Ecology’s Q&A session in Sequim about water ‘rule’ leaves many unanswered questions
By Sue Forde
for Citizen Review Online
January 17, 2013 – Sequim, WA – Approximately 120 citizens attended a meeting sponsored by the Washington State Dept. of Ecology and elected and staff members of Clallam County to review and field questions about the new so-called “Dungeness Water Rule” which took effect on Jan. 2, 2013. The meeting was held on Jan. 17, 2013 at the John Wayne Marina near Sequim, starting at 4 p.m.
DCD [Department of Community Development] Director Sheila Roark-Miller moderated the meeting, with Tom Shindler, permits center manager for the county, and several other county employees present. Roark-Miller introduced Sally Toteff, Regional Director of the WA State Department of Ecology (DOE), who commented that the people who showed up tonight “shows that you’re ‘ready to soak up information’ about the water plan.” Others from the agency were Bob Barwin, Mike Gallagher, regional supervisor, Ann Wessell, along with Amanda Cronin and Susan Adams, from the Washington Water Trust (WWT). Later, Anne Soule and Andy Brastad were introduced, who both work for the County.
Of special concern are the areas shown on the “water plan” map. Depending on the designated area on the map, water use for new wells is being limited to indoor use only, or no water at all in some areas. People drilling new wells will be required to pay a “mitigation fee”, starting at $1,000, plus pay to install a meter on their well, to be “allowed” to use up to 150 gallon per day (gpd) of water, indoors only. Previously, a property owner fell under the “exempt well” status, where no such requirements existing. The WA State Department of Ecology has been pressing for the water restrictions for almost 20 years, and the people have managed to hold it back – until now. The slideshow presentation by the County can be seen here: County water rule presentation.
Barwin stated that the DOE will be funding the Washington Water Trust (WWT) to “negotiate and acquire water rights from the Dungeness Water Users [Sequim-Dungeness Agricultural Water Users Association]”, who will purchase easements and equipment with the monies they collect from new water users. “For the ‘customers’ of this program, we’re trying to keep it simple,” he said. This “service”, he said, will determine whether a water use is a “new” use, subject to the new Rules, or not.
Cronin (WWT) said, “We went over the mitigation packages; there are 3 packages we’ll be offering right now – the prices are there in nice round numbers.” She said “you need to record your mitigation certificate; it’s non-transferrable and will stay with the land.” The mitigation certificates are available now for applicants with pending projects, she said. There will also be a “mitigation option”, where a payment of 25% of the indoor mitigation can be paid. That fee “could” be “partially” applied toward the final mitigation certificate, she stated. The “option” would be good for year 2, 3 or 4, and a portion might be refundable, for example, $150, $100 or $50, depending on the number of years. “There may be some price adjustment,” she said.
Tom Shindler said that the role of the permit center is an “ongoing relationship”. He added that the county would “go to Ecology for the complex questions”. He reviewed the county website (www.clallam.net) as to where to seek information about the various layers of regulations on a piece of property. “Every parcel is tagged on the map,” he said, “and we are going to add tags as certificates are issued.”
“We have a ‘product’ called ‘project review’ to outline the requirements on a property, Shindler stated. The county planning department will “coordinate all the permit requirements”. They will send the mitigation certificate request to Washington Water Trust, who in turn will review and then issue the certificate. It is returned by email, and must then be signed, notarized and recorded.
“Don’t drill your well first; you may be in a Group A system”, Shindler said. “We don’t know everything yet.” Building permit requirements include road approach, drain ditch permit, critical areas review, septic permit, potable water availability (including quantity, quality and legality), and a water system or a well.
The question was raised by an audience member, “Who determines what is timely and reasonable?” Shindler replied that a “year” is “timely.
He pointed out that the cost to connect to a water system is estimated to cost 1-1/2 to 2 times the cost of drilling a well.
Pearl Rains-Hewett of Port Angeles commented that our county is going to be doing all the work. “It’s a money deal,” she said, adding, “Ecology sucks.” The 71-year-old stated that the US Constitution is on her wall. “Is Clallam County still in the U.S.? Where are we living now?” she asked. She talked about the problems on the Skagit River with Ecology. “Has Ecology learned anything from the debacle in Skagit?” she wanted to know.
The DOE department director answered that the results with the Swinomish Tribe are still unknown. Kittitas County needs to plan ahead to be sure people can develop their property “for your use and future generations”, he said. The State Supreme Court case is pending right now.
Karen Pritchard asked whether mitigation water is available now. “No” was the response. “When might they be ready?” she wanted to know. Cronin said the applications for indoor water should be available in “a week or two.” If in the “green” area on the map, mitigation projects with irrigation will “probably” will be selling outdoor packages in the summer, Barwin said.
