Our Water - War or Pieces?Permalink +
Fri, May 24, 2013, 12:18 am // Guest writer
Marian Beddill writes this guest article on the saga of water rights in our area. She has studied water resources and our Lake Whatcom water situation for many years.
Q: What is the most critical natural resource for all living beings?
A: Air (quality is a valid concern - as long as it is clean, we have enough quantity for everybody, everywhere, all the time.)
Q: What is the second most critical natural resource for all living beings?
A: Fresh Water (not salt-water) (both quality and quantity are concerns.)
Living beings (animals and plants) need water for survival, and (especially critical for animals) every person needs a minimal quantity over every period of a few days. With no water, first you're thirsty, and then you die. People living in a desert really know that. People living in better climates, would reply that they know, but they rarely pay any attention to it, since they just turn on the tap or the valve, and their water is there for their use.
At a less critical short-term level, but still very important: -- business (especially including agriculture) needs water - that fact will be obvious to everyone. What is all too often not noted (not considered) by the general population is where that water "comes from", and how does it get from where it is found, to where it is needed. Enough water, at the right place, and at the right time. Clean. And at the lowest possible price.
All of our water starts as precipitation - and that term includes rain, hail, sleet and snow. It falls to the earth, and some of it quickly evaporates. Of the part that remains liquid, some fell directly into a body of water - creek, river, lake or reservoir. Some falls onto the snowpack - the areas that never go "dry" are the glaciers. The part that falls onto land or snow that melts (or on structures) becomes runoff, and may move across the land surface in a wide variety of ways. The essential thing is that it then may move into one of those bodies of water, or go underground and join another kind of body of water - an underground aquifer. Those are the next-to-last steps in the water-supply systems, which we all take so much for granted.
And, the last step in a water-supply system is an industrial process which grabs some of that water (diverts it from it's natural free-flow), and sends it to users - homes, industries, agriculture, recreation, etc. But hold on - what about this "grab" process? How does that work, and who does it? And what's the deal on "sending it" to users? Who is allowed to grab water out of a river? Can they just put up a dam, and grab it all? (Or grab so much that the remaining flow is way less than "what the natural flow would furnish"?)
If the guy that is upstream/uphill takes too much water for "himself", the people who are below will suffer from not having enough. That principle has been recognized by civil society for centuries, and in the western part of what is now the USA, even before cities made urban laws, was known as "western water law" - the uphill user was required to leave enough for the customary needs of the downhill users.
And the pioneers knew how to settle an abuse of that community rule - with community force. Sometimes with pick and shovel, and in serious cases which continued too long, with another tool that was also "long".
Nowadays, we do better than that, by making agreements among everybody involved - so that each "user" is permitted to take ("to divert for his use") a "reasonable" amount of water from customary sources, to satisfy his realistic needs, while leaving enough for those below.
Ah, "below"! There are two meanings for "below" within this discussion. In natural conditions along a hillside or in a valley, we easily note and agree on what is "above" and what's "below" - uphill and downhill. But with the invention of pumps, a new characteristic of "elevation" came into play - grab downhill-water and push it uphill (or sideways, across) - to somewhere close by or farther away, so that somebody else has the water. That takes equipment and money, but those are ordinary things these days. So an entrepeneur might build a water-supply business, and make a profit by selling the "availability" to water.
That's nice for a while, handy and convenient for the customers (the "water-users"), and no big bother to everybody else. At least, no big bother so long as enough of the usual and accustomed flow of natural water remains in the resource place where this water-supplier is taking out his supply to send it to his "customers".
That way of managing water became the ordinary thing, for many early decades in our state.
Then, as population and needs grew, it was recognized that this reasonable practice ought to be made official, and Washington Water Law was passed. In (probably over-simplified) simple terms, it declared that all natural flow of water was public, and is controlled by The State. All users (with exceptions for some household wells) must ask the State for a Permit to take water, and they cannot legally take it without such a Permit. What was once a just and fair community agreement, became law. If you want to take more water than only for a couple of houses, you must obtain and hold a valid permit for the approved quantity, and not use more than that. It's the law. The State assigned the management of this permitting program to the Department of Ecology, which set up a registry of allowed water users - specifying amounts, locations where taken, and locations and purposes for which the water would be used (as well as the identity of the taker of the water.)
So thousands of water-users registered their water use needs, and the registry system grew. Then, after a while (allow me to grossly shorten the story here) the records system did not manage to keep up with the requests submitted by new users. Also, there were little realistic inspections, and almost no enforcement of the terms of the permits (for both quantity and location.) After a while, the permitting system had issued permits for perhaps double or more than the quantity of water that actually existed, so it was faced with a dilemma - either:
deny a permit (bad), or
allow a permit without being sure that there was enough water (bad).
The lovely, well-meaning community-minded system froze (permit us this pun), and access to water became a question of - if you build a capture-system, you are able to take that water, and do with it whatever you will. Run an industry, grow food, supply urban water to towns and cities, spray it on piles of coal, or sell it.
HUH? Sell the water? - rather than use it for yourself?
