Progress being made on new watershed rule

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — In what he described as a “huge step forward,” Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire this week praised state Department of Ecology for addressing his concerns about the proposed water management rule for the Dungeness Valley.

As it stands, McEntire said the state-initiated rule is “good enough” to preserve streamflows and protect senior water rights without harming the economy or infringing on property rights.

“Big milestone,” McEntire said in a Tuesday commissioners’ meeting. “It ain’t over by any means. We’ve got to stay on this. But this is a big step.”

McEntire said his chief concerns were the sufficiency of Ecology’s economic analysis supporting the rule and money to purchase water rights as mitigation for future developers affected by the rule.

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

It would set minimum flows, create a water exchange and require the owner of new wells to mitigate their use of water by purchasing the credits.

In a unanimous July 3 letter, the three county commissioners raised several concerns about the rule, including the sufficiency of the economic analysis, the requirement for meters on new wells, protection from liability and the need for a periodic performance assessment.

McEntire, the board liaison for WRIA 18 east, had previously asked Ecology to put money into the state budget to purchase water rights to protect future development.

On Tuesday, McEntire reported that he received a response letter from Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant.

“In brief, he agreed that his agency needs to bolster the economic study that underpins the rule — and Monday I heard from Ecology’s Southwest regional director that Ecology plans to have an outside review conducted by an academic schooled in economics,” McEntire wrote in a statement to county staff and local news outlets.

“A good step in the right direction. On this hangs the existence of any rule — state law requires a rule to have more benefit than cost.”

Scores of Dungeness Valley property owners railed against the proposed rule in an open house and public hearing hosted by Ecology on June 28.

Questions were raised over the scientific methods and cost-benefit studies. Concerns were raised over the economic effects of the rule, the unknown costs to property owners and bureaucratic overreach.

McEntire said the state agency is working to assuage the public’s concerns, including the economics of the rule.

“Presuming a final rule will require ‘mitigation,’ Ecology has also agreed to put in their budget a sum of money for purchase of water to mitigate future permit exempt wells’ domestic use — how much I don’t know — but this will give the state Legislature something to work with next year to provide for the lump sum purchase of mitigation water for the next 20 years of future development in eastern Clallam County,” said McEntire, a first-year commissioner whose district covers the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.

“This is a huge step forward. Of course, it’s not ‘game over,’ but we’ve made some excellent progress in almost completely removing the rule’s impact on the economy and property development.

“This step by Ecology is a huge improvement over where we all were just a few weeks ago, when the draft rule would have required the owner of a new well to pay a large sum of money to mitigate its calculated impact on streamflow,” McEntire continued.

“Protecting streamflow is a public benefit, therefore it is appropriate for it to be paid for by state government.”

Ecology is expected to adopt a rule next month. The rule would take effect 31 days after adoption.

Heidi Hansen, president of the Sequim Association of Realtors, said she was encouraged by the prospect of Ecology acquiring water for mitigation.

“I think that’s a wonderful thing for property owners,” she said.

However, Hansen and others say there are lingering concerns over the unknown costs.

“We talked about it this morning in a meeting,” Hansen said.

“They say they’re going to [purchase mitigation], but we don’t know what those details are.”

Clallam County Community Development Director Sheila Roark Miller said she doesn’t know how much Ecology will budget for water right acquisition.

“I think Commissioner McEntire is more optimistic than I am,” said Roark Miller, who was part of a Monday conference call with Ecology officials.

“They referred to four categories in which they would provide finding in the 2013 to 2015 budget year, and one of those categories was water right acquisition.”

Roark Miller said McEntire has had more direct communications with Sturdevant, and may be privy to more information.

McEntire concluded his statement by thanking state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, for his “strong support and his assistance in bringing us to this point,” and Sturdevant for “his willingness to listen to different views and to work toward achieving a better rule.”

He also thanked his fellow commissioners, Mike Doherty and Mike Chapman, for “their stalwart support of getting us all to where we are today.”



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

Last modified: August 15. 2012 6:02PM
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