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

Metering pilot

In January 2018, the Washington Legislature enacted ESSB 6091 that established the Dungeness rule area as one of two metering pilot projects. The goals of the pilot are to:

  • Determine the overall feasibility of measuring water use for all new groundwater withdrawals.
  • Identify initial and ongoing costs, including costs to homeowners, local government, and Ecology.
  • Address technical, practical, and legal considerations.
  • Identify the costs and benefits of a water management program relying on meters versus one that estimates permit-exempt groundwater withdrawals.
  • Address measures to protect the privacy of individual property owners.
  • Ensure accurate data collection.

The legislation requires Ecology to purchase and provide meters to be used in the pilot projects. We have an agreement with Clallam Conservation District to purchase and provide meters for the pilot project. 

Rule background

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 Washington State Court of Appeals issued their decision on the appeal on April 2, 2019 affirming the Dungeness rule.