Lecture on County Water Issues Draws CrowdPermalink +
Fri, Dec 06, 2013, 11:03 pm // Wendy Harris
Timing is everything, and no where is this more evident than in Whatcom County’s water supply and demand problems. We have a surplus of water in the winter months when demand is the lowest, while the supply of water dries up in the warmer summer months when the demand is highest.
This is a problem requiring comprehensive water planning, but according to local resident, attorney and WWU professor Jean Melious, that is exactly what we are lacking. Armed with an impressive mound of evidence, the result of countless hours of research, Jean (who represents several local clients, including myself) was able to convince the Washington State Growth Management Hearings Board that Whatcom County was failing to protect rural character because it did not have plans in place that protect water quality and water quantity.
The Hearings Board decision has generated attention locally, and around the state, because of its potential impacts on exempt wells. This accounted for a diverse standing-room only crowd attending the lecture given by Jean this Thursday afternoon at WWU. The lecture was attended by students, faculty, government staff, environmentalists, and Tea Party members. Jean’s lecture focused on uncontroversial basics of science and law.
She emphasized that state law was largely controlling over the matter of water rights, leaving little local autonomy over water allocation issues. Most water basins in Whatcom County are closed to new withdrawals, either full time, or seasonally, during the high demand and low supply summer months. Washington follows a “first in right, first in time” rule, entitling those with senior water rights to use water before those who hold junior water rights.
Washington water laws impact both surface water and ground water. Surface water may be in the form of water withdrawal, or in the form of “in stream flows,” which is the obligation to keep water in the stream at a sufficient quantity to protect fish and habitat. Many local streams rely upon groundwater to maintain water flow, particularly in the summer. This reflects the generally shallow groundwater reservoirs in Whatcom County. And where surface water and ground water are in hydraulic continuity, a likely situation where there are shallow reservoirs, groundwater withdrawal could be restricted to protect senior surface water rights.
Traditionally, this was not something that rural residents worried about because Washington State provides for ground well exemptions. However, the exemption is from obtaining a permit. It is not an exemption from water priority rights. And the Hearings Board noted that this was as true for exempt wells as for other types of ground water. This challenges assumptions by some that exempt wells provide a special type of protected water right.
This decision could have a big impact on Whatcom County, where 2/3 of our farmers lack the legal right to the water they use for irrigation and other crop needs. Although there is potential for an additional 34,000 lots in the rural county, before accounting for new growth that could be allocated as part of the 2016 Comprehensive Plan update, the county has failed to engage in water planning efforts for the last 13 years.
The county may no longer plan for rural growth as if water quality and quantity are of little concern. Instead, the county must allocate its water to meet current and future needs. The Hearings Board noted a number of ways that the county could achieve this goal. It could limit growth in areas with water limitation. It could direct growth from rural areas back to the urban areas. It could reduce density or the intensity of water use activities. It could limit impervious surface to maximize stream recharge, impose low impact development standards and/or water conservation efforts. And it could develop mitigation options.
These types of smart growth techniques would reduce the possibility of restrictions on exempt wells. Moreover, even if this were to occur, it would affect only new exempt wells, while existing exempt wells would not be impacted. This has not prevented some amount of hysteria from the Tea Party, which claims that rural property owners will be stripped of water, leaving property of little use and value.
Planning for our future requires moving beyond invalid fears, determining our water supply based on the principles of sound science, and drafting a plan that complies with the state’s legal requirements. Jean, her clients and concerned county residents will be monitoring this process closely to make sure the county gets it right.
Fri, Dec 06, 2013, 11:03 pm // Wendy HarrisThe county will be required to consider water quality and water quantity when planning rural growth.
3 comments; last on Dec 10, 2013
Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 10:59 am // Riley SweeneyThe county takes two big steps forward on the new jail, while still missing the point
Tue, Nov 05, 2013, 8:21 pm // John ServaisWith lots of outside county money flowing in to our local races, this election is weird. But real - and we county residents have spoken.
