Sequim requests more water plan data - Council members worried WRIA project lacks details

By Alan Choate Peninsula Daily News

February 10, 2005

Sequim---A plan that would help govern water use in the Dungeness and Elwha river watersheds needs to include more specific information before its submitted for approval, Sequim City Council members said Wednesday morning. They were discussing what’s known as Water Inventory Resource Area 18, or WIRA 18, a plan long in the making that aims to balance the water needs of people, fish and wildlife. A version of the plan is before Clallam County commissioners, who according to state law can approve it or send it back for revisions.

Short on details

But some Sequim council members expressed worries that the plan is short on necessary details, and Mayor Walt Schubert later went so far as to call it “an
excuse to stop growth.” The most specific request involved what’s being called a “groundwater reserve.” As proposed the reserve would set aside water that could be tapped into for development over a set period of time---20 years is the current target---while other water resources are developed. Councilman Paul McHugh noted that the amount of that reserve hasn’t been set, which makes it hard to estimate whether the plan is allocating enough water to allow development to take place.

“We’re being asked to accept this…but there’s no guarantee that the resources are going to be there,” McHugh said.

Ann Soule of the county’s environmental health services division said, an “about number” being discussed for the reserve is 2 to 3 cubic feet per second. A cubic foot is about 7.5 gallons. While the amount of water in the reserve would be capped, it would also be available regardless of what happens with water levels in the Dungeness River,---it would be a “senior water right whether it impacts the river or not,” Soule said.

Reserve amount

At the least, the amount in that reserve should be established before the plan is approved, McHugh said. It will also help planning in the City of Sequim, which is expected to grow substantially over the next two decades.

Public Works Director Jim Bay said Sequim currently has water rights to 1,850 acre-feet of water for the city’s urban growth area. Most of that water comes from wells, and he said it’s expected to be enough to handle the growth predicted in the city’s comprehensive plan---to about 11,000 to 15,000 residents, up to triple the current population.

The fact that so many questions remain about how the WIRA 18 plan would affect people and potential development makes people uneasy, McHugh said. “To me it’s all speculation. A lot of the real questions have not been answered,” he said. “Let’s talk about things that affect people in their daily lives.”

In a later interview, Schubert complained about imprecise and “fuzzy” reports on water movement between the Dungeness River and underground aquifers. “Obviously it does, But how much? What’s the effect on the river?” he said. “If there’s a crisis, fine. We’ll face it. But let’s do it with some real figures.”

When asked about the subject at Wednesday’s meeting, the State Department of Ecology’s Cynthia Nelson said that the water flow between the river and aquifer has been scientifically assessed. She also said the U.S. Geological Survey has extensive data based on a two-year survey of the area that was used to build a water flow model.



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