About Eric Hirst

Eric Hirst has a Ph.D. in engineering from Stanford University, spent 30 years as an energy policy analyst at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and retired to Bellingham 18 years ago. He is a local environmental activist.

By: Eric Hirst (19)

Nooksack Adjudication vs. State Water Law?

Eric Hirst gives us a brief and clear explanation of the water adjudication process that is beginning now in Whatcom County

Eric Hirst gives us a brief and clear explanation of the water adjudication process that is beginning now in Whatcom County

By

Jim Davenport recently wrote an excellent piece on the just-started adjudication of water rights in the Nooksack River Basin. He emphasizes the importance of seeking “constructive, broad public and water-user strategies that reflect the needs of all surface and ground water users, including those that use the natural flow and contents of rivers, lakes and streams, bays and seas as well as those who use water for economic purposes.”

Unfortunately, these laudable goals conflict with what most people perceive is Washington water law. Our system of water laws, which dates back to 1917, grants people the right to use, but not own, water.

These rights, overseen by the state Dept. of Ecology, are:

  • free,
  • last forever,
  • fixed in quantity (although water supplies are quite variable),
  • ignore Tribal treaty rights, and
  • based on prior appropriation.

This last factor means that those who are first in time are first in right. Because the rights held by Lummi Nation and Nooksack Indian Tribe derive from the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, their rights predate those of all other users. Also, the public and state legislature have, over time, recognized the importance of water to protect fish, other wildlife, recreation and other instream values.

How can a superior court judge assign water rights to users that meet the broad goals articulated by Mr. Davenport and, simultaneously, abide by the “first in time, first in right” rule? The simple answer is that the judge cannot do both. 

It is long past time to abandon this 19th Century system of vintage rights. Are there any other products or services where those who come first are advantaged? Think about your monthly bills for electricity, natural gas, garbage pickup, internet, phone service, cable TV, and streaming. Not one of these systems is based on prior appropriation.

We need a new system to manage water use. This is especially true because water is an increasingly scarce resource, primarily because of climate change. The new system should comply with other state laws that require allocation of water, for both human use and environmental quality, on the basis of maximum societal benefit. 

About Eric Hirst

Citizen Journalist • Member since Jul 23, 2015

Eric Hirst has a Ph.D. in engineering from Stanford University, spent 30 years as an energy policy analyst at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and retired to Bellingham 18 years ago. He [...]

David A. Swanson

Jun 14, 2024

For one of many examples of water rights litigation involving tribes, see “RE THE GENERAL ADJUDICATION OF ALL RIGHTS TO USE WATER IN THE LITTLE COLORADO RIVER SYSTEM AND SOURCE,” and the recommended decree:

https://www.superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/SuperiorCourt/GeneralStreamAdjudication/docs/Final-Report-6417-203-05-25-2022.pdf

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Carol Follett

Jun 16, 2024

Our first responsibility should be to honour the treaty rights agreed to by the Government to the remaing first people of this land. We should also take this statement, “...water is an increasingly scarce resource…” seriously enough to create limitations. We need to link our understanding of this essential, limited resource and the order that we build, build, build (E2SHB 1110) which will increase the demand this scarcity. 

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Nooksack Adjudication vs. State Water Law?

By Eric HirstOn Jun 14, 2024

Eric Hirst gives us a brief and clear explanation of the water adjudication process that is beginning now in Whatcom County

2 comments, most recent 1 week ago

You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure

By Eric HirstOn Feb 02, 2022

Irrigation water usage in Whatcom County is estimated, and Eric puts forward reasons why we need meters to accurately measure usage.

Would Adjudication Resolve Nooksack River Water Issues?

By Eric HirstOn May 19, 2020

Having certainty about one’s water rights would allow users to negotiate with greater confidence than they now have.

Water Resource Planning: Prepare - Or Take Our Chances?

By Eric HirstOn Feb 06, 2020

Water industry planning differs greatly from electric industry planning and here is the reason.