Pritchard then asked, “After the salaries and monies are paid, where is the remainder of the money [collected from users] going?”
Cronin said they have to “move water” to the site; there is no “excess” money; it covers the cost for the “exchange.”
More questions were raised about the financial aspects of the WWT. With the first 100 permits, what estimate of turnaround time, and what is the cost to the WWT? Cronin responded that there is an “annual work plan”, a “local advisory board”, and “tax statements are available.”
Annie O’Roarke from the Builder’s Association asked whether there is “due process required”. “How many packages can outdoor water purchase for a parcel – for example, 5 acres?” “Just one per parcel,” Cronin responded, no matter what the size of the parcel.
“Do these packages apply to commercial projects?” one person asked. Cronin said it “depends on the type of commercial business, domestic – industrial/manufacturing not covered. The WWT will work on a case-by-case basis”, she continued. “There will be custom packages, which amounts only for indoor use.”
One person posed the question about the use of water if there are 8 foster children in a home, where definitely more than 150 gallons per day would be needed. Shindler responsed that those packages are mitigation packages, “these numbers represent averages”; the program is “averaged out”, and that “not every person is limited to 150 gallons per day.” He added that “adjustments may be made in the future – we’ll adjust over time if we need to.”
O’Roarke wanted a clarification: “So there is no personal ramification if a household is using 400 gallons per day?” she asked. Shinder said, “If your use is consistent, a variation on the same question – you’re over 150, you’re fine. If you ‘add’ a use – like a garden – that’s ‘not’ fine.” He added that “Metering informs us, ‘are the averages correct’ – not for individual accountability.”
Mike McAleer said he is currently working with an engineer with a law degree. He’s wanting a 5 acre parcel, and the property was in the ‘yellow’ area for a few days. That means, no garden, no fruit trees, etc. In the Bigfoot area. Then the map line changed. There is no county code to change the map – now it’s a different map. What is the public process to change the mapping?
Roark-Miller said the process is in an advisory board or committee. “We don’t have to change the code; it is passed down from the State – we have to implement it,” she said.
Shinder added that regarding the map issues, the county had to find out how DOE wanted it defined. Their original map was from “old data”, it’s now been updated.
One person asked how the subsidized funding woks – is it ‘grant-driven”? Where does the money go?
McEntire answered that it is event-driven; if more than 100 people want to start houses, the county will be asking the State legislature for additional funding.
Kaj Ahlburg asked how the amounts for mitigation fees were arrived at. “How are the amounts to be charged for mitigation arrived at? At 10% consumptive use, $1,000 for 150 gpd of domestic mitigation corresponds to a cost of $43 million/cfs. At 90% consumptive use, the additional $1,000 for a 89 gpd Basic Outdoor mitigation package correspond to a cost of $8.1 million/cfs for the additional water, and the additional $2,000 for a 200 gpd Extended Outdoor mitigation certificate correspond to a cost of $7.2 million/cfs for the additional water. The midpoint of Bob Barwin’s estimate of the likely cost to Ecology of mitigation water in WRIA 18 was about $1.2 million/cfs (or $1,700/acre foot). These are markups of between 500% and 3,400%. Where is the extra money going?”
Shinder said it’s hard to exactly say how – all the complexity – all the risk. The buyers get the mitigation; Ecology takes the risks. It’s not about putting water in a bucket several streams; anyone could have a problem – it covers operations for the long term.
Someone asked, “What about natural recharge?” Shindler said that they were starting with the small lawn packages.
Ahlburg talked about the visibility to the public; time will tell whether that works out. He wondered if there is a commitment after a certain amount of time to reassess, and whether the actual revenues and expenses would be available for the public to review.
Cronin stated, “Absolutely. This is the lowest cost of mitigation in the State of Washington.”
Jeff Monroe of Quilcene asked whether the 150 gpd might be off by two or three times. Shindler answered that “we’re talking about averages. This is based on the data in Sequim.”
Someone said that there are a lot of people who don’t even know about this meeting.
Roark-Miller said “I hear your concern about the 150 gpd.”
Shindler said, “Our behind-the-scenes debiting is a program management problem – using the metering.”
Roark-Miller added that the market price may change, so the price for the mitigation certificate may change as well.
“Once you reassess, what’s your next move, now that you have your foot in the door?” one person wanted to know. What is your flow currently? What penalties for noncompliance? Can you shut off people’s water? Are there fines?
Barwin responded that “if you overuse – use up the mitigation program, cost will likely rise. We will look at the average use.” He added, “If you use 175 gpd, Ecology will not consider that a violation.” A violation could result in fines up to $5,000 a day; and you could have your water ‘curtailed’, he said.
