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The Sequim-Dungeness “Water” Issue

Commentary by Steve Marble

for Citizen Review Online

 Posted 8/4/2013


Sequim, WA – In early July the Washington Realtors gave classes in Sequim and Port Townsend for Realtors and other interested parties to bring them up to speed on the new rules governing water use in the Dungeness basin and Eastern Jefferson County. The first half of the class was presented by Washington water attorney, Bill Clark. Participants were treated to the genesis of the water laws that brought us to where we are today.


“The Water Resources Act of 1971” was an overly broad bill passed by the legislature which allows (not requires) Department of Ecology to set instream flows by agency rule “to provide for preservation of wildlife, fish, scenic, aesthetic and other environmental values and navigational values”. Ecology’s heavy handed approach in Kittitas County caused the Commissioners to, in essence, tell Ecology to stuff it. Unfortunately the Washington Supreme Court sided with Ecology. Kittitas County was humbly required to do Ecology’s bidding.


The second portion of the class was delivered by Ecology’s Mike Gallagher and county representatives. Their task was to tell the real estate community how to direct their clients to comply with the law. Eastern Jefferson County and the Dungeness Basin have different versions of drastic water rationing rules. The nuts and bolts of these laws is decided by Ecology on a case by case basis.    In other words, non-elected bureaucrats from Ecology get to make up the rules up on the fly. Is this what we call reprehensive democracy?


In the process of formulating these rules, Ecology indignantly denied wanting meters on wells, denigrating people accusing them of such as conspiracy minded rumor mongers. So why, asked an attendee, are all these new wells required to be metered? The Department representative said he had heard the same thing but the meters ended up in the rule somehow anyway. Go figure!


Even more revealing of this agency’s character was the response to the Realtor who mentioned a new USGS study showing much more water in the Quilcene Basin than previously believed. The agency representative replied that was just a computer model and we all know the inaccuracies of computer models. The irony is that Ecology’s entire rule is based on computer models built on flawed assumptions. The concept that private wells are responsible for depleting salmon run has no basis in fact nor have there been any efforts to prove this hypothesis.  Indeed, untested computer models are paraded out by Ecology as justification for their draconian rules.


In fact, no one knows the total water resources available in any area and Ecology would like to keep it that way. Total build out of the Dungeness Valley would, based on Ecology’s numbers, consume only around 2 cfs, less than one percent of the River’s flow, an infinitesimal amount in the scheme of things. The millions of dollars spent on their long and tedious effort to force this rule on the population would have bought all the water rights they about which they insist is their concern.


Meanwhile, the presenter from Jefferson County showed a chart showing the precipitous drop in well drilling activities after the rule went into effect. “Some well drillers retired, others found alternative occupations” she said. “Due to economic conditions, no doubt” chimed in the man from Ecology. The Eastern Jefferson County rule went into effect at the end of 2009.  The housing market sank in 2007. The Dungeness Basin rule took effect six months ago.


In Clallam County, housing providers support 25% of the economy.  Whacking down fishing with the Boldt decision, the forestry industry with the spotted owl, and now residential development might lead a cynic to believe there is a war against rural Washington.  Please support the efforts of Olympic Resource Protection Council to turn this travesty around.


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