Our Water - War or Pieces?Permalink +
Fri, May 24, 2013, 12:18 am // Guest writer
Marian Beddill writes this guest article on the saga of water rights in our area. She has studied water resources and our Lake Whatcom water situation for many years.
Q: What is the most critical natural resource for all living beings?
A: Air (quality is a valid concern - as long as it is clean, we have enough quantity for everybody, everywhere, all the time.)
Q: What is the second most critical natural resource for all living beings?
A: Fresh Water (not salt-water) (both quality and quantity are concerns.)
Living beings (animals and plants) need water for survival, and (especially critical for animals) every person needs a minimal quantity over every period of a few days. With no water, first you're thirsty, and then you die. People living in a desert really know that. People living in better climates, would reply that they know, but they rarely pay any attention to it, since they just turn on the tap or the valve, and their water is there for their use.
At a less critical short-term level, but still very important: -- business (especially including agriculture) needs water - that fact will be obvious to everyone. What is all too often not noted (not considered) by the general population is where that water "comes from", and how does it get from where it is found, to where it is needed. Enough water, at the right place, and at the right time. Clean. And at the lowest possible price.
All of our water starts as precipitation - and that term includes rain, hail, sleet and snow. It falls to the earth, and some of it quickly evaporates. Of the part that remains liquid, some fell directly into a body of water - creek, river, lake or reservoir. Some falls onto the snowpack - the areas that never go "dry" are the glaciers. The part that falls onto land or snow that melts (or on structures) becomes runoff, and may move across the land surface in a wide variety of ways. The essential thing is that it then may move into one of those bodies of water, or go underground and join another kind of body of water - an underground aquifer. Those are the next-to-last steps in the water-supply systems, which we all take so much for granted.
And, the last step in a water-supply system is an industrial process which grabs some of that water (diverts it from it's natural free-flow), and sends it to users - homes, industries, agriculture, recreation, etc. But hold on - what about this "grab" process? How does that work, and who does it? And what's the deal on "sending it" to users? Who is allowed to grab water out of a river? Can they just put up a dam, and grab it all? (Or grab so much that the remaining flow is way less than "what the natural flow would furnish"?)
If the guy that is upstream/uphill takes too much water for "himself", the people who are below will suffer from not having enough. That principle has been recognized by civil society for centuries, and in the western part of what is now the USA, even before cities made urban laws, was known as "western water law" - the uphill user was required to leave enough for the customary needs of the downhill users.
And the pioneers knew how to settle an abuse of that community rule - with community force. Sometimes with pick and shovel, and in serious cases which continued too long, with another tool that was also "long".
Nowadays, we do better than that, by making agreements among everybody involved - so that each "user" is permitted to take ("to divert for his use") a "reasonable" amount of water from customary sources, to satisfy his realistic needs, while leaving enough for those below.
Ah, "below"! There are two meanings for "below" within this discussion. In natural conditions along a hillside or in a valley, we easily note and agree on what is "above" and what's "below" - uphill and downhill. But with the invention of pumps, a new characteristic of "elevation" came into play - grab downhill-water and push it uphill (or sideways, across) - to somewhere close by or farther away, so that somebody else has the water. That takes equipment and money, but those are ordinary things these days. So an entrepeneur might build a water-supply business, and make a profit by selling the "availability" to water.
That's nice for a while, handy and convenient for the customers (the "water-users"), and no big bother to everybody else. At least, no big bother so long as enough of the usual and accustomed flow of natural water remains in the resource place where this water-supplier is taking out his supply to send it to his "customers".
That way of managing water became the ordinary thing, for many early decades in our state.
Then, as population and needs grew, it was recognized that this reasonable practice ought to be made official, and Washington Water Law was passed. In (probably over-simplified) simple terms, it declared that all natural flow of water was public, and is controlled by The State. All users (with exceptions for some household wells) must ask the State for a Permit to take water, and they cannot legally take it without such a Permit. What was once a just and fair community agreement, became law. If you want to take more water than only for a couple of houses, you must obtain and hold a valid permit for the approved quantity, and not use more than that. It's the law. The State assigned the management of this permitting program to the Department of Ecology, which set up a registry of allowed water users - specifying amounts, locations where taken, and locations and purposes for which the water would be used (as well as the identity of the taker of the water.)
