Proposed stream water rule could limit Sequim-area building development

By Jim Casey, Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM — The most powerful force to manage growth in Eastern Clallam County could flow out of your faucet.

The state Department of Ecology is preparing to write a rule for water use in the Dungeness River valley that would preserve the rights of most users already on wells or public systems.

New homes and businesses, however, might face limits on how much water they may use, when and how they may use it.

Existing water rights already total more water than the Dungeness can supply in late summer, severely stressing runs of salmon and trout.

Ecology's rule would establish an "instream flow" that is a water right for the endangered fish.

Water rights for people are ranked by seniority, with tribes holding the oldest rights "from time immemorial."

Irrigation systems also are beyond restriction, especially since ditch companies voluntarily have piped many of their networks to conserve water.

Limits on exempt wells
However, junior water rights — including so-called exempt wells — could be curtailed.

An exempt well is permitted to pump up to 5,000 gallons a day, about 4,800 gallons more than the average daily use of a family of three.

About 200 such wells have been drilled each year since 2000 in Clallam County's East End.

But, because by law those gallons must be used for a "beneficial use" by the homes and farms that pump them, the 5,000 figure can be cut back to users' accustomed and accepted amounts, Ecology's Cynthia Nelson said Wednesday night.

"No one has a right to waste," she said.

Nelson spoke at an Ecology forum in the John Wayne Marina that attracted about three-dozen people, many of them state and county employees involved in watershed planning.

Sarah Ferguson, who will draft the actual water rule, said it even could cut off junior rights when instream flows are not met.

"You will be able to get water," Nelson said.

"It just will be by a different path than before."

Water-saving strategies
New developments might have to acquire water through paths and regulations like these:
·  Connecting to public systems.
·  Outlawing exempt wells where such connections are available.
·  Exchanging or buying water rights through a water "bank."
·  Limiting users' gallons per day.
·  Drilling wells to deeper aquifers.

This strategy does not actually conserve underground water, but delays the drawdown's effect on the river.
·  Curtailing outdoor water uses like watering lawns that return only 10 percent of water to the aquifer.
·  Establishing lawn-watering schedules.
·  Limiting irrigated areas to 60-by-60-foot plots.
·  Building to higher densities.
·  Collecting roof runoff for outdoor uses.
·  Limiting water to household indoor purposes.
·  Paying more for water for nonessential purposes.

"If you have to pay more for poorly used water, it gets your attention," said Penny Eckert, the meeting's facilitator.

The law authorizes Ecology to establish instream flows in 16 critical Water Resource Inventory Areas to protect and preserve water for aesthetics, livestock, recreation, wildlife, navigation and water quality.

But, as one participant at Wednesday's forum observed, it makes no provision for property developers.

Key steps
The state Department of Ecology's schedule for writing an instream flow rule started with a workshop Nov. 29 and continued with Wednesday's forum.

Upcoming key dates include:
·  Developing a preliminary rule with water planners, tribes and the Dungeness River Management Team.
·  Public review of the draft.
·  Filing a revised rule in late summer, starting a 180-day clock.
·  Opening a formal public comment period.
·  Adopting the formal rule.

More information about the program is available at

Reporter Jim Casey can be reached at 360-417-3538 or at
Last modified: March 28. 2008 9:00PM



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