Eric Hirst contributes this brief overview of a complex water situation. These views are supported by the attached well researched report by Hirst.
During the winter, it’s hard to imagine that Whatcom County has water supply problems. Indeed, a recent OpEd in the Bellingham Herald from farmers said that we are “…blessed with abundant water …”
We do have abundant water, but unfortunately not at the right time of year. We have plenty of rain and snow in the winter, when human water use is low. But in the summer, water use is high (primarily for agricultural irrigation) and stream flows are low. Summer flows are already too low to meet minimum requirements set by the state for the Nooksack River system and this contributes to depressed salmon runs. This supply/demand imbalance will almost surely get worse with population growth and the effects of climate change, leading to less water for people, fish, the environment, and recreation.
If we are serious about restoring salmon runs and environmental protection in general, we need to understand the details of water use: who uses water, for what purposes, and when. The bottom line (see graph above) is that water use varies dramatically from month to month, and is about five times greater in the summer than in the winter. This seasonal difference is almost entirely due to irrigation.
Unfortunately, no government entity—whether the state Dept. of Ecology or Whatcom County—has taken charge of this data issue, i.e., the collection, organization, analysis and reporting of statistics on water use. It is remarkable and disappointing that the few studies on local water uses are one-off and not repeated at regular intervals. Either state or local government, or both, should allocate money and people for this work.
See the attached pdf report, for information supporting this short article, on Whatcom County water, who uses it, for what purposes, and when.