1 comment, most recent 4 years ago

An Engineer Looks at Washington State Water Law

By Eric HirstOn May 25, 2018

Since 1917, Washington’s water laws have become increasingly complicated and counterproductive. Eric explains the major problems and suggests an alternative for a sustainable future.

5 comments, most recent 5 years ago

Water, Water Everywhere, But ...

By Eric HirstOn Jan 29, 2018

A good explanation of the amount of water in the Nooksack River on a seasonal basis - and the demands that people and salmon make on that flow. Eric is the expert.

6 comments, most recent 6 years ago

Once Again, Short-Term Interests Beat Long-Term Solutions

By Eric HirstOn Jan 22, 2018

Eric’s perspective on the state wide new rural water fix legislation, ESSB 6091. Governor Inslee signed it last Friday, and it went into effect immediately.

Whatcom Water Resources: A Major Problem and a Reasonable Solution

By Eric HirstOn Dec 18, 2017

Irrigation, the use of huge field sprinklers, is the big user of unpermitted water in our county. Not family households. Eric presents a solution.

10 comments, most recent 6 years ago

Most Cost-Effective Way to Save Water for Homes

By Eric HirstOn Jul 31, 2017

A study on how home water usage management can target those using the most water. This may be a step towards a solution of our perceived county water supply and usage challenges.

7 comments, most recent 6 years ago

Water for Whatcom Irrigation

By Eric HirstOn May 02, 2017

Rural Whatcom County farmers use a lot of water for irrigating their fields. How much is used? Eric Hirst tells us what is known and not known.

10 comments, most recent 7 years ago

Myths About Rural Residential Wells

By Eric HirstOn Mar 27, 2017

The state supreme court ‘Hirst Decision’ has a lot of false information swirling in our county. Eric Hirst takes on seven myths and tries to clarify the issues.

5 comments, most recent 7 years ago

Future Prospects for Whatcom County Water Supply

By Eric HirstOn Feb 11, 2017

Whatcom County has plenty of water in winter, when people need it least. But in summer, when demand for water is at its peak, it is often in short supply.

2 comments, most recent 7 years ago

Whatcom County Water Use: When and Why

By Eric HirstOn Jan 07, 2017

Eric Hirst writes an overview of seasonal water use in Whatcom County - and supports his views with a well researched report that he also wrote.

7 comments, most recent 7 years ago

Interim Ordinance on Rural Water Wells is Essential

By Eric HirstOn Dec 03, 2016

Eric Hirst responds to Elisabeth Britt’s article about the legal and physical issues of our rural Whatcom County water wells for homes, farms and businesses.

3 comments, most recent 7 years ago

Whatcom Farmers and Eric Hirst Dialog

By Eric HirstOn Dec 19, 2015

Statement by Whatcom Family Farmers on “Eric Hirst and his water ideas” and Hirst’s Reply

1 comment, most recent 8 years ago

Whatcom Co.: 90 Million Gallons of Water a Day

By Eric HirstOn Jul 22, 2015

Eric Hirst provides us all with a well researched report on Whatcom County water issues - rights, Lake Whatcom, ground water and more.

10 comments, most recent 8 years ago

Eric Hirst Resigns Greenways Committee

By Eric HirstOn Nov 09, 2010

Eric explains his resignation from the Greenways Advisory Committee and lists his concerns.

1 comment, most recent 13 years ago

Thriving Beyond Sustainability - a book review

By Eric HirstOn Sep 07, 2010

Eric Hirst reviews a new book by Andres R. Edwards, Thriving Beyond Sustainability: Pathworks to a Resillient Society

Book Review:  Whole Earth Discipline

By Eric HirstOn Jul 16, 2010

Eric Hirst reviews this October 2009 book by Stewart Brand of Whole Earth Catalog fame. Stewart is critical of several mainstream environmental stances.

1 comment, most recent 13 years ago