Dungeness Water Exchange Frequently Asked Questions

The Dungeness Water Management Rule (the Rule) was adopted by the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology), which is the state agency that manages water resources. The Rule is intended to guide water use planning and decision-making for new water users, and set policies to help protect the availability of water for current and future needs of people and the environment. Two of the biggest changes under the Rule are closing new appropriations of surface water uses (except for some peak flows that could be granted for interruptible water rights) and requiring all new groundwater users to mitigate for the impact of their water use. Even people who could simply drill a new permit exempt well to get water are required to mitigate for their water use.

The rule sets instream flow levels for the mainstem Dungeness River and its tributaries including Matriotti Creek and seven smaller streams: Bagley Creek, Siebert Creek, McDonald Creek, Meadowbrook Creek, Cassalery Creek, Gierin Creek and Bell Creek.

In addition to establishing the instream flow levels, the Rule set aside a small amount of water for in-house domestic use. This water is known as the reserve.

The Rule went into effect January 2, 2013.

The rule applies to areas of eastern Clallam County between Bagley Creek and Bell Creek. Click here for the map prepared by Washington Department of Ecology, February 13, 2013.

Each of the listed subbasins has a specified water reserve. A reserve is an amount of water designated for new (indoor) domestic water uses only. Each time a building permit is issued, a certain amount of water will be subtracted from the water reserve amount (150 gallons per day (gpd) for those on sewer systems and 15 gpd for septic users). The reserves are not available for outdoor uses, such as irrigation, and the rule requires that water used form the reserves be mitigated.

Using gauging records or information on the lowest measured summer flows, state biologists looked at the late summer/fall flows for each creek. They calculated 1 percent of the lowest flows and agreed that these small quantities could be withdrawn. Given the small amount of water available, the reserves have been designated for in-house use only.

• Hydrogeologic studies and a groundwater model specific to the Dungeness watershed show that aquifers are connected to rivers and streams. Over the past 40 to 50 years, the number of wells across the watershed have increased dramatically. Because of the connectivity between ground and surface water, these wells have had impacts on stream flow.

• The Dungeness River is fully appropriated. This means that existing senior water rights can legally divert so much water that in late summer, hypothetically, a new water right could be required to reduce or cease diversions. Although it’s true the basin is seasonally wet and rainy, during later summer and fall months precipitation is minimal, stream flow is typically at its lowest, and demand for water serving commercial and residential irrigation is at its peak. This leaves insufficient water in streams to support healthy aquatic systems and fish habitat.

• Summer and fall water diversions have decreased the habitat available to fish in the Dungeness River and its tributaries. Small independent streams that flow directly into the Strait of Juan de Fuca are also impacted by habitat loss and water diversions. Low stream flows are considered a critically limiting factor across four species of salmon threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. These include Chinook, steelhead, Eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca summer chum and bull trout. Ecology has a legal obligation to both provide for reliable supplies of drinking water and to protect fish, wildlife and other “instream resources” that depend on sufficient stream flow.

•Once a right to use water has been established, if use is continuous and beneficial (not wasteful), the water right remains in good standing. Water rights are generally permanent allocations of water, with priority dates and conditions of use. Without management of future withdrawals, the prospective demand for water in the Dungeness watershed could lead to substantially more impairment of late summer and fall flows.

• Because low summer and fall stream flows have limited fish populations and recovery, work is underway to remedy this issue. Restoring flows is one approach that has been used. Without management and mitigation of new water uses, opportunities to restore and protect flows would be lost. Mitigation will offset expected impacts to surface water; restoration will focus on increasing flows at the most important times and places.

• Providing mitigation for water use and saving water is not free. A new user of water will need to purchase “mitigation credits” that will be used to help pay for projects that leave more water in streams.

All water use established after January 2, 2013, needs to be mitigated:

  • Any new groundwater permit/water right.
  • Any new permit exempt well.
  • Some Group A (15 or more connections) users who cannot be served by a nearby Group A water system, even though they are located within the service area.
  • Some Group B water users (14 or fewer connections): a new user connecting to a group B system more than five years after residential water use started in the subdivision would need to mitigate for their use and install a meter.

New water users have two options for obtaining mitigation.

  • New water users may purchase mitigation credits from the Dungeness Water Exchange.
  • New water users may develop their own mitigation plan. This would entail acquiring water right(s) and transfering them to the State Trust Water Right Program to serve as mitigation. The mitigation plan must be approved by Ecology and implemented, before water is put to use. More information on individual mitigation plans can be found in the rule.

Permit exempt wells may use up to 5,000 gpd for indoor domestic use and to irrigate up to one-half acre of lawn or garden per well. The rule does not change these limits. However, the rule does require new permit exempt wells to mitigate for their consumptive use, which is the amount of water consumed by indoor water uses and taken up by lawn and garden plants, and not returned to groundwater. Nearly all permit exempt wells use less than the full 5,000 gpd. In fact, the average in-house use for households in the Sequim Dungeness area is estimated to be about 150 gpd. So while new wells can technically use up to the full exemption, they must mitigate for their use, and mitigating for a larger amount of water will cost proportionately more. For this reason, the Exchange offers options for a range of water quantities, with prices that vary accordingly. The cost savings generated by not choosing the highest volume mitigation package should save homeowners money and encourage water conservation.

Ecology will require new water users to install a meter to record their water use according to current specifications. As a part of the Meter Pilot Program (RCW 90.94.040 addressed in FAQ #16), Ecology will purchase and provide meters for the duration of the program until January 19, 2028.

Ecology has regulatory authority and responsibility to enforce the following:

  • Enforcing the requirement to mitigate prior to using a new permit exempt well.
  • Assuring compliance with other limitations for new permit exempt wells, such as irrigation restrictions and gallons per day consistent with the mitigation provided.

