new wells, protection from liability and the need for a periodic performance assessment of the rule.

The letter — which commissioners approved by a 3-0 vote Tuesday — is available at www.clallam.net.

Commissioner Jim McEntire, the board liaison for Water Resource Inventory Area 18 issues, led the effort to formulate comments that reflect the interests of his fellow board members, county staff and the public.

Some residents are vehemently opposed to the rule.

“I do believe we have a pretty strong letter that all of us feel comfortable signing,” said ­McEntire, who is on vacation but participated in the two-hour meeting by cellphone from Wyoming.

“As the board’s liaison for WRIA 18, I intend to take all of your comments to heart and press those issues separately with Ecology throughout the rule-making process.

“I do believe it’s very important for Ecology to take to heart all the comments that they heard last Thursday night in their public hearing, and today as well.”

Dozens of people aired their grievances in an open house, presentation and public hearing that Ecology hosted Thursday night at Sequim Community Church.

Some of the same people testified Tuesday.

“Your letter to the Department of Ecology makes some good points for the citizens,” Daniel Shotthafer said.

“However, the letter gives credence that a rule is in order, when in fact logic and common sense and peer-reviewed science tell us otherwise.”

Commissioners revised their letter, folding two concerns about the water exchange into one, in a continued work session prior to Tuesday’s business meeting.

The letter also was discussed at length Monday, when ­McEntire suggested a new paragraph calling for an independent economic study.

Ecology officials have said the rule would provide certainty that people have access to water when they develop their property.

Agency spokeswoman Linda Kent on Monday said the preliminary economic analysis for the Dungeness Valley — developed by a senior economist under the guidance of the Attorney General’s Office according to state water law — projects that benefits of adopting the rule will be four to 61/2 times greater than the costs of adopting it over 20 years.

The preliminary economic study and the proposed rule are available at http://tinyurl.com/pdnwater1.

Shotthafer and others cited internal emails from Ecology officials questioning the cost-benefit analysis and the need for a water exchange.

“In light of this stunningly new important information, we would like to see a letter — looks like it’s too late now — that rejects their request for these rules,” Shotthafer told commissioners.

“If this rule is adopted in this county, first it’s in District 1, then District 2, then District 3,” Shotthafer said.

“They’re coming for us.”

Shotthafer struck the lectern with his fist as he made his final point.

“I can guarantee as I stand right here today, there will be litigation against this, and I will be a leader in that fight,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Chapman thanked ­McEntire for driving the county’s written comments and incorporating the interests of his seatmates.

“I appreciate everybody that has brought forward their concerns,” ­McEntire told the audience.

“I think by and large, they are reflected in the body of the letter.”

Commissioner Mike Doherty said the board has the difficult task of balancing various interests in the issue.

“In doing this, we each bring a certain personal experience,” he said.

Doherty said he has hiked in the high country of the Olympic Mountains as a Boy Scout and later in life.

He said it’s obvious that the glaciers and snowpacks that feed the Dungeness and other rivers in the dry season have shrunk “very dramatically in one person’s lifetime.”

“In looking ahead, somehow we have to make some tough decisions about water resources,” Doherty said.

“In our neighborhood alone, there’s some serious problems looking ahead for adequate water, both quality and quantity.”

Ecology is accepting comments on the proposed rule until 5 p.m. Monday.

Comments can be emailed to awes461@ecy.wa.gov, faxed to 360-715-5225 or mailed by the U.S. Postal Service to Department of Ecology, Bellingham Field Office, Attn: Ann Wessel, 1440 10th St., Suite 102, Bellingham, WA 98225-7028.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rob.ollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 03. 2012 6:02PM
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