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Water “rule” restricts water use; thousands of acres affected

Sequim Gazette

from Jan. 9, 2013

Sequim, WA – The new Dungeness Water Rule, in place since Jan. 2, leaves a lot of Clallam landowners high and dry.

All landowners who hope to drill a well within the affected area will be able to secure the right to indoor water. However, new uses of outdoor water will be denied to hundreds of lots covering thousands of acres.


Though the eligibility of each lot owner to purchase outdoor water rights will be determined on a case-by-case basis, a draft map earlier produced by the Department of Ecology provides a rough estimate of where outdoor water will and won’t be available.


Outdoor water will be available in virtually all areas now served by the irrigation districts. Clallam County PUD provides water in areas west and east of Sequim.


But beyond that, no outdoor water will be available.

The Dungeness Water Exchange, the water “bank” for new rights, will be working on mitigation projects to expand the availability of outdoor water.

Susan Adams is executive director of the Washington Water Trust, which manages the Water Exchange. She said it’s not a huge issue.

“I don’t know that there are many places where there is no water available,” Adams said. “Most of the population occurs where people would have water.”

Ecology spokesman Dan Partridge said Ecology estimates that “only 6.2 percent of the households subject to the Dungeness rule will experience impacts on their property values because mitigation water will not be available to them.”

He said the agency estimated the financial impact on each property “at between $1,000 and $33,000 over 20 years.”

Those who had drilled a well and were putting the water to use are unaffected by the rule unless they change their use.

A big deal

Marguerite Glover, a Realtor who has been active in water discussions for a number of years, disagreed, saying it’s a big, expensive issue.

“Why do they keep saying this is a small area?” she asked.

She said it’s going to surprise a lot of the landowners. “There are still a bunch of them thinking they’re going to live their dream. We’re talking to people who want greenhouses. Who’s going to tell them to take them down?”

She added: “It’s going to severely impact the value of the land.”

Glover added that the geology of the area also is not well understood. “The wells there may not affect anything,” she said. “Where’s the science?”

Joe Holtrop, district manager of the Clallam Conservation District, described another issue that will arise under the new rule.

“Drought-resistant” trees and other vegetation provide an excellent alternative for those living in the rain shadow, he said, but require several years of regular watering to thrive.

“The more watering at first, the more drought-resistant they are,” Holtrop said.

Even within the area where outdoor water can be purchased, landowners will be buying rights in perpetuity for what may be a few years of required irrigation. Holtrop suggested they may balk at doing so.

Impact on values

Danni Breen, a Realtor with John L. Scott, said those in her office are taking great care to let potential buyers know the rules regarding the new Dungeness Water Rule.

“I have to be very straightforward to tell them there are issues,” she said. “We have to be very careful because we don’t know what it’s going to cost. We have to spell out the worst possible scenario so we don’t get sued later.”

Breen’s colleague, David Spencer, said, “What do you do with all that property if you don’t have water?”

Glover expanded on that notion, saying, “Most of the people in the ‘no outside water available’ areas own five, 10, 20 acres, or more. I know of no one on parcels that large who have no interest in gardening or forestry or livestock.”

“Not one person.”

“When real estate professionals from the Olympic Peninsula go to show people who are looking to garden or have livestock, greenhouses, orchards, and the like, they will have the (Ecology) map with them and they will show nothing that does not have outside watering ability.”
CLICK HERE for larger version of map. 

Reach Mark Couhig at



Related story:

Water rights sale still months away

Sequim Gazette

Posted Jan. 16, 2013

Sequim, WA – Until the Washington Water Trust concludes a purchase of senior water rights, new homebuilders in much of rural eastern Clallam County won’t be able to procure water for outdoor use.


Indoor water can now be purchased from Ecology’s “reserves” — water rights set aside by the agency to ensure that development didn’t come to a halt following the Jan. 2 effective date of the new Dungeness Water Management Rule.


Ben Smith, president of the Sequim-Dungeness Agricultural Water Users Association, said he hopes his organization can soon work out the details for selling water rights to the Trust, which will then broker those rights to those who require “mitigation water” under the rule.


During the Wednesday, Jan. 9, meeting of the Dungeness River Management Team, Smith told those in attendance he hopes the negotiations will be completed, and a contract signed, in “two or three months.”

Smith said his organization now anticipates selling approximately 2 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water. He said they are working with an assumption that each cfs has a value of approximately $450,000.


Gary Smith, spokesman for the Water Users, said how the transfer will take place — piecemeal or as a one-time package — still is being negotiated.


He said the Water Users are considering a proposal from the Water Trust for “a single sale of water that would fill the projected needs for 10-20 years, but no decision has been made to date.”


Since 1990, between 52-77 percent of new homes built each year in Clallam County have been constructed within the affected area.


Completing the sale will provide outdoor water rights for those living in the more densely populated sections of the affected area but won’t provide outdoor water rights throughout. Hundreds of additional lots aren’t anticipated to have outdoor mitigation water for the immediately foreseeable future.

Those serviced by the City of Sequim or Clallam PUD aren’t affected.


Those who have a private well they were previously utilizing aren’t affected, unless there is a change in their use.


Indoor water up for sale

The Dungeness Water Management Rule, 20 years in the making, is designed to enhance flows in area streams while protecting the interests of senior water rights holders.


Those who hope to drill a well in the area affected by the rule are required to purchase water rights. Most of the purchases are expected to be brokered by the Dungeness Water Exchange, which is run by the Washington Water Trust through a contract with Clallam County.


Clallam Community Development Director Sheila Roark-Miller said her office is now providing indoor water rights for those who drill a well. If the request is accompanied by a building permit, the $1,000 cost is paid with funds from a $100,000 grant made by the Department of Ecology to Clallam County. The funding is anticipated to last through June 2013.


The rights remain with the land and can’t be sold to others.


Roark-Miller said indoor water rights also can be purchased by those who aren’t currently seeking a building permit, but that they will be expected to pay the $1,000 cost.

Reach Mark Couhig at

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