Streamflows in the Nooksack River and its tributaries are very low almost every summer. These low flows hurt salmon, trout, and other fish because they contribute to high water temperatures, low levels of dissolved oxygen, and less habitat.
These low flows are caused largely by human out-of-stream water use, especially for agricultural irrigation. And about 40% of that water use lacks authorization from the state; farmers, largely through no fault of their own, do not have the legal right to use this water.
This is a huge problem that has persisted for three decades. Fortunately, a reasonable solution is available. The solution would call on the six watershed improvement districts (WIDs) to identify, quantify and then solve the problem. (The WIDs account for more than 90% of the irrigated acreage and water use in Whatcom County.) A solution is feasible because the farmers in each of the WIDS, in aggregate, have more than enough water rights to cover both the permitted and unpermitted water use (see Figure). See the attached article for detailed information on the problem and ideas on potential solutions.
As always, I welcome comments on my analysis and suggestions.