Yes, that's right. Over the years, individuals, industries, and businesses started taking water and supplying it to other people and businesses. Sometimes under the color of an association of users, jointly managing the mechanics (and the finances) of a cooperative. And sometimes just to neighbors. And sometimes putting it into bottles, and selling it to customers close or far away. That could be sold as simply water, or as some other product containing water. That middle-man profited by supplying this "raw material" (which belongs to someone else, the State) to third parties.
And that is where we stand today. Many State of Washington water-use permits are on the books (many lacking records of the uses of the water), and there are many water-users benefiting from the use of water, sometimes without a permit. Plus some permits whose paper quantities seem to be much larger than the actual use - so the volume-mismatches go both ways. The language in state law refers to "usufruct". And it says: "Use it or Lose it"
Aha! Maybe there is a solution! Where there is a large-quantity permit, but the user is only taking a portion of that, why not do the neighborly thing and revise that permit "down" to a smaller quantity. Then grant those unused quantities to users who; in real life, are taking more than their paper-permit shows that is allowed. Neither would really lose hardly anything in current real life, when the redistribution was made to match real and rational needs.
True, there might be some cases and places, where the expressed needs for water seem to be larger than the evident available volume. That will take some study, some energy put into deal-making, maybe a bit of heavier negotiation, and in worst cases, formal litigation in court or other ways.
But we must ask - which way is better for the community? Shall we have illegal activities making a profit over misuse of public resources with the government looking sideways, while legal activities are holding a freeze on public resources that they are not using? Or shall we shuffle the deal so that it comes out more fair and proper for all?
Our idea is to first have all the interested parties join in with realistic and open declarations and discussions of supply and demand. Work from that to achieve an agreement of the fairest and best use of our public water by the many acknowledged users, of the truly available resource. First, they will shuffle the cards, and agree on such a water-reallocation plan. Then they can all tell the State DoE to revise the permits-registry for the Nooksack River Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA-1) so that the paper world matches the real world, and all will benefit (except maybe a few scoundrels who were trying to scam the system.)
Drink up, and enjoy your shower.
Review by a water management fairness interest group.
Story written by Marian Beddill.
Whatcom County, Washington. May 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.
3 comments; last on May 25, 2013
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
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 28, 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
Tue, May 15, 2012, 6:32 pm // Wendy HarrisA City staff memo on the Bloedel dock closure reads more like an advocacy brief
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.
Mon, Nov 14, 2011, 11:07 am // Wendy HarrisProposed new storm water regulations will increase Lake Whatcom development. Hearing this Thursday.
1 comments; last on Nov 14, 2011
Sun, Nov 06, 2011, 10:48 pm // Wendy HarrisImportant events concerning the Lake occurred during the election with little comment from the public, the candidates or the media.
16 comments; last on Nov 10, 2011
Wed, Oct 19, 2011, 12:23 pm // Guest writerSue Taylor guest writes this perspective on WCV and their alliance with the Dan Pike for mayor campaign.
16 comments; last on Oct 23, 2011
Fri, Jul 22, 2011, 6:35 am // Wendy HarrisA pro-active, extremely cost effective solution for protecting Lake Whatcom exists!
3 comments; last on Jul 22, 2011
Mon, Jul 18, 2011, 9:03 pm // Riley SweeneyThe Political Junkie interviews Christina Maginnis
4 comments; last on Jul 22, 2011
Mon, Feb 02, 2009, 7:57 am // g.h.kirschWhile it went almost unheralded Friday, Kremen & Co temporarily backed away from their earlier position that driving a road into the forest on Squalicum Mountain, to…
4 comments; last on Feb 02, 2009
Mon, Dec 29, 2008, 12:13 pm // g.h.kirschAt the risk of displeasing friend and foe alike, may I ask what has been accomplished this past year to fix Lake Whatcom and protect Bellingham's water supply?…
12 comments; last on Jan 02, 2009
Tue, Sep 30, 2008, 4:19 pm // g.h.kirschFrom the outset of discussion of the proposal to reconvey forest lands to the county for a new park I have written that it is necessary to first…
1 comments; last on Oct 01, 2008
Wed, Sep 17, 2008, 9:41 pm // Tom PratumThis past winter, during torrential rains to the South of us, there were some very serious slides on Weyerhaeuser land in Lewis County adjacent to Stillman Creek (a…
5 comments; last on Sep 20, 2008
Mon, Jun 30, 2008, 2:33 am // g.h.kirschNo matter how one hopes things will change, things remain the same. Bellingham wants the county to curb development in the watershed, but can't seem to stop allowing…
2 comments; last on Jul 05, 2008
Fri, Jun 27, 2008, 11:16 pm // Myron WlaznakI received a Notice of Complete Application for the construction of an impervious trail through the center of a parcel of forested land acquired with funds collected for…
