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Sequim/Dungeness community listens to drought concerns

by Lois Krafsky-Perry
for Citizen Review
Posted Saturday, May 23, 2015

Water Drought Forum, Sequim WA, May 2015Sequim, WA – The Water Drought Forum was held in the Guy Cole Center at Carrie Blake Park Thursday, May 21, 2015 to a crowd of approximately 250 people, there to ask questions about their concerns. Instead, according to several people who attended, they were treated to a “dog-and-pony show” for the first two hours of the evening.

Scott Chitwood, Dungeness River Management (DRMT) Chairman, opened the meeting and announced, Here’s “what we may expect…may happen this summer.” Chitwood was former Natural Resource Director for Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. He complimented Shawn Hines, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe representative, for her work on water interests.

To see photos of the slideshow presentations, click here.

About half-way through, almost half the crowd had left in disgust and/or boredom, when one slideshow presentation after another was made by various activists and federal agency representatives – many of which repeated the same information, showed the same graphs and charts, and some included photos from eastern Washington. Several speakers reminded the audience that they could go to Google search for the information. A break was not offered, during the two and a half hour meeting.

The general theme was that we are facing a drought in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley due to an off year of snow. Washington’s “Drought Trigger” was defined as “less than 75% of normal water supply, plus “hardship” = “Drought.” Despite the fact that rainfall has equaled or exceeded previous years, and the aquifer itself has water, the “experts” were telling the crowd that the snowmelt, based on models, was 75% of “normal” and “may” cause a “drought”. (Interestingly, the definition of “drought” in the Miriam-Webster dictionary reads: “a period of dryness especially when prolonged; specifically : one that causes extensive damage to crops or prevents their successful growth.”)

Mike Gallagher, Department of Ecology (DOE), facilitated the meeting. He showed slides and explained, “what the plans are for water shortage.” He then asked for questions from the audience. Before any answers were given to the questions asked, however, the agency representatives, for the next approximate 1-1/2 hours, presented various slideshows, with explanations about snowfall – much of the information overlapping.

Several of the unanswered questions included Pearl Rains Hewett, Port Angeles resident, who asked, “what about drought for the Elwha River in Port Angeles?” She declared that 25,000 people are affected from the Elwha River to Morse Creek. “That drought system should be part of this forum” she stated Several people asked about wells, water distribution, and storage. “With no water storage, what will we do?” asked one woman.

Nobody was asked to give their name or address, while asking questions, so there apparently will not be a record of comments.

Mary Bell, a longtime Sequim farmer, asked about water availability and irrigation, for animals.

A woman asked, if they are addressing snow pack at 6500 feet.

“We have to look ‘ahead of time’ – what will it look like?” said Drought Coordinator Jeff Marti representing the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE). He told the attendees that from 500 – one million salmon are “expected” to arrive this year, and there are no storage reservoirs. “What will happen?” he said.

Marti said “drought” was defined by Department of Ecology (DOE) as when a snowpack is less than 75% of normal of water supply plus hardship. He admitted that the precipitation (rainfall) was mostly normal. He said that “experts” from WSAC (Ecology’s Water Supply Availability Committee) including “climate experts” like NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and others decide whether an area is above or below the 75%. EWEC (Ecology’s Executive Water Emergency Committee (Policy), the Dept. of Agriculture, Fish & Wildlife, Conservation Commission and others at the State determine the “policy” that a “hardship” exists. The recommendation goes to the governor, who then declares a drought.

The Washington Water Trust (WWT) is buying up water rights on a “temporary” basis for “low value” crops like hay and alfalfa. They are expecting funding from the Legislature to buy up more fairly soon.

Marti said that even from March, there will be “pretty extreme conditions.” The Olympic Peninsula, along with Walla Walla, Wenatchee and others are expecting a “hardship”, especially since there is no water storage available. The result of “hardship” caused a shutdown of irrigation in Yakima as of May.

Marti discussed WRIA (Water Resource Inventory Area), “as insiders call it,” he said. He mentioned 3 to 5 percent, in the Olympics, as a ‘dreadful state’.
Olympic Peninsula fisheries and impacts on small communities, without any storage, is a concern. He stated that 48-62 percent of watersheds in the state are affected. That is 85 percent of the state, determined Marti.

He said there is an interactive map online and said that the WRIA (map) shows the Dungeness basin. He stated that snow melt was at 4000 feet.

Others who promoted the same basic message included Scott Pattee, Water Supply “specialist” from the USDA [U.S. Dept. of Agriculture] and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “This is an anomalous year,” he said. It is “potentially” one of the worst forecast years ever, he added. He said “deep wells” will not be affected. He said he gets to go into the mountains to see the snowpack, riding on snowmobiles and in helicopters – a “tough” job, he laughed.

WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Teresa Scott is the “drought coordinator”, who said she works closely with Ecology. She explained all the aspects about how a low river flow might hurt the fish. They are looking at water access for fish and “enforcement”, and “all the rest of it.” The fish hatcheries will have to go “find and net” the fish when they don’t come back to the fisheries, she said. They will be using aerators and oxygen pumps to help the fish. “We go into streams and move rocks, so the fish can get through,” she said. They built flumes in eastern Washington to help with fish passage. “We’ll see wetland dry up in summer,” she said.

