Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ecology adopts Quilcene-Snow water management rule

by Lynne Geller, Communication and Outreach, Water Resources Program

Much of the Quilcene-Snow watershed, on the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, is in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. The watershed’s location affects when, where, and how much rain and snow falls. Annual precipitation varies dramatically, from 19-100 inches. Port Townsend receives just 19 inches – which is only a few more inches than Los Angeles!

The Quilcene-Snow watershed (also known as WRIA 17) started the new year with a brand new water management rule. The rule has been years in the making, and is an important step in careful water management for that area.

Why is a water management rule needed?
There are a number of reasons. Seventy percent of the annual precipitation falls from November to April. And it is the dry summer and early fall months when water is most in demand, both by people for watering lawns and crops and also when federally-protected salmon need enough water to spawn.

The watershed has one of the highest rates of population growth in the state. This is primarily because of new people coming in, particularly retirees, drawn by the number of sunny days, mild climate and natural beauty. The population of WRIA 17 has been projected to increase 55 percent between 1996 and 2016, from about 24,000 to 38,000.

Little Quilcene River at low flow
Ecology’s Executive Director, Ted Sturdevant, commented that competing needs for water can create a “train wreck” if not properly managed. Ecology, with local stakeholders, is working to ensure that a train wreck is avoided, and there is enough water now and into the future for both people and the environment. The rule is one of our important management tools.

What the rule does
The rule was written to protect existing water rights and well users, support local agriculture, protect fish and other environmental resources, allow for rainwater collection, and manage new uses of water.

For management purposes, the rule breaks the watershed into 22 subbasins. Groups of subbasins with similar water conditions are managed together. The three major groupings are reserve areas, the Chimacum subbasin and coastal management areas.

In specific water-short areas, for example, a new conservation standard applies to new well uses exempt from the permitting process. Water uses throughout the watershed will be metered. New water rights may be available in certain subbasins.

Refer to the rule overview for more detail.

Big Quilcene River

Planning efforts date back to 1991
The rule came out of local water planning efforts. Ecology can date its watershed planning work with local stakeholders in the Quilcene-Snow back some 20 years, to a 1991 pilot project testing the use of local watershed planning.

Planning continued under the Watershed Planning Act of 1998. The local planning unit completed a watershed plan which was approved by Jefferson County Commissioners in early 2005. Ecology's efforts at that time to move forward with a rule were suspended when Ecology officials learned the public believed the agency's involvement effort was inadequate.

Ecology restarted the rule effort in 2006. Since then, with help from contractors, the agency has hosted five public workshops, produced two videos that were aired on local TV, published nine editorial articles and held numerous meetings with the planning unit, local governments, Tribes and community groups.

Dozens of people worked tirelessly through the ups and downs of this process to get to the moment when a rule was finally adopted, with local acceptance. This included local stakeholders, Ecology staff as well as staff from the state Attorney General’s office and state Department of Fish & Wildlife. The time and effort that went into this rule illustrates the kind of commitment Ecology makes to ensure that water is managed for the needs of both people and the environment, now and into the future.

Rules managing water already exist in many watersheds around the state, and others are underway. Read about watershed planning across the state.

For more information on the Quilcene-Snow rule, contact:
Ann Wessel
Phone: (360) 407-6785

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