DNR requests comment on water management policies

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources is asking for the public to weigh in on how it manages water resources in the state.

The department is considering revising its water management practices, which include the regulations on water use rights in streams, lakes and wells, reservation of water and dam safety. Because it is a nonspecified rewrite, the public is free to comment on any aspect of the regulation, according to the announcement from the Department of Natural Resources.

“The department is soliciting feedback and comments from the public on how they would change or improve the existing regulatory framework related to water management or for suggestions and proposals which would improve the regulations related to water management before the formal process of drafting any proposed changes begins,” the announcement states.

Requests from several sources, such as drilling companies, to change particular rules started the process for a revision, said David Schade, the chief of the Water Resources Section of the Division of Mining, Land and Water. It is also propelled by Administrative Order 266, an order issued by former Gov. Sean Parnell in August 2013, directing all state agencies to “minimize the cost, time, and burden to the affected public of complying with state regulations” and encouraging them to work with the stakeholders.

“This (process) is for people to make their suggestions,” Schade said. “I’m really looking at places where we can be more effective, more efficient.”

There is no draft regulation to be reviewed or any particular plan the department has for the regulation — it could even stay the same, Schade said. However, there are some places the division would like its processes to be more efficient that would require regulatory changes, and those may be addressed during this process, he said.

Once all the public comments have been received, the staff will review them and then work on any regulatory changes that have been suggested, he said.

“Staff will be able to make recommendations for changes that would make it more efficient and effective,” Schade said. “We’ll look at the public recommendations, and then myself and senior administration people will go through them and decide what the priorities are and figure out how we want to proceed.”

Some of the comments may be targeted at permitting, such as the well drillers, Schade said. Others may address broader regulatory issues. Homer-based conservation organization Cook Inletkeeper plans to submit comments that suggest policies requiring the Department of Natural Resources to leave enough water for the safety of fish, said Bob Shavelson, the executive director of Cook Inletkeeper. Currently, when the department approves a permit for a company to divert or take water from a water body for commercial purposes, there is no minimum requirement for how much water must be left for fish, he said.

Cook Inletkeeper, which was involved with the adjudication process for the Chuitna Citizens’ Coalition’s application for water rights on the west Cook Inlet river to keep out a proposed coal mine, submitted comments saying that the process should be less onerous for Alaskans who want to protect their fishing resources.

“I think the burden needs to be shifted to everybody that wants to take water out of a salmon stream,” Shavelson said. “If someone wants to take water out of a stream, it should show that it’s not going to hurt salmon.”

Shavelson said Cook Inletkeeper also plans to urge the Department of Natural Resources to make more point data available for salmon streams. Contractors working on seismic exploration, such as those for the planned Hilcorp Alaska exploration on the lower Kenai Peninsula, have little mappable data available to them about salmon streams in the area, he said.

Public comment is open until 5 p.m. on March 18. Comments can be submitted to Schade by mail to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, 550 West 7th Ave., Suite 1020, Anchorage, AK, 99501. Comments can also be submitted by email to dnr.water.regulation@alaska.gov.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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