Sequim irrigation districts are privately owned associations of property owners who share the cost and maintenance of a local irrigation network for their neighborhood. There are seven in the Sequim area, including the Cline Irrigation District, the Dungeness Irrigation Group, Clallam Ditch Company, Dungeness Irrigation District, Sequim Prairie Tri-Irrigation Association, Agnew Irrigation District, and Highland Irrigation District. Here is a map you can use to identify which district your property would be in. Of course, just because your property is within a Sequim irrigation district does not mean you have water rights. A small percentage of property owners have water rights, and they don’t add properties. It exists or it does not.
Sequim Irrigation Map
You can see on this map the boundaries of the Sequim irrigation districts as well as the location of the open ditches and the buried pipe. The question comes up often, “How do I confirm that I have the right to use the irrigation water in my district?” The answer is found by calling the district secretary and asking her to look up the records on your property. The secretary will have a file showing that your property does or does not have the right to use the Sequim irrigation water.
If the property you want to buy is already connected to a Sequim irrigation district and has been using the water, that’s a pretty big clue that your property has the rights, and if the prior owner is current on the dues to the district (now paid through the Clallam County Tax Assessor’s office and shown on the public website), you know you have the water rights.
Some buyers also ask for written proof in the form of an irrigation easement, but such written easements were not created over a century ago when the irrigation ditches were engineered throughout the valley. Title reports on a property do not include mention of irrigation water rights, because there are not written documents recorded in the Auditor’s office to attach to the title report. Title insurance does not address nor insure water rights.
This does not mean you don’t have a legal easement. Sequim irrigation ditches that have been in place for a century are legal rights owned by the district, and property owners who have been legally using the water have a legal right to continue as long as they keep their dues current. Water rights can be given up if they are not used and not paid for after a certain number of years.
So here are the steps. First, talk to the Sequim irrigation district secretary to find out if this property has current water rights. Second check the Clallam County Assessor’s Site to see if the dues are current. You’ll see if the district dues are paid, like this:
And third, you can talk to the prior property owner and the neighbors to learn how they have been using the water and what rights their properties have. If you are looking for the contact information for a Sequim irrigation district, you’re not likely to find it easily. Districts do not typically keep a nice website or any Internet presence. Some do, most do not. There’s no website at the county or state level that keeps all this contact information, primarily because the secretary and her phone number changes periodically. The best thing to do is get it from the owner of the property you want to buy, or do a Google search and see if you can get lucky and find a phone number. Districts are informal organizations manned by retired volunteers who answer the phone if they are home.
Water rights are one of the most complicated areas of the law. There are multi-volume treatises written just on water rights, and a massive body of Federal, State, and local laws, not to mention all the administrative regulations, court decisions and admin rulings on water issues. If you would like to learn more about water rights, here you can read the Washington State law on Irrigation Systems, and also I’m including an excellent pamphlet put together in the State of Washington that should be helpful. Just click on this image and you can download the pdf.
Now you know a little more about Sequim irrigation districts.
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