Department of Ecology News Release - November 19, 2012

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Ecology’s adoption of Dungeness water management rule helps ensure future water supplies for people and fish

OLYMPIA – Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) Director Ted Sturdevant has signed a new water management rule for the Dungeness watershed that secures water supplies for current and future uses in the Sequim area for the benefit of people, community development, agriculture and fish.

The rule won’t go into effect until Jan. 2, 2013.

The rule is needed to address the water supply challenges of the Dungeness. Most of the water is already legally “spoken for” and the amount of water available for use varies greatly across the watershed and throughout the year. The demand for water for farm irrigation and lawn watering is highest in the summer and early fall when spawning fish need water in streams. Insufficient stream flows from water diversions have contributed to the listing of four fish species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act: Chum salmon, Puget Sound Chinook Salmon, Puget Sound Steelhead and Coastal-Puget Sound Bull Trout.

A logjam in the debate on how to address these water supply challenges was finally broken this year thanks to unprecedented cooperation and collaboration among local water users and local and tribal governments. Ecology now has a water management rule that adheres to the principles and goals outlined in an agreement (pdf) signed and supported by key local leaders in early 2011. Ecology is a member of the Local Leaders Water Management Group (LLWG) that includes Clallam County, City of Sequim, the Dungeness Agricultural Water Users Association, Clallam Conservation District and Clallam Public Utility District. A letter for support for the work of the LLWG and rule making in the Dungeness from Bell Creek on Sequim Bay to the Bagley Creek sub-basin was written by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.

“I’m excited to announce a new era in water management for the Dungeness thanks to local community leaders who were willing to reject the water wars of the past and work together on water supply solutions that let everyone who needs water come away from the table a winner,” Sturdevant said.

The Ecology director said those solutions include:

“From the beginning, I have been working with Ecology to ensure that they adopt rules which both protect the resource and recognize that landowners, water users and developers are critical stakeholders with legitimate needs that state water law recognizes must be addressed,” said state Sen. James Hargrove of the 24th Legislative District. “I believe the final rule with the state’s contribution to mitigate in-house domestic use strikes this balance.”

“This new rule for managing water tries to balance the needs of Clallam County citizens as well as our natural resources. I wouldn’t settle for anything less,” said Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire.

“Our tribe is delighted with this important Department of Ecology decision that protects essential and culturally important natural resources in our community - our salmon and wildlife,” said Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Chairman W. Ron Allen. “Our tribe has been an active participant in watershed planning for many years and we feel firm water use controls are essential to protecting and restoring our natural resources. I am particularly grateful that the Dungeness Water Users Association made decisions that employed a balanced approach, allowing a water exchange to be created and providing mitigation for new water uses in the valley.”

Beginning Jan. 2, 2013, the Dungeness rule (pdf):

In addition, a plan to restore late summer and fall flows to benefit migrating and spawning salmon is supported by the Dungeness irrigators. The companies and districts will reduce withdrawals during critical low flow weeks in August and September, with the goal of most years seeing more than 100 cubic feet per second in the river during that time.

To help building permit applicants meet the new mitigation requirements, Ecology has been working with Clallam County to establish the Dungeness Water Exchange, commonly called a “water bank.” The exchange will make mitigation credits (water rights or portions of water rights) available to rural landowners and developers drilling wells or putting well water to beneficial use after Jan. 2, 2013. This guarantees their water use is legally protected and will not harm depleted stream flows.

Well owners with a building permit issued or new water use established before Jan. 2, the effective date of the rule, do not need to meet the mitigation requirements.

Much of the new water available through the water exchange will come from the Dungeness Agricultural Water Users Association, local irrigators who signed an agreement with Ecology in September 2012 that allows them to sell portions of water rights without jeopardizing water supplies needed in the future to sustain the agricultural economy of the Dungeness valley.

The water bank will be open for business on Jan. 2, bringing willing buyers and sellers of water rights together for the benefit of new home construction and economic development in the Dungeness watershed. Ecology has offered Clallam County a grant to provide financial assistance for building permit applicants who seek mitigation credits for indoor household water uses. The grant provides funds for the first seven months of 2013. Further information on how building permit applicants obtain mitigation credits will be available on the Dungeness water management Web page as soon as it is available.

Ecology is also requesting $2.05 million from the state Legislature in the 2013-15 capital budget from the State Building Construction Account to fund projects that will restore flows and mitigate withdrawals from the Dungeness River and other streams in the Dungeness watershed.

The proposed projects include:

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Media Contacts:

Dan Partridge, 360-407-7139, dan.partridge@ecy.wa.gov

Linda Kent, 360-407-6239, linda.kent@ecy.wa.gov

For more information:

Dungeness water management (www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/instream-flows/dungeness.html)

Ecology’s social media (www.ecy.wa.gov/about/newmedia.html)