Commissioners unanimously pass watershed management plan
June 7, 2005
by Citizen Review Staff
Port Angeles, WA – The Clallam County commissioners passed the WRIA 18 Watershed Management Plan today after months of heated testimony from hundreds of citizens from across the county.
After three public testimonies, where approximately 200 people appeared at each public meeting to listen and offer their input about the problems they saw with the proposed Plan, the commissioners decided to return the document to “staff” for review and revisions. (The other options available to them were to pass it as written, to remand it to the planning units for further work, or to reject it.) Anne Soule, “Groundwater Specialist” with Clallam County Health and Human Services, reviewed several of the changes made by “staff”. (See “Team Memo dated 5/11/05”)
One of the major objections to the proposed Plan by many citizens involved the fact that the plan leaves the details of implementation and definition to the WA State Department of Ecology (DOE). One person compared it to handing over a blank check. The rule making will remain in the hands of the DOE. The focus remains on the “goal of integrated water delivery systems”, rather than individual wells.
The wording for “well metering” was changed to “water use measurement” with funding suggested for a pilot “water use measurement” study. (One wonders how water use will be measured without some kind of a meter?) (The changes are marked in red in the document – click here to review.)
Soule said the county would not implement until codes were changed, giving the county staff the authority to pursue enforcement.
Andy Brastad, Clallam County health department director, gave an overview of the process. He referred to it as the new and improved plan and not perfect---but good.
At this last “public hearing”, there were approximately eight citizens present, and more than 20 staff and agency people, all of whom testified in favor of their revisions to the Plan.
Bob Martin, former director of the Clallam County Dept. of Community Development, said, “I was around when this planning process was inaugurated”. [He was defeated when the position became the first elective one in the United States.] He mentioned cooperation with tribal, citizens, and environmental interests. “Good job. I think it is well balanced and recommend you adopt them as county policy as water issues. Keep dialogue going with tribe and special interests. “I don’t think it is going to prevent development such as small water systems and exempt wells…..” He mentioned PUD rates and well protected water systems. He said there are not adequate water rights. “To bust deadlock on water rights…adopt this plan,” he said.
Pat Willits said, “I strongly support the adoption of the plan, and I’m waiting for you to get on a county stormwater plan. It will cost less to restore habitat than to protect it,” she said.
County biologist Cathy Lear and Cynthia Nelson, liaison for the DOE, also testified in favor of passing the proposed plan.
Cathy Lear stated that she was testifying as a private citizen (despite the fact that as an employee of the county, she was being paid during the time she was present at the hearing). She said this gives us a forum to talk about water.” Who is using it and how it is used. She said explosive growth occurred without the plan. Also mentioned global climate. Economy changes.” This plan will help us make more decisions,” she said.
Cynthia Nelson, a key figure acting as liaison with the various teams and agencies representing the DOE, encouraged adoption of the plan. Many good ideas and can have the details worked out, she said. She suggested applying for funds available for implementation of the plan. She talked about management resources and ecology is interested in moving ahead on instream flow rule.
Commissioner Mike Chapman – R - summed it up this way: Over the process - this started in 1998 - there were hundreds of hours with many people. We had four public meetings and [only] one was required. All concerned were listened to who addressed the planning document. It is not a regulatory document, he said.
Chapman thanked and complimented a collection of dozens of community members who testified. The [revised] document has over 75 substantive changes, stated Chapman. ”More extended than state law required. The public process, in my mind, worked. This is a very impressive compromise,” he said.
Chapman recognized a last minute letter submitted by local realtors by saying they received a letter of support from the realtors.
“We actually came together as a community at what we have established together. Hats off -- heartfelt thanks, staff and fellow commissioners,” announced Chapman.
But not everyone was favorable to the changes.
Marguerite Glover, local Realtor and landowner, expressed strong concern over the revised plan.
In a letter to the Commissioners, and in verbal testimony, she said she continues to be amazed that we, the County, buy into the statewide DOE opinion that there is never enough water. USGS, the Montgomery Water Group, and others, have documented that we in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley have three aquifers and two aquitards.
Even in dry years, we have glaciers, in our relatively low mountains, which melt, Glover continued. We have artesian water springing up in fields and out on Jamestown Road, near the waterfront. The hard soils of the Southern foothills cannot, for the most part, absorb the water coming down from snowmelt in the mountains. (Click here to read Glover’s complete letter.)
She also noted that after turning in her letter she referred the commissioners to page 6 of the amended document referring to future availability set aside for reserve--- assuming that all water is from the river. “What about streams and wetlands? Not all water is from the river,” she said.
Glover also addressed the Shared Salmon meetings planned for next week. “In its plan, it discusses the WRIA plan. Also money for projects and operations. “Will there be a public hearing?” she wanted to know.
Local resident Lloyd Peterson stated that “Some place along the way---Clallam County has no water rights. He reminded the commissioners that the city of Port Angeles has five water rights.
Peterson said the Elwha River dumps 400 billion gallons of water into the ocean every year.” This is USGS data,” he announced. This water could go to the east end for the people to have clean water. “If you do not have clean fresh water, you do not have an economy,” said Peterson. He submitted a letter to the commissioners.
Elected conservation district supervisor Steve Marble testified that there are two assumptions that are flawed. One flawed assumption is that low water flows in creeks are responsible for salmon runs. He described ocean conditions as responsible for some problems. Warm water is breaking the nutrient cycle. He also described warm water predators such as Jack Mackerel, which track fingerlings.
The other flaw is that exempt wells lower the river, he said. Exempt wells statewide represent only one percent of water consumption. The reality is this plan is more county bureaucracy, he said. State agency dictates costs of housing. It's another decline of our rights. “But we’ll all feel good,” said Marble.
Once the testimony was closed, the other two county commissioners commented.
Commissioner Steve Tharinger (D) commented that there was testimony today that this is not a perfect plan. “We heard comments”, he said. The framework is we can assess and manage resources. Climate changes in future are not dependable. I think it’s not crisis situation. We have lots of people—lots of time. “We’re ready to adopt and move on to the next level.”
Commissioner Mike Doherty (D) complimented the water teams, some of whom he referred to as parent counsels. Some areas of the west have been very serious, he said. A teamwork of interests here…a collaborative process. There is a graphic water shortage here. There is a risk of litigation if we don’t do something locally. We have avoided litigation so far. He continued explaining and then said, “on with the process.”
The three county commissioners unanimously passed the Plan.
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