Chitwood asked “What are we going to do to get fish to their spawning grounds? We’re going to monitor them.” He talked about sand bags in key positions to deepen the channels.

Bryan Suslick, Dept of Natural Resources, reiterated that the rainfall has been near normal, but not the snowpack. “It ‘looks like’ it ‘might be’ an early start to the fall rain season,” he said. All predictions are done through computer modeling. He advocated for the fire-wise program, which Andy Haner of NOAA National Weather Service from Seattle reviewed.

After approximately 1-1/2 hours of slideshows and presentations (from 6:15 -8 p.m.), a panel set up to make statements and answer questions from the remaining approximate 90 people in the audience.

Local farmer Ben Smith, Maple View Farms and president of the Dungeness Water Users Association, said when the river gets to 120cfs, an “action plan” will go into effect, and the community will be asked to reduce or eliminate watering their yards. “As irrigators, we are being as efficient as we can,” he said. Surges have been done in the past, but not sure of the effectiveness. “We are committed to exploring all options,” he said.

Amanda Cronin, Project Manager with WWT [Washington Water Trust] is working with irrigators. The WWT is holding a “reverse auction” with taxpayers’ (Ecology grant) money, with the seven irrigation districts and companies in a volunteer program to pay irrigators not to irrigate. Preliminarily, there have been 28 bids from 15 landowners to be paid for not irrigating; so far, 21 of the bids have been accepted from 13 of the landowners, she said. That’s 800 acres that won’t be irrigated, according to Cronin.
She explained regulations for senior rights/water rights. Temporary transfer of water rights, public education, funding assistance for public entities, and grant programs ‘would be in place’.

There are Senior and Junior users. “Senior users have priority. In a drought, we have a duty to protect Senior users,” affirmed Cronin. She continued, “We can give an order to shut off which has impacts to Junior users.” She spoke of many fish problems relating to water availability for fish. “We have to step up enforcement, when we have people trying to catch them,” she announced. Many people left the building during and after her presentation.

Chitwood said they are going to monitor what the challenge looks like. He talked about minimum flow in the river. “We are going to do whatever we can do to get from point A to point B,” he said. He prefers sand bags, rather than hauling fish to safely. He talked about sand bags in key positions to deepen the channels. “We can use volunteers, give me a call,” he said.

A panel representing several entities, joined Ben Smith who represents the irrigators. Smith is president of the Dungeness Water Users Association and is also a dairy farmer, at Maple View Farms, in Sequim.

Amanda Cronin WWT and David Garlington a City of Sequim representative joined three more panel members, at the table. It was stated that the City of Sequim, Irrigators, Tribes, DRMT and PUD (Public Utility District) were working together to address water supply.
Cronin, from Seattle said she had worked on various water issues since 2008. She said there are volunteer irrigators who would not irrigate from August 15 to September 15th, with commercial crops five acres or more. There are 28 bids from 15 owners. She said 13 owners were accepted. It would include approximately 800 acres. “Whether that water will be available, we will see what happens,” she said.

Garlington spoke about using less water such as lawn watering, and capturing storm water runoff in storage or infiltration. He also discussed putting a deeper well near the river. He said when later questioned that 2.5 percent of the water is used by the City of Sequim.

An audience member asked Smith how it would be determined to shut off the irrigation ditches. Smith answered, “40 CFS. We agreed to take no more than 60 CFS left in the river.”

When asked about flowers and lawns, Smith answered that very little is used for lawns. Eighty percent of the state is used for irrigation, according to what the Irrigation Ditch Company supplied. “We are committed to exploring all options….we will get things done. I am optimistic,” said Smith.

A question was directed to Cronin about money from DOE. One of the panel members responded that “It is from taxpayers to the legislature.” He said he expected they would release it soon.

Cronin said that they are looking for storage near River Road. The amount is $32,000,000 for only that reservoir, according to Cronin.

A question was posed by former Clallam County resident, Ron Suslick. He said it was $56,000,000 seven years ago. He asked, “What did you do with it?” A facilitator answered, “Probably used it.”

Cronin answered a question that Washington Water Trust is “pretty much a group.”
Questioned about well safety, it was noted by one facilitator that wells below 20 feet could be a problem and that wells near a river were less likely to go dry.
[Note: Panel members were gathered at the front and randomly answered questions and names were not mentioned, at that time.]

When questions were asked about the status of ground water, the attendees were told, “we are at the high end of the normal now.” The City, Port Williams, and River Road are normal, in that they are from a deeper aquifer.

When the bulldozers were mentioned for removing gravel to better accommodate fish, one community member reminded them there would be bulldozers for moving the dike. The answer from the front entourage was, “the dike is moved back to create more wetlands.”

Diane Hood mentioned wells going dry. Holes in pipes were also questioned.
Smith said “that option was discussed.”

At the close of the meeting, a question was asked how much the water trust has spent on water storage. Cronin said the water trust sold certificates. The amount collected so far is approximately $100,000., she said, spent mitigating the Dungeness water rights acquisition projects. “All money goes back, “she announced. She said it was not going to storage. “Generally the Dungeness Restoration Project.” said Cronin.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

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