In Praise of Countrymen - Pas de Pays sans Paysans
A brief essay, an homage, to people of the country. Country People.
Eric Hirst guest writes. We appreciate his expert perspective on this important local issue.
Elisabeth Britt, in a NW Citizen article on Nov 25, argues that Whatcom County made a mistake in its response to an October decision from the Washington Supreme Court. The county adopted an emergency moratorium on accepting new applications for rural wells. Britt urges the county to end that moratorium.
The Court ordered Whatcom County to comply with state law in the Growth Management Act (GMA), which requires counties to coordinate land-use planning with water-resource planning. Specifically, the court and GMA require counties to ensure that water is both legally and physically available before allowing people to build homes that would use water from permit-exempt wells. These requirements are eminently sensible, indeed obvious.
In response to the court decision, the county temporarily stopped accepting new applications for rural wells. It has introduced an interim ordinance, which would be effective for six months. The reasons for addressing the court decision immediately are clear:
Under Washington’s Constitution, the county does not have the authority to ignore state law and give away senior water rights, including in-stream flows protected under the Dept. of Ecology’s 1985 In-stream Flow Rule. Such action would violate state law and degrade scenic and recreational resources in the Nooksack River and its tributaries.
What might happen if the county accepted Ms Britt’s advice and failed to adopt the interim ordinance? The nascent effort to find reasonable solutions would stop, the lawsuits would resume, and those who are granted building permits would live in constant fear that the courts would rescind those permits as outside the law. Looking back, the county’s taxpayers have already spent several hundred thousand dollars during the past few years litigating this issue. We should focus limited taxpayer money on solutions, not litigation.
We need to apply reason and creativity to the search for solutions that work for rural property owners, respect senior water rights, protect fish and other environmental values, and meet state law.
Full explanation of chart.
This chart illustrates the key water-supply problem Whatcom County faces: not enough water to support salmon in the summer. The blue bars show the percentage of days, averaged over 30 years, that the Dept. of Ecology’s Nooksack River in-stream flow rule has NOT been met. Compliance is worst from July through October, when over 50% of the days have flows below those set in the rule. The yellow bars show the percentage of deficit, or the actual flow relative to the rule, for those days when the rule is not met. October is the worst, with an average deficit of 40% (i.e., the actual flows are 40% below the levels specified in the rule).