Dungeness water rule comes into effect today

By Paul Gottlieb
and Leah Leach
Peninsula Daily News

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SEQUIM — As of today, owners of 3,400 undeveloped parcels from Bagley Creek to Sequim Bay must abide by new, state-driven rules for water usage if they develop their land.

But the process has yet to be completed for purchasing the water credits required for mitigation under the rule.

That should not delay land owners in having their development permits processed, a state Department of Ecology spokesman said Monday.

“I don’t think this will impair any property owner from developing their property, getting their mitigation credits and getting their building permit,” said Dan Partridge, Ecology’s water resources communication manager.

“As long as the process is in motion for any individual, the property owner can continue with plans for development,” Partridge said.

The state Department of Ecology’s Dungeness Water Rule for the eastern half of Water Resource Inventory 18, or WRIA 18, sets minimum in-stream flows, which is the amount of water needed to provide for downstream use, to protect present and future water supplies — for marine habitat and human usage and consumption — in what many call the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains.

Ecology has set up a one-hour open house followed by a two-hour workshop on mitigation water credits and the building permit process from
4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Sequim Transit Center, 190 W. Cedar St.

Property owners who newly tap into an existing well or dig new wells must buy water mitigation credits from a “water bank” managed by the nonprofit Washington Water Trust, which is under contract through June 30.

“Sometime between now and June 30, we have to figure out if that will change,” said Jim McEntire, Sequim-area county commissioner.

Washington Water Trust uses “voluntary, market-based transactions and cooperative partnerships to create balanced solutions. So fish, agriculture, business and wildlife—upon which we all depend—can thrive,” according to its website, www.washingtonwatertrust.org.

“We lease and buy water from water rights holder, temporarily or permanently to leave in-stream, to improve and protect flows, especially during periods that are critical to the survival of imperiled salmon and steelhead,” the organization said.

Those who need water only for domestic household use can tap into a $100,000 grant that Ecology is making available to Clallam County, said McEntire — who helped secure the money while working with state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, who represents the 24th District which includes the North Olympic Peninsula — and Sheila Roark Miller, director of the Clallam County Department of Community Development, on Friday.

Other types of mitigation credits — for instance, for irrigation — must be purchased through the Washington Water Trust.

Ecology made the $100,000 available for credits for property owners who want to obtain mitigation water for domestic household use to “make this water exchange work for people, and we are working with the county on the building permit process,” Partridge said.

“In effect, the county has oversight over the water exchange,” he added.

“There’s just a lot of work to be done.”

The county department will issue building permits, Roark Miller said.

“We will record them and communicate with Washington Water Trust,” she said.

She added: “Washington Water Trust hasn’t explained to us when credits will be available.”

The water bank was still being set up this week, Partridge said.

Partridge referred questions on when the process will be finished to the Washington Water Trust.

Susan Adams, the Washington Water Trust’s executive director, did not return calls requesting comment on Friday, and Amanda Cronin, a project manager with the organization, did not return calls on Monday.

“It will be their process,” Partridge said.

“A week, two weeks, three weeks, I don’t know how long it will take.”

The water rule will affect 3,400 undeveloped parcels when those parcels are developed, county Permit Center Manager Tom Schindler said in an earlier interview.

In 2011, owners of 104 parcels would have been required to acquire credits, Schindler said.

They also would have had to abide by the limits of water usage contained it the rule or connect to an existing water system, as they do now.

As of today, property owners can apply for water mitigation credits at the county building permit desk at the county courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles, for a certificate, Partridge said.

The mitigation credit transaction can also be conducted online at the courthouse.

But they won’t receive a certificate yet.

“There are still some things that need to be nailed down and still some things in the works before we can put a certificate in a person’s hands,” said Linda Kent, an Ecology spokeswoman.

“The real impact for a building permit applicant is pretty much nil, because you wouldn’t walk in seeking a mitigation permit and expect to walk out with it.”

Ecology, the county and the Water Trust are still developing procedures for purchasing landscaping or outdoor water use credits, though the landscaping credits are not needed until the spring.

The county is responsible for implementing the in-stream flow rules, Partridge said.

“They are responsible for ensuring water is legally and physically available for new development under the in-stream flow rule,” he said.

“We have overall oversight of these rules and are working with the county, in partnership with the county, to make sure these rules are properly implemented.

Ecology delayed implementation of the rule by two weeks “to give everyone more time to get everything in place,” he said.

“This was our best estimate.

But the lack of a defined structure for a rule that goes into effect today has some worried.

One of those is Sequim Realtor Marguerite Glover, who was a member of the Dungeness Water Working Group when Ecology was developing the rule and who, along with Heidi Hansen, constructed a Sequim Association of Realtors website — www.sequimwater.com — about the impending rule.

“Come Jan. 2,” Glover said last week, “what is somebody supposed to do?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t think the county knows, and I think it’s unfair to start this and put this on the county.”

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or at leah.leach@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 01. 2013 6:07PM
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