Dungeness water management

The Dungeness water management rule was adopted in late 2012 to protect flows in a critical basin for endangered fish. Elements of the Dungeness water management rule include:

  • Setting instream flow levels for the Dungeness River mainstream, tributaries, and independent drainages
  • Requiring mitigation for any new groundwater withdrawals, including permit-exempt wells, and providing for a water exchange to facilitate mitigation
  • Closing streams year-round or seasonally
  • Establishing reserves for in-house domestic uses


The Dungeness watershed currently has four fish species listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Dungeness Chinook are one of the five key populations of Chinook identified as in need of restoration in Puget Sound. Low river flows, particularly in summer and early fall, impact these fish.

Historically, much of the river’s flow has been diverted for irrigation. Recently, irrigators have agreed to limit withdrawals to no more than one-half of the river’s summer flow and always protect a minimum flow of 60 cubic feet per second (cfs). The irrigators' senior water rights are not affected by the rule. Development using private (“permit-exempt”) wells also impacts streamflows and adds to the pressure on fish populations. The Dungeness rule protects instream flows that are needed to support salmon populations and other instream values, while allowing new residential development through mitigated use of water from permit-exempt wells.

The rule was the product of a lengthy process involving Clallam County, the city of Sequim, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, stakeholders, and the public. The rule is based on the Elwha-Dungeness Watershed Plan, adopted under Chapter 90.82 RCW – watershed planning act.

Find out more through the "Dungeness Voices" video series:

Rule implementation

The Dungeness water management rule requires mitigation for new groundwater withdrawals. Since the rule took effect in January 2013, people building new homes have purchased mitigation certificates from the Dungeness Water Exchange. Although water for outdoor irrigation is not available in all areas of the basin, the Dungeness Water Exchange continues to work with others in developing new mitigation projects to expand mitigation availability.

Rule appeal

On Dec. 31, 2014, Magdalena Bassett, Denman Bassett, Judy Stirton, and the Olympic Resource Protection Council filed an appeal of the Dungeness water management rule — Chapter 173-518 WAC — adopted in November 2012.

The appeal was heard in Thurston County Superior Court on Oct. 21, 2016. The court denied the petitioners’ challenge to the rule.

On Jan. 4, 2017, the petitioners filed an appeal of the Superior Court decision with a request for direct review by the state Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court denied the request for direct review. The appeal is now pending in Washington State Court of Appeals.
Prior to filing a judicial appeal of the rule, the Olympic Resource Protection Council filed a petition to amend the Dungeness water management rule under the Administrative Procedures Act, RCW 34.05.330. After thoroughly evaluating and considering the issues raised, we chose to not amend the rule.

  •  If you have questions about this appeal and petition, please contact Annie Sawabini at 360-407-6878 or annie.sawabini@ecy.wa.gov.