So thousands of water-users registered their water use needs, and the registry system grew. Then, after a while (allow me to grossly shorten the story here) the records system did not manage to keep up with the requests submitted by new users. Also, there were little realistic inspections, and almost no enforcement of the terms of the permits (for both quantity and location.) After a while, the permitting system had issued permits for perhaps double or more than the quantity of water that actually existed, so it was faced with a dilemma - either:
deny a permit (bad), or
allow a permit without being sure that there was enough water (bad).
The lovely, well-meaning community-minded system froze (permit us this pun), and access to water became a question of - if you build a capture-system, you are able to take that water, and do with it whatever you will. Run an industry, grow food, supply urban water to towns and cities, spray it on piles of coal, or sell it.
HUH? Sell the water? - rather than use it for yourself?
Yes, that's right. Over the years, individuals, industries, and businesses started taking water and supplying it to other people and businesses. Sometimes under the color of an association of users, jointly managing the mechanics (and the finances) of a cooperative. And sometimes just to neighbors. And sometimes putting it into bottles, and selling it to customers close or far away. That could be sold as simply water, or as some other product containing water. That middle-man profited by supplying this "raw material" (which belongs to someone else, the State) to third parties.
And that is where we stand today. Many State of Washington water-use permits are on the books (many lacking records of the uses of the water), and there are many water-users benefiting from the use of water, sometimes without a permit. Plus some permits whose paper quantities seem to be much larger than the actual use - so the volume-mismatches go both ways. The language in state law refers to "usufruct". And it says: "Use it or Lose it"
Aha! Maybe there is a solution! Where there is a large-quantity permit, but the user is only taking a portion of that, why not do the neighborly thing and revise that permit "down" to a smaller quantity. Then grant those unused quantities to users who; in real life, are taking more than their paper-permit shows that is allowed. Neither would really lose hardly anything in current real life, when the redistribution was made to match real and rational needs.
True, there might be some cases and places, where the expressed needs for water seem to be larger than the evident available volume. That will take some study, some energy put into deal-making, maybe a bit of heavier negotiation, and in worst cases, formal litigation in court or other ways.
But we must ask - which way is better for the community? Shall we have illegal activities making a profit over misuse of public resources with the government looking sideways, while legal activities are holding a freeze on public resources that they are not using? Or shall we shuffle the deal so that it comes out more fair and proper for all?
Our idea is to first have all the interested parties join in with realistic and open declarations and discussions of supply and demand. Work from that to achieve an agreement of the fairest and best use of our public water by the many acknowledged users, of the truly available resource. First, they will shuffle the cards, and agree on such a water-reallocation plan. Then they can all tell the State DoE to revise the permits-registry for the Nooksack River Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA-1) so that the paper world matches the real world, and all will benefit (except maybe a few scoundrels who were trying to scam the system.)
Drink up, and enjoy your shower.
Review by a water management fairness interest group.
Story written by Marian Beddill.
Whatcom County, Washington. May 2013
Fri, May 24, 2013, 12:18 am // Guest writerMarian Beddill provides a general guide for the public, with a look at the history of water rights in Washington state.
Sun, May 05, 2013, 2:45 pm // John ServaisHelp fund a scientific study looking for links between diesel locomotives, coal trains and unhealthy air.
Mon, Mar 11, 2013, 6:37 am // Guest writerGuest writer Shane Roth writes in favor of the reconveyance of Lake Whatcom land back to the county.
1 comments; last on Mar 11, 2013
Fri, Feb 22, 2013, 2:47 pm // John ServaisThe election created a new park district with taxing power - but with NO control over Chuckanut Ridge - the 100 acre woods.
1 comments; last on Feb 23, 2013
Tue, Feb 19, 2013, 9:40 pm // Wendy HarrisAn "Updated Preferred Alternative" reduces the number of waterfront jobs and expands the boundary of the waterfront district.
