The following article appeared in the February 15 edition of the Peninsula Daily News.

Water limits raise fears about development; rule puts 500-gallon curb on new wells

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series on proposed state water conservation rules and their effect on wells and water rights in the Dungeness and Chimacum basins.

A new limit on land development is coming our way: State water conservation rules that limit the amount of water that can be drawn from new wells.

Fish will be part of the equation, as the state Department of Ecology proposes restrictions to conserve water in rivers and streams that constitute salmon habitat, as well as underground water in aquifers.

The regulations would not affect owners of existing, permitted wells, but only those with undeveloped property who want to drill a well, including those who already have applied for one.

New water-use regulations proposed for both the Dungeness Valley in the east end of Clallam County and the Quilcene and Chimacum areas in Jefferson County would:

         Limit daily use of a new well to 500 gallons. It's estimated a family of four uses about 300 gallons a day for personal use such as bathing, drinking and doing laundry, Ecology watershed planner Cynthia Nelson said. 

         Owners of existing wells could continue to draw down up to 5,000 gallons daily.

         Place meters on new wells to monitor usage -- with possible fines for exceeding the daily limit.

In the Chimacum Valley, water demand has been so high that Ecology is proposing that only indoor water use for new wells be permitted until an additional water supply is found.

In the Dungeness River watershed, the regulations could lead to new permit fees that Nelson said could exceed $2,000 per new well.

The far-reaching measure would affect any undeveloped property in the areas covered by the restrictions, including parcels inside the Sequim city limit where wells can be dug, Mayor Laura Dubois said last week.

Purpose, questions

Ecology says that wells in the Chimacum and Dungeness areas are sucking water out of aquifers at dangerous rates.

Regulations are necessary to protect salmon and safely manage development for future population growth, Nelson said.

Ecology has proposed instream flow rules -- regulations intended to guarantee enough water to support fish and wildlife and human use -- for both watershed areas, with some variation between them.

The public comment period for the rule in the Quilcene River and Snow Creek watershed ended Friday.

No end-date has been set for public comment on the Dungeness version of the rule.

The new rules are the result of an ongoing water management process, Nelson said, that began in 2005 with two goals in mind:

         Protect endangered salmon that find it difficult to survive and spawn in low-water-flow streams and rivers.

         Better manage land development that is drawing down water from aquifers.

But the proposal has the North Olympic Peninsula real estate industry and property owners up in arms.

Dungeness

The rules pose an onerous prospect for landowners not on current water systems, those in the real estate industry say.

"There's a sense that this is a taxation process that our government is going through, that there really isn't science behind this," said Dan Erickson of Coldwell Town & Country, which has offices in Sequim, Port Townsend and Port Ludlow.

"That doesn't mean we don't have any concern for the environment."

Doug Hale, one of Erickson's real estate agents, estimated hundreds of property owners could be affected by the regulations.

"There is a lot of undeveloped land out there that people have been sitting on for years," Hale said, adding that the state "already threw us a double whammy" about 18 months ago by prohibiting development on 1-acre parcels in rural areas, limiting such development to minimum 5-acre parcels.

It's important that the public participate now in meetings having to do with the instream flow rule, said Marguerite Glover, who serves on the Water Working Group for the Dungeness Instream Flow Rule process, and who is also the co-chairman of the government affairs committee of the Sequim Association of Realtors.

In an e-mail urging attendance at a workshop on the proposed rule for the Dungeness Valley, which will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at John Wayne Marina, 2577 W. Sequim Bay Road, Sequim, she said, "The instream flow rule will affect all new water well users, including those who have a well that has not been used yet, on a piece of property.

"Ecology plans on publishing the draft rule late in March, or early in April, with an adoption date of May (hopefully).

"Once the rule is published, there can be no substantive changes. That is why it is very important to give Ecology input now."

Frank Roach, 80, intends to preserve his 101 acres outside of Sequim for wildlife, but believes the pain should be spread around more.

"This loss of water in the Dungeness River, the solution to that should involve everybody, not just the people who own houses," he said. "The solution should be far-reaching."

The Sequim area is being singled out because that's where most of the growth is, he said.

He has "deep concerns," he said, that fresh water is used by gas stations for industrial-type uses and by car-wash businesses and school districts for washing vehicles. Roach said Class A, non-drinkable water or rain water would be just as effective for such purposes.

"Go green," he said.

_____

Staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 and paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.
Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew contributed to this report.

THE NEXT MEETING about a new instream flow rule to provide adequate water for salmon habitat and human use in the Dungeness Valley will be Wednesday.

The workshop will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at John Wayne Marina, 2577 W. Sequim Bay Road.

Ecology wants at least the water draw-down rules for new, unpermitted wells ready for 180-day public review by May, so that they can be in force by November, said Cynthia Nelson, Ecology watershed planner.

No time limit has been set for public comment for the Dungeness proposal.

The public can comment on the rule by writing to Ann E. Wessel, instream flow rules coordinator, Department of Ecology, Water Resources Program, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600 or by e-mail to awes461@ecy.wa.gov.

Information about the rule, and about Water Resource Inventory Area 18, can be found at www.ecy.wa.gov/apps/watersheds/planning/18.html.


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