Watershed Plan to be discussed at "Planning Team Focus Sessions"

Sue Forde, for
Citizen Review Online

January 29, 2005

Clallam County, WA - The proposed WRIA 18 Watershed Management Plan, which faced strong public opposition at three public hearings last year, will be revisited at two meetings - one on February 2nd, and the other on February 8.

The Clallam County Department of Community Development (D. C. D.) will be holding two “Planning Team Focus Sessions” to “clarify and discuss plan recommendations and stakeholders’ concerns” on the following topics:

Groundwater Supplies, February 2, 6:30 to 9 p.m., Sequim High School Cafeteria.

Instream Flows, Tuesday, February 8, 6:30 to 9 p.m., Roosevelt Middle School gym (off Monroe Road, parking lot behind Monroe school)

In a letter to property owners, the Clallam County Realtors and North Peninsula Builders Association (NPBA) have sent out an alert about the proposed plan. “We want you to know why Realtors and NPBA, along with hundreds of your neighbors oppose the WRIA18 Plan as written and why we want the Plan sent back for more work.”

The letter states: “Our rural areas depend heavily on private wells for water supply. When and if you choose to build a home on your land, you must provide proof of an adequate supply of water before you can get a building permit. Your ability to dig a private well is the essential for your ability to build on your land. As written, the Plan proposes to limit (don't know how many) the number of wells by forcing well owners to draw from a "reserve" (don't know how much) of water.

“If the streamflow targets are not met, water supplied by a private well could be determined "interruptible" and would not qualify as an "adequate" supply of water, threatening your ability to get a well and building permit. Additionally, should the County Commissioners approve the Plan as written, they are obligating themselves to enter into an agreement with area tribes and the Department of Ecology to regulate private wells in an unprecedented manner, possibly abrogating their sovereignty to plan for the future development of rural areas of our County,” the letter says.

The letter alerts property owners that Clallam County, along with area tribes, City officials, Washington State Department of Ecology and local interest groups have developed a Watershed Management Plan for our region-WRIA 18 (Watershed Resource Inventory Area). After reviewing the Plan's contents and its implications for property owners, they said they determined there are portions of the plan that are threatening your ability to develop your land. They have asked County Commissioners to send that Plan back to the group for revisions.

“The issue is water and your ability to get water for use on your property,” says the letter. “Is there enough water in the Elwha-Dungeness Watershed to serve both people and fish? Hydrologic studies show there is. Does a private well, coupled with a septic take, threatened fish habitat? A well maintained septic system can actually enhance stream flows during the dry season. The Plan calls for a limit on the number of private wells that can be dug in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley and sets streamflow targets for area rivers which historically, have never been met.,” it continues.

“Private wells are not the problem!” say the property rights’ advocates. According to the Realtors’ bulletin, “private wells, coupled with a properly maintained septic system put 75-90% of water withdrawn back into the aquifer. Private wells are essential for rural development. The amount of water with drawn daily from all private wells in the state equals the amount of water the Columbia River discharges into the Pacific Ocean every 67 seconds. In some cases, recharged private well water helps keep streams flowing during dry seasons. Policy makers should seek long-term solutions, such as storing water during high flows.”

According to a Department of Ecology publication issued in April 2003, “work was undertaken to assess current groundwater quality conditions and trends for the high-growth communities of Agnew and Carlsborg which lies north and west of the city of Sequim. Eight previously sampled wells were monitored quarterly from December 2000 2 September 2002 for field parameters, total persulfate nitrogen, nitrate plus nitrate-N, total and fecal coliform bacteria, chloride, total iron, and total manganese. Trend analysis of the nitrate data for each well suggests that, of the eight wells evaluated, three showed a statistically significant increase in nitrate -- and concentration, four showed no trend, and one showed a decreasing trend. (Click here for more information.)

On the basis of the DOE study, the question is well raised, “What nitrate problem?”

Proponents of the Plan as written say that metering private wells “is not an intent of the Plan”. Citizens who testified at the public hearings ask why it wouldn’t be too much to ask that the Plan incorporate verbiage to that effect.

Instream flow is a theoretical value of the amount of water, specific to one species, necessary to maximize habitat. But the habitat, in nature, is not specific to one species. “The natural world doesn’t maximize habitat for one species,” said Steve Marble, Realtor and elected conservation district commissioner. “For this reason, the instream flow number is a theoretical number that will never be realized. The ‘bait-and-switch’ comes with Department of Ecology treating this theoretical number as some kind of absolute necessary for fish survival. They have a value that can never be obtained used as a benchmark.”

Hydraulic continuity is the concept of interconnectivity between the river and surface water. How does one quantify the extent of the degree of connectivity? Is any consideration give to time of travel of the water from well site to river? What assumptions in terms of the influence of hydraulic continuity underlie the WRIA 18 Plan? The proposed saving from ‘exempt wells’ is 3+ cfs (cubic feet per second). What percent of the instream flow recommendation is the projected savings? The Plan is using an unmeasurable parameter and stretching it into far-fetched assumptions, which form the basis for giving the county much wider authority over land use, says Marble.

Related story about “instream flows” - Putting the numbers in perspective with 'instream flow'

To read about the testimony offered by citizens, go to Clallam County Watershed Management Plan Section on Citizen Review Online



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