11 comments; last on Nov 09, 2013
Wed, Oct 02, 2013, 5:40 am // Riley SweeneyRiley uncovers how the Coal Industry is funding conservative candidates in Whatcom County
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Mon, Aug 19, 2013, 7:08 am // Riley SweeneyRiley whole-heartedly urges Doug Ericksen to run for Congress in 2014
2 comments; last on Aug 19, 2013
Tue, Aug 13, 2013, 11:31 pm // Wendy HarrisThe City of Bellingham memorandum of agreement with Lynden does not make sense. What is going on?
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Sun, Jul 14, 2013, 10:25 am // John ServaisThe explosion of hate and racist rhetoric is the saddest aspect of the verdict. The evidence was complicated and the verdict difficult to make.
2 comments; last on Jul 16, 2013
Fri, Jul 12, 2013, 8:29 am // John ServaisRiley Sweeney has a short but important expose over at the Political Junkie today.
1 comments; last on Jul 12, 2013
Fri, May 31, 2013, 4:43 pm // John ServaisLuba Pekisheva has been given a confusing run around in our Whatcom County courts for over three years. Judges, prosecutors and clerks have all participated.
Thu, May 30, 2013, 11:01 pm // Guest writerJeffrey Margolis urges us to request the Nooksack South Fork Valley be included in the Coal Port environmental study.
3 comments; last on Jun 02, 2013
Fri, May 24, 2013, 12:18 am // Guest writerMarian Beddill provides a general guide for the public, with a look at the history of water rights in Washington state.
4 comments; last on May 26, 2013
Wed, May 22, 2013, 10:12 am // Guest writerBy Guest Writer Nicole Brown. This is a call to action for county citizens as the county tries to ram through the slaughterhouse rezones.
7 comments; last on May 26, 2013
Fri, May 17, 2013, 4:44 pm // John ServaisTuesday morning and nothing in today's Bellingham Herald. Nor online. We provide the basics to fill in this latest omission by our "daily" newspaper.
9 comments; last on May 23, 2013
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Mon, Mar 11, 2013, 6:37 am // Guest writerGuest writer Shane Roth writes in favor of the reconveyance of Lake Whatcom land back to the county.
1 comments; last on Mar 11, 2013
Tue, Feb 26, 2013, 6:39 am // Riley SweeneyRiley details upcoming merger between PeaceHealth and a much more conservative entity
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2 comments; last on Feb 10, 2013
Mon, Jan 28, 2013, 1:52 am // Wendy HarrisImproving ecosystem functions holistically is the best form of protection for the Lake Whatcom.
1 comments; last on Jan 29, 2013
Tue, Jan 22, 2013, 6:19 pm // Wendy HarrisLinks to a few noteworthy GPT scoping comments .
1 comments; last on Jan 23, 2013
Fri, Jan 11, 2013, 1:35 pm // Wendy HarrisA proposed amendment to the Lake Whatcom watershed moratorium will increase water quality degradation
1 comments; last on Jan 12, 2013
Sun, Jan 06, 2013, 11:49 pm // Wendy HarrisWatch the Whatcom County Council wiggle its way out of the latest round of GMA compliance requirements for Lake Whatcom
1 comments; last on Jul 27, 2013
Fri, Jan 04, 2013, 11:37 pm // Wendy HarrisCouncil majority willing to spend, and spend, and spend public funds defending development rights
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4 comments; last on Dec 20, 2012
Sat, Dec 08, 2012, 1:43 pm // John ServaisA giant coal freighter went right through the long dock early Friday morning. Nothing in print edition of Herald
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Mon, Dec 03, 2012, 3:26 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein citizens must hold their representatives' feet to the fire
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Sat, Nov 03, 2012, 1:21 pm // Tip JohnsonAn letter to the County Council on opening the county to the slaughter industry
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1 comments; last on Dec 02, 2012
Fri, Sep 21, 2012, 8:53 am // John ServaisBellingham Business Journal breaking story - Lummi's to hold meeting today at noon to speak against the Cherry Point project.
7 comments; last on Nov 04, 2012
Wed, Sep 05, 2012, 11:00 am // Riley SweeneyRiley patiently explains to the Whatcom Excavator what a flowchart should look like
Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 6:24 pm // Guest writerDavid Maas, a retired college prof, asks why the city of Bellingham is supposedly powerless to stop the development of a private project that will reshape our community?
