By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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The certificates, which prove that payment has been made to mitigate new water uses, were finalized Tuesday by the state Department of Ecology, the Washington Water Trust and Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire, who was the county's point man on water rule negotiations.
“We're in the middle of a project right now, and our homeowners would like to move in at some time in the future,” said Rick Gross of Estes Builders, whose firm is building a home in the area affected by a state rule controlling flows in the Dungeness basin.
“If nothing else, it's nice to have something final so we don't have to worry about that anymore.”
New users of water in the eastern half of Water Resource Inventory Area 18 must mitigate those uses by purchasing credits from a water exchange managed by the nonprofit Washington Water Trust as laid out in the Dungeness Water Rule, which went into effect Jan. 2.
Certificates proving mitigation had been held up while the county, Ecology and the water trust haggled over whether the certificate should specify how much water holders are permitted to use.
“I'm not fully satisfied with it. I'm not fully happy with the outcome,” McEntire said.
“But that's how compromises go.”
Tom Shindler, county permit manager, said four building permits have been issued in the water rule area.
Those permits were issued with the caveat they could not be occupied until mitigation certificates were issued and filed with the county.
New builders can buy certificates giving them the right to use indoor water for $1,000.
Earlier versions of the certificate included language that stipulated the indoor water certificate would limit use to 150 gallons of water per day per household.
Subsequent language pointed to that as the average amount used by an average household.
Houses larger or smaller than average would be limited to 65 gallons per person per day.
The finalized certificate includes the 150 gallons-per-day reference, but with an asterisk.
A special note following the asterisk says the 150 gallons per day represents average domestic water use for a two-person household in the Sequim area.
The 150 gallons-per-day figure was roughly the average water use by customers of water systems owned by the city and the Clallam County Public Utility District.
“This number is not an absolute limit on domestic use,” the certificate states.
“Any number in there introduces a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity,” McEntire said.
“At least this gives the county and builders additional certainty about what the certificate says and doesn't say, and what it does and doesn't do.”
At last week's meeting of the Sequim Association of Realtors, many expressed concerns that having a number listed on the certificate would open homeowners to penalties if they exceed the allotted use.
New wells drilled in the water rule area are required to have meters.
The trust will read those meters and inquire about overages, but Mike Gallagher, Ecology's water resources department manager, said penalties will not be imposed unless water is used outside the use specified by the certificate.
“It's more guidance than anything,” Gallagher said.
“We have penalties that we apply to violations of any rule. They're there more just for when people show an egregious disregard for the regulations,” he added.
“Most of the time, we can work out any problems with the individuals.”
“There was just a lot of questions that if it's in the mitigation certificate, is it going to be enforced?” McEntire said.
The certificates will be recorded at the Clallam County Auditor's Office and attached to the property's title.
Certificates for limited outdoor irrigation also are available for some properties for additional fees.
Through June, home builders will be able to use a $100,000 grant from Ecology to pay for certificates for domestic water use.
After that, unused funding goes back into Ecology's coffers, and new water users will have to purchase certificates.
Gallagher said Ecology has requested $2 million from the state Legislature in the next biennium to fund certificates and water retention projects in the Dungeness watershed.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.