State water proposal growing fears
By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News
PORT TOWNSEND -- A National Marine Fisheries official has recommended to the state that no additional water allocations from the Big Quilcene River or Chimacum Creek be permitted.
If the recommendation -- one of many comments sent to the state Department of Ecology on its proposed Jefferson County in-stream rule -- were adopted, it would mean that while present allocations would be preserved, no more water allocations would be allowed for new homeowners or farmers from those two waterways.
That prospect has stirred fears for the future of agriculture in the Chimacum Valley.
'We can't produce'
"If we regulate to that point, we can't produce our own food because of the water situation," said Roger Short, a longtime Chimacum Valley farmer.
"I don't know what's going to end up for the final rule," said Matt Longenbaugh, Central Puget Sound branch chief with National Marine Fisheries Habitat Conservation Division Washington State Habitat Office, on Thursday.
Ecology is accepting public comments on its in-stream flow rule proposal through Feb. 13.
Ecology's rule proposal targets the Chimacum sub-basin's low summer-fall creek flows, limiting new individual permit-exempt well uses, such as for individual homes, to 500 gallons per day per new household and setting a water reserve supply for 109 homes in the Chimacum Creek sub-basin.
The Quilcene-Snow watershed, known as Watershed Source Inventory Area 17, is facing increasing water demand for new residents and local agriculture, Ecology officials have said.
Streams in the watershed have chronic low flows in the late summer and early fall, and increases in water use can affect already threatened salmon and other fish and wildlife, according to the state agency.
After years of working closely with local and state governments and the local community, Ecology proposed a rule that will help manage water to meet the current and future needs of people, farms and fish, officials said.
Longenbaugh said that the National Marine Fisheries' focus is on protecting fish.
In a Jan. 23 e-mail to Ann Wessel, Ecology's in-stream flow rules coordinator, Longenbaugh recommended that proposals for additional, capped allocations of water from the Big Quilcene River and Chimacum Creek "be revised to O."
"Any withdrawals that contribute to summer base flows are contrary to conservation of summer chum," Longenbaugh said in the e-mail.
"Ecology has asked for a reserve amount dedicated to endangered species. What we're concerned about are those fish with [Endangered Species Act] listings, especially summer chum. We focus on the federally protected fish."
Longenbaugh also recommended that additional water proposed for withdrawal, or reserves, be reduced to zero for Chimacum, the Little Quilcene River and Salmon and Snow creeks.
Ecology officials have revised an in-stream flow rule presented in 2005, when several Jefferson County residents objected to the original proposal, saying they were not given notice or adequate time to comment.
Late last year, Ecology returned to Port Townsend, revision in hand.
In the revised plan, 109 homes in the Chimacum Creek sub-basin would be allocated a total of 1,940 gallons per day, with no outdoor use.
Short said that, while he has adequate water rights on his property, he is concerned about others who might need water for agriculture in the future.
"At the moment, I feel that personally I am OK, but I am going to fight like hell for my neighbors," he said.
He said there was plenty of water in the Quilcene River, with 2 million gallons a day flowing to Quilcene Bay.
Jefferson County Public Utility District Commissioners Dana Roberts and Wayne King said they were surprised by Longenbaugh's recommendation.
"I think it really almost has to hurt" agriculture, Roberts said, adding that he believed the state will probably review the in-stream flow rule in light of Longenbaugh's comments.
King said National Marine Fisheries has never been this detailed in its recommendations to Ecology in the past.
"Zero is zero. What are we going to do?" King said, adding that PUD is studying possible alternative water sources such as Peterson Lake, which the utility bought two years ago, and reverse osmosis of seawater.
He said the PUD commissioners would be willing to discuss the future of water supplies with Jefferson County and city of Port Townsend leaders.
Bill Graham, PUD water resource manager, said he hopes that the recommendation is not adopted, because it would make "us the last game in town and in the Chimacum basin for new connections.
"Our concern is, there will be a run on water" before the rule is put into effect.
The proposed Ecology's in-stream flow rule for 13 Jefferson County streams sets a conservation standard for new permit-exempt well uses in all WRIA 17 reserves -- except Chimacum.
Some elements of the proposal are:
· New individual permit-exempt well uses, typically single-family homes, would be allotted a maximum of 500 gallons per day and an average of 350 gallons per day.
· Water use on all new withdrawals would be metered, but the measurement would not be used to charge a fee for water use.
· Rooftop rainwater collection would be allowed.
· Those living within a public water system would be ineligible to draw from reserve supplies.
· Seasonal withdrawals, authorized by new water rights, would be possible on the Big Quilcene River and Chimacum Creek during high flow months only.
Approximate number of new households the reserve could supply under the present proposed rule: Big Quilcene River, 756; Chimacum Creek, 109; Donavan Creek, 8; Little Quilcene River, Leland and Howe creeks, 146; Ludlow Creek, 73; Piddling Creek, 7; Salmon Creek, 34; Snow Creek, 34; Spencer Creek, 8; Tarboo Creek, 26; Thorndyke Creek, 119.
Miller Peninsula in Jefferson County, Quimper Peninsula and Oak Bay would be allowed 5,000 gallons per day for commercial agriculture uses in certain withdrawal locations, and the number of households would not be limited by a reserve quantity.
Mats Mats Bay, Squamish Harbor, Toandos Peninsula, Bolton Peninsula, Devils Lake, Marple, Marrowstone and other islands would not be limited by a reserve, and the number of new households would not be limited by a reserve quantity.
Comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Wessel, Instream Flow Rules Coordinator, Department of Ecology, Water Resources Program, P.O. Box 47600 Olympia, WA 98504-7600.