5 comments; last on Aug 26, 2012
Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 8:00 am // Riley SweeneyRiley sits down with Matt Petryni with Power Past Coal to get the latest scoop
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21 comments; last on Aug 17, 2012
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1 comments; last on Jul 20, 2012
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Wed, Jul 04, 2012, 10:42 am // Riley SweeneyRiley interviews judicial candidates, reviews campaign tactics, and discusses fireworks
Sun, Jun 17, 2012, 8:52 am // Paul deArmondPort Commissioner Scott Walker and attorney Frank Chmelik get caught ballot-rigging again
20 comments; last on Jun 21, 2012
Fri, May 18, 2012, 10:27 am // Riley SweeneyA short plea for public involvement from Riley
Sat, Apr 28, 2012, 9:09 am // John ServaisA county wide initiative will allow voters to decide whether to expand the Port of Bellingham commission from 3 to 5 commissioners.
1 comments; last on Apr 28, 2012
Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 11:07 am // Riley SweeneyRiley attended the Whatcom GOP Convention and reports back
1 comments; last on Apr 29, 2012
Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 12:02 am // Guest writerDevelopers are gaming the system with help from the county government - and big changes are made in multiple small changes.
1 comments; last on Apr 27, 2012
Tue, Apr 10, 2012, 7:52 pm // John ServaisAn illegal serial Port Commission meeting should be investigated by the State Auditor, and two commissioners should be made accountable for their actions.
5 comments; last on Apr 11, 2012
Fri, Apr 06, 2012, 7:16 am // Guest writerKen Mann writes a guest article of his personal support for the Padden Trails development inside the Bellingham city limits.
3 comments; last on Apr 07, 2012
Wed, Apr 04, 2012, 2:16 pm // John ServaisState law allows us to pass an initiative and increase the number of port commissioners from three to five. Thanks to Harriet Spanel.
4 comments; last on Apr 05, 2012
Mon, Apr 02, 2012, 11:43 am // Larry HorowitzWhere to begin? Misinformation. Disinformation. Truths. Myths. Same old, same old. Paradigm shift. GMA. OFM. Growth pressures. Population loss. Growth subsidies. Proportionate share.
36 comments; last on Apr 11, 2012
Fri, Mar 09, 2012, 11:15 am // Riley SweeneyRiley gets to the bottom of this in a NWCitizen Exclusive
4 comments; last on Apr 01, 2012
Sat, Feb 18, 2012, 3:03 pm // Guest writerNo EIS - no real county planning concern about developing Squalicum Mountain and degrading Lake Whatcom water even further.
Tue, Jan 31, 2012, 8:36 am // Paul deArmondPort Commissioner Scott Walker and attorney Frank Chmelik get caught ballot-rigging again
Mon, Jan 30, 2012, 11:58 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley updates us on the latest facts coming to light about City of Bellingham employee moonlighting
2 comments; last on Feb 01, 2012
Wed, Jan 25, 2012, 10:42 am // Riley SweeneyRiley visits the local WorkSource center and interviews the regional director
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1 comments; last on Jan 20, 2012
Wed, Jan 11, 2012, 9:04 am // Riley SweeneyLatest from the Political Junkie on a variety of subjects
7 comments; last on Jan 16, 2012
Sun, Jan 08, 2012, 2:21 am // John ServaisIssue is County Council member Kathy Kershner and how our social service programs are funded.
3 comments; last on Jan 08, 2012
Thu, Dec 15, 2011, 1:44 pm // Riley SweeneyLocal blogger Shane Roth files ethical complaint over Crawford's sweetheart deals
3 comments; last on Dec 16, 2011
Wed, Dec 14, 2011, 8:05 am // Wendy HarrisClaiming it is unfair to treat large property owners different than small property owners, the Commission refuses to remove industrial areas from buffer mitigation proposal.
Wed, Dec 07, 2011, 8:00 am // Wendy HarrisTell the Planning Commission to eliminate this loophole
2 comments; last on Dec 15, 2011
Sun, Dec 04, 2011, 5:53 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the sooty prospect of economic necessity rears its ugly head
2 comments; last on Dec 05, 2011
Fri, Nov 18, 2011, 1:28 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley examines Maginnis/Crawford and Kremen/Larson
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