5 comments; last on Jul 01, 2008
Fri, Jun 20, 2008, 11:26 am // Guest writerby Wendy Harris |
Wendy is a resident of Silver Beach on the north side of Lake Whatcom. This is her second guest writer article - and follows…
Mon, Jun 16, 2008, 10:33 am // g.h.kirschWhile the Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District races to expand its infrastructure to serve sprawling development on the north shore of the lake, the King County Superior…
2 comments; last on Jun 18, 2008
Sun, Jun 15, 2008, 12:17 pm // Guest writerBy Wendy Harris
Wendy is a resident of Silver Beach on the north side of Lake Whatcom. She is an active citizen. Today she is our first guest writer.…
9 comments; last on Jul 31, 2008
Mon, May 26, 2008, 8:51 pm // g.h.kirschWhy all the hubbub about building moratoria in the Lake Whatcom watershed? You can't build or subdivide without adequate water, and the entire watershed is closed to new…
1 comments; last on Jun 01, 2008
Tue, May 20, 2008, 12:08 am // g.h.kirschAnother important step towards dealing with the pollution of Lake Whatcom was taken tonight. The mayor and city council have thrown down the gauntlet to Pete Kremen and…
14 comments; last on Jun 01, 2008
Fri, Apr 04, 2008, 10:42 am // Tom Pratum
In early February, I and several other folks met with Whatcom County Parks director Mike McFarlane to ask some questions about the proposed reconveyance of Forest Board…
3 comments; last on Sep 25, 2008
Sun, Sep 30, 2007, 9:03 pm // John ServaisThe Bellingham Herald editorial today is excellent. It raises the basic questions about the newly proposed Lake Whatcom land reconveyance deal to make a park on the very…
Tue, Sep 25, 2007, 9:25 pm // John ServaisTom Pratum has some good information on the proposed - and still mostly secret - Lake Whatcom land reconveyance plan. He posted it on the North Cascades Audubon…
Sat, Sep 22, 2007, 9:40 pm // John ServaisThe October surprise is a week early. Today's Herald has the carefully managed news of the land swap that John Watts alerted us to on Sep 11 -…
Wed, Sep 12, 2007, 10:12 pm // John ServaisRather than answer several emails individually, this post will clarify a couple things. First, why is yesterday's post by John Watts that I praised any different from his…
Tue, Sep 11, 2007, 10:19 pm // John ServaisAn astounding post by John Watts this afternoon on his HamsterTalk website. He has what amounts to a prediction of an October Surprise - implying strongly that it…
Thu, Jun 03, 2004, 6:15 pm // John ServaisToday the Washington Department of Ecology released a report that says, basically, that mercury in the lake is less now than in the past. "Decreasing" is the operative…
Mon, May 24, 2004, 6:22 pm // John ServaisThe initiative is 'remove motor boats', not 'remove boats' from Lake Whatcom. Our Chamber of Commerce just lies in print to achieve their goal of defeating the initiative.
Fri, Feb 13, 2004, 7:48 pm // John ServaisWe see 1/100 of one part per billion or less of benzene to water during most of the year 2000 and into the spring of 2001. Then in…
Thu, Feb 12, 2004, 7:52 pm // John ServaisMotor boats off Lake Whatcom? What was that apology from City Senior Planner Chris Spens at the city council on Monday? El-bull-in-china-shop Chris got the word from el…
Mon, Feb 09, 2004, 7:57 pm // John ServaisWe have mercury contamination all over our county. That we know. Lake Whatcom and Bellingham Bay. Georgia Pacific's chlorine plant leaked mercury for about 35 years and neither…
Sun, Nov 23, 2003, 3:51 pm // John Servaisof some local developers is plain to see in this photo essay at the Lake Whatcom website. The WA Dept of Ecology has enforcement folks tooling around in…
Mon, Oct 13, 2003, 6:38 pm // John Servaistelling me they are voting for Brett Bonner for mayor. Some very prominent ones - but they are not going public. Why not? Fear of retaliation.
Why are they…
Wed, Oct 08, 2003, 6:51 pm // John ServaisThe two differed strongly on several issues. The differences between them are becoming more apparent and this should continue for the next two weeks.
Brett continues to develop his…
Sun, Oct 05, 2003, 7:12 pm // John ServaisWe need one to follow Asmundson during the next three weeks - and to nudge the Herald to do minimal checking of facts before publishing. I'm referring to…
Tue, Sep 30, 2003, 5:55 pm // John ServaisThe first of three Bellingham Herald Election Forums is taking place this evening at the County Council chambers.
The forums are being broadcast live on KGMI radio, 790 AM.…
Wed, Jun 25, 2003, 5:07 pm // John ServaisPosted here because the Bellingham Herald has now ignored this for two days. Of very high importance to Bellingham - and with significant developments.
On Monday evening, the Bellingham…
Fri, Jun 13, 2003, 12:20 pm // John ServaisSt. Joe's Hospital will probably be facing fines for venting toxic gas into the construction area of their new addition. Our Bellingham Herald has not reported a bit…
Tue, May 13, 2003, 6:00 pm // John ServaisThe Bellingham City Council last night voted 5-2 to support the Clean Water Alliance legal action against Whatcom County's designation of Sudden Valley as an Urban Growth Area…
Mon, May 12, 2003, 3:15 pm // John ServaisThe Bellingham City Council will finally hold its very first public hearing of the Public Facilities District (PFD) proposals next Monday, May 19, 7 pm at city hall.…
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