One person said, “Neighbors against neighbors?”
Dick Pilling said, “I’m always a little leery when government comes to ‘help’ me. Can we use storage tanks to capture water?”
Roark-Miller responded, “With a building permit.” There are restrictions on water caught and stored.
Christina Nelson-Gross asked about mitigation for final plats. Under the subdivision code, she said, it is required that water is “available”. She referenced the JZ Knight case. According to RCW 58.17, water must be found at the time of approval. Now we have to pay for mitigation.
Carol Johnson asked by what authority does the WWT act as the “water bank.”
Jim McEntire said the county had a grant from DOE during the water rule.
Barwin said the WWT has been in business for 12 years, and has been working with Ecology.
Johnson then asked how the WWT became the “water bank” throughout Washington State. DOE is the authority which took on the WWT. It’s in Walla Walla and here; are there other water banks across Washington? How about Skagit?
The response was that Skagit does not have a water bank.
Johnson asked, “For outdoor water, what constitutes a change in use? A lawn to a garden? Horses to llamas?”
Barwin said “no.”
Roark-Miller said “If you have a home that you are watering when you sell, and the person who buys it wants to build a mother-in-law building or addition, that would be a change of use.”
“What science was used for the yellow part of the map?” asked one member of the audience. “What value was assigned by DOE for the value of the property to go down?”
Shindler responsed that it was his “best professional judgment for the lines on the map”. The science, he said, was “hydrology by modeling.”
“Are the lines on the map for all time?” queried one person. Shindler responded, “No, just for this year. We are working with other ‘partners’ to “expand the green areas”.
Barwin said the “numbers are not readily available. The cost benefit analysis has to do with where “we think the growth will be.”
Rick Rose asked how DOE established mitigation requirements. “What number was used for all the ‘exempt’ wells?, he queried.
Shindler said they didn’t look at existing wells. They used the information from gages in the river. The mitigation program was built on 150 gpd and 10% consumption. Irrigation, he said, is at 90% evaporation with a garden or a lawn.
The focus returned to the WWT. Greg McCarry asked “What can the public do for oversight?”
Cronin responded that there is an “advisory council.”
McCarry pressed on. “How do we see the books? Are the meetings public? Who’s on the advisory council?” he wanted to know. “Can I accumulate the minutes I save in the winter for summer use? We get roughly 9 minutes of watering time under the “Rule””. You said earlier you are not going to enforce the amount of water used? “Are we to take your word for that?”
Marguerite Glover said that Bob Barwin told us we could buy mitigation for the property. Now tonight, we can’t. “Why can’t we buy mitigation now? Why are there so many things we don’t know about? Why wasn’t this map [she held up a DOE water rule map] available?”
Shindler said, “The map was available.” Glover then pointed out that a “different” map was available for the public to view at the public hearings than is now being used.
Shindler stated the change in the map was a “mistake.”
A woman asked “Why do we need a building permit for our well? We just want to raise cattle on our property.” Shindler told her she needs to go directly to the Water Exchange (WWT) for agricultural use. “When you build, you’ll have to get another mitigation permit.”
“For agricultural use, what will it cost?” she asked. “Can we even get it?”
Susan said it’s done on a case-by-case basis, and has no ballpark of the cost, if they even allow water usage.
Cherie Kidd wanted to know about Ecology’s enforcement action. “Where can we view this information on the website?” What protocols to monitor the Rule; can the Rule be abandoned, if so, what is the timeline?
Tom (DOE) answered that she can look at RCW 90.03.600 and 605 for information about enforcement. “There are other scattered authorizations for enforcement,” he said. He added that the Dungeness River Management Team would review the conditions and reconvene another group if there is a controversy about the set flow. It’s currently set for 105 cfs flow; we’ll talk about a higher flow once we get there.
Mrs. Cameron asked why WWT is no longer working in Walla Walla. The response from Ecoogy was that they were paid to run the bank for two years; it is being turned over to the county.
It was asked about the cost of the meter that will be required when any new “use” takes place. Tom responded that a meter runs around $250 plus the cost of installation. The going rate is approximately $95 per hour for labor.
Tom Martin from PUD said the water rights will “run out in about five years”. He wanted to know how future customers will work through the water exchange after the water rights run out.
Commissioner Jim McEntire has stated repeatedly that there is no water crisis on the North Olympic Peninsula.
You can access the State Department of Ecology’s website re: the water rule here: www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/instream-flows/dungeness.html
See a list of questions raised by individuals which may or may not have been answered adequately by the DOE and county staff: WRIA 18 WATER EXCHANGE QUESTIONS
Stories by the Sequim Gazette about the watershed plan – click here
Previous stories about the watershed plan as posted in the Citizen Review Online – click here
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