Water rights: Can city, county share?

By Barney Burke
Port Townsend Leader Staff Writer


Port Townsend, WA - A Port Townsend City Council discussion of how much water the city has the right to draw from the Big Quilcene and Little Quilcene rivers is evolving into a debate about growth in other areas of Jefferson County.

The city is one of several stakeholders in the state's Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) process, whereby allocations for people, fish and other water consumers is determined.

City Councilor Freida Fenn said Aug. 9 that

a plan by Jefferson County Public Utility District 1 (PUD) to bring a public water system to Quilcene could "infringe on our right" to draw water from the rivers. She also took issue with the amount of development that the county intends to allow in the Port Hadlock/Irondale Urban Growth Area. The county has "absolutely failed to address" water issues, she said, adding that more storage capacity may be needed to deal with global warming.

Councilor Michelle Sandoval felt that the county should not be singled out for blame. "We [the city] have failed to participate" in the WRIA process, she said. "We need to be collaborative." Sandoval said she wasn't sure if she could support more development in the Chimacum Creek basin because she doesn't know if it's feasible in terms of water.

Fenn suggested that the city host a workshop with the affected tribes, governments and other interest groups to explore the issue, but Councilor Geoff Masci suggested that such a workshop would simply duplicate the WRIA process.

Tuesday morning, County Commissioner Pat Rodgers, who represents South County, said Quilcene simply wants the ability to provide fire protection and clean, healthy water. Port Townsend's water comes from the mountains outside of Quilcene, he noted, adding that Fenn's comment suggests another agenda.

Commissioner Dan Titterness, who represents Port Townsend, said it's the Washington Department of Ecology that has failed local governments with WRIA. "It really is their responsibility they're not doing it," he said. As to Fenn's comments, he said, "I have an opinion but my opinion has no more validity than hers."

The preliminary policy adopted by council with Frank Benskin dissenting is to support current and higher in-stream flow restrictions on the Big and Little Quilcene rivers and the need for further groundwater development in the Chimacum Creek basin and other areas.



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