Kudos to Rome Grange and the local Citizens' Alliance for Property Rights (yes, I am saying kudos) for the excellent Water Forum today at the public library. The panel included representatives of the Whatcom County Council, COB, PUD, ECOL, and ag.
It was a longish format, but that allowed each panelist to speak for at least 10 minutes, with an hour remaining for questions. Panelists were asked to respond to specific questions, including 1) identifying key issues, and 2) weighing in on the county council's water action plan. This is just the briefest takeaway of the conference.
Panelists generally agreed with Carl Weimer's prioritization of the issues:
- lack of sustainable salmon fisheries
- bacterial pollution of surface waters, particularly in Portage Bay
- stormwater runoff
- phosphorus levels in Lake Whatcom (must be reduced 87%)
- groundwater pollution, particularly nitrates in the Sumas/Abbotsford/Blaine aquifer
- sorting out water rights and clarifying the issue of whether exempt wells are an “additional water withdrawal” and
- flood drainage
No one thought the council's water action plan was a bad idea. Carl, its author, thought it was particularly brilliant. With 300 or so pendiing approaches to addressing our issues, prioritization is key so we can resolve to do the most important things, and then fund the doing, according to Carl.
Putting the pieces together, a gross generalization of the main takeaway would be:
- we have plenty of water, yet we have major contstraints in the northern part of the county due to the level of nitrate pollution in the aquifer;
- ag has caused 92% of the pollution in the aquifer, with Canada contributing to the problem in a “band” along the border, but south of that, it is “on us;”
- the most appropriate solution would be to a) stop polluting the aquifer and get the Canadians to do the same, and b) develop treatment systems adequate to address the pollution;
- the cheapest, most expedient way to address ag's immediate need for water is for them to gain rights to somebody else's water, with the middle fork of the Nooksack being the most obvious place because Bellingham, in particular, has a large quantity of rights not currently being used (and not subject to “use it or lose it”);
- the feds are in the process of quantifying tribal rights to minimum instream flow and once they do, all those with rights junior to the tribes' (which is everyone including the municipalities) will have to negotiate reallocation;
- no existing residence in the state has ever lost the ability to continue to draw water for its existing residential needs; and
- ag wants their water needs addressed now and not in 20 years.
Today's forum benefitted from what seemed to be quite a bit of candor on the part of governmental entities, including PUD's acknowledgement that they are not a leading example of transparency. Future forums will be a bit more “partisan” and therefore will require a bit more sifting to find the accurate information, but if taken with a grain of salt, will certainly inform as to positions of interest groups and their perspectives and messaging. The following are tentative forums and participants scheduled:
- May 17: Diverse Perspectives on Water and Land Use, with reps of dairy ag, land developers, Business Alliance, Rural Water Systems, fishing, PDS, and Futurewise
- June 7: Water Resource Planning: Past, Present, and Future, with Small Cities Caucus, Water Districts Coalition, County Public Works, Private Well Owners, Citizen's Alliance for Prop. Rights, and Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Ass'n & RE Sources
- June 21 or 28: Wrap Up, with Mayor Linville, Water Districts, Non-gov't water systems, tribes, business, environmental community, and ECOL, with Exec. Louws closing the series.