It is Ecology’s decision on how and when to take enforcement actions regarding mitigation. If water use consistently exceeds the quantity covered by mitigation credit Ecology may choose to take enforcement action. Many of Ecology’s enforcement actions are based on complaints from other water users. In most cases, Ecology is required to provide technical assistance to resolve water users’ compliance problems before responding with formal notices, orders or penalties.

A mitigation obligation is the impact of the amount of water a new applicant plans to use and therefore is required to mitigate for.

Mitigation obligations are based on the following:

  • The expected amount of withdrawal stated by the prospective user.
  • An accounting of the nonconsumptive portion of the new water use. Nonconsumptive water is water that is not consumed by irrigation, domestic use or evaporation and returns to the aquifer. An example of nonconsumptive water is water that seeps from a septic system and recharges the aquifer. The following approaches apply when determining the consumptive and nonconsumptive portions of new water use:
  • For residential indoor use on a septic system, consumptive use is assumed to be 10 percent.
  • For outdoor use, the consumptive use of irrigation water is assumed to be 90 percent, based on crop irrigation requirements in the Washington Irrigation Guide. For example, the crop irrigation requirement for pasture and turf grass in the Sequim area is 19.38 inches. The irrigation season runs from April 15 to September 15.
  • The impact of the groundwater extracted on stream flows in the Dungeness River and eight other small creeks (Bagley, Bell, Casselary, Gierin, McDonald, Meadowbrook, Matriotti and Siebert). Stream flow impacts are calculated based on results of the Ecology’s 2008 Dungeness groundwater model. Two important factors in this calculation of water use impacts are:
    • Geographic location (at the parcel level)
    • Depth of the well and the aquifer from which water is pumped (based on well log data and GW model)

A mitigation certificate must be recorded with the Clallam County Auditor’s office before a building permit is issued.

At this point in time, the Exchange is offering a variety of mitigation packages as described in the table below. Outdoor and stockwater packages are available only for building permit applicants in areas of the water rule are in which outdoor mitigation is offered (the “Green Zone”). A mitigation package reflects the amount of water that you agree to use in your household and on your property from your permit exempt well. The cost of the mitigation package reflects the cost of the Exchange to complete the mitigation activity including transaction costs.

Applicants for exempt wells who wish to pursue the full amount (5,000 gpd and up to one-half acre irrigated area) under the permit exemption (RCW 90.42) may pursue their own mitigation plan and work directly with Ecology under the Dungeness Rule.

Purchasing mitigation in amounts offered by the Exchange will provide less water than the full exemption (5,000 gpd). This means that the Exchange’s mitigation buyers agree to limit their water use to the amount purchased (a note to the property title will reflect this), to reduce their mitigation costs.

Recent Hirst legislation does not change DWE mitigation program-costs and quantities.  You may have heard of the Washington State Legislature’s recent passage of legislation-SB 6091 to address the Hirst Supreme Court Decision.  Watersheds are addressed differently in SB 6091, depending on whether they have implemented a watershed restoration plan, have an existing instream flow rule and weather that rule addresses permit-exempt wells.  The Elwha-Dungeness (WRIA 18) is a watershed which has a watershed plan, as well as an instream flow rule which addresses permit-exempt wells and a mitigation program for new water uses with the Dungeness Water Exchange. The Dungeness rule, DWE mitigation program, the mitigation water quantities and mitigation certificate costs remain unchanged as a result of SB 6091.  The one area in which Dungeness Rule Area is impacted by SB 6091, is that mitigation certificates issued after January 19, 2018 will be part of the Metering Pilot Program. All Mitigation Certificate holders with mitigated structures or outdoor use are to coordinate meter installation with Clallam Conservation District (360-775-3732 or info@clallamcd.org).

The Dungeness Water Exchange is a project developed in collaboration with local leaders and the Department of Ecology, which is charged with maintaining water quantity in all the state’s rivers and streams. Washington Water Trust was selected to manage the Exchange because of its experience and expertise in running similar programs all across the state. We are all excited and optimistic that the Exchange signals a new era of collaboration along the Dungeness that allows community members to help restore the river that has served them well for so many years.

Additional mitigation may be applied to a property at any time provided that the corresponding mitigation is available to the property at time of application.

Certificate fees go directly to paying for the ongoing maintenance and operations of the permanent mitigation underlying each new permitted water use.

In order to achieve self-sustaining pricing for providing permanent mitigation with a one-time fee, it is necessary to raise mitigation pricing. The new mitigation pricing and packages are comparable to other not-for-profit water banks, and lower than many private banks. The actual costs of operating DWE are not being met alone by mitigation certificate sales. Full operating costs are achieved by significant subsidies by the Washington Department of Ecology. The objective in beginning DWE, was that these sales would make the Exchange self-sustaining.

More than 80% of costs of DWE were covered by the Washington Department of Ecology including design, water purchase and operations.

The new prices are comparable to the other not-for-profit water banks such as Kittitas County ($4,075 for indoor). Although DWE does not operate as a utility and does not charge ongoing fees, its one-time fee is similar to the upfront hookup costs of Public Water Systems like the PUD ($8,120) or City of Sequim ($8,184).

The managers of DWE, conducted a financial review of previous costs, sought input from the DWE Advisory Council, and determined the mitigation pricing necessary to achieve sustainability and stability for issuing and managing permanent mitigation underlying certificates. Pricing will be reviewed every 5 years to ensure fees are reflective of real costs and financially sustainable, starting with a review for 2025.

No. Certificate fees are one-time costs and offer permanent mitigation. All complete mitigation applications received by June 30, 2021 will qualify for the current (3/31/2021) rates.