Wed, Feb 13, 2013, 3:42 pm // John ServaisThe Park District vote is close and we will not know final results until late ballots are counted.
6 comments; last on Feb 19, 2013
Sat, Feb 09, 2013, 12:14 am // John ServaisThe proponents have avoided the issues on the Park District as the close of voting nears this weekend.
2 comments; last on Feb 12, 2013
Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 12:36 pm // Guest writerPaul Leuthold and Byron Elmendorf explain why to vote NO on the Chuckanut Park District ballot measure.
19 comments; last on Feb 12, 2013
Tue, Jan 29, 2013, 5:25 pm // Guest writerBill Geyer explains Transfer Development Rights and how they can be applied to the Chuckanut Ridge.
17 comments; last on Feb 05, 2013
Mon, Jan 28, 2013, 1:52 am // Wendy HarrisImproving ecosystem functions holistically is the best form of protection for the Lake Whatcom.
1 comments; last on Jan 28, 2013
Tue, Jan 22, 2013, 6:19 pm // Wendy HarrisLinks to a few noteworthy GPT scoping comments .
1 comments; last on Jan 22, 2013
Fri, Jan 11, 2013, 1:35 pm // Wendy HarrisA proposed amendment to the Lake Whatcom watershed moratorium will increase water quality degradation
1 comments; last on Jan 12, 2013
Sun, Jan 06, 2013, 11:49 pm // Wendy HarrisWatch the Whatcom County Council wiggle its way out of the latest round of GMA compliance requirements for Lake Whatcom
Fri, Jan 04, 2013, 11:37 pm // Wendy HarrisCouncil majority willing to spend, and spend, and spend public funds defending development rights
2 comments; last on Jan 05, 2013
Mon, Dec 03, 2012, 3:26 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein citizens must hold their representatives' feet to the fire
6 comments; last on Dec 09, 2012
Fri, Sep 21, 2012, 8:53 am // John ServaisBellingham Business Journal breaking story - Lummi's to hold meeting today at noon to speak against the Cherry Point project.
7 comments; last on Nov 04, 2012
Wed, Sep 05, 2012, 11:00 am // Riley SweeneyRiley patiently explains to the Whatcom Excavator what a flowchart should look like
Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 8:00 am // Riley SweeneyRiley sits down with Matt Petryni with Power Past Coal to get the latest scoop
Thu, Aug 16, 2012, 11:50 pm // Wendy HarrisThe Mayor's Negotiations With Costco Undercuts City Permit Procedures And Public Process
4 comments; last on Aug 17, 2012
Sun, Jul 29, 2012, 11:17 am // John ServaisNew report suggests U.S. weather stations reporting higher temperatures because NOAA has poorly managed sensors and caused false higher readings.
11 comments; last on Aug 06, 2012
Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 12:02 am // Guest writerDevelopers are gaming the system with help from the county government - and big changes are made in multiple small changes.
1 comments; last on Apr 27, 2012
Fri, Apr 06, 2012, 7:16 am // Guest writerKen Mann writes a guest article of his personal support for the Padden Trails development inside the Bellingham city limits.
3 comments; last on Apr 07, 2012
Mon, Apr 02, 2012, 11:43 am // Larry HorowitzWhere to begin? Misinformation. Disinformation. Truths. Myths. Same old, same old. Paradigm shift. GMA. OFM. Growth pressures. Population loss. Growth subsidies. Proportionate share.
36 comments; last on Apr 11, 2012
Fri, Mar 09, 2012, 11:15 am // Riley SweeneyRiley gets to the bottom of this in a NWCitizen Exclusive
4 comments; last on Apr 01, 2012
Sat, Feb 18, 2012, 3:03 pm // Guest writerNo EIS - no real county planning concern about developing Squalicum Mountain and degrading Lake Whatcom water even further.
Wed, Dec 14, 2011, 8:05 am // Wendy HarrisClaiming it is unfair to treat large property owners different than small property owners, the Commission refuses to remove industrial areas from buffer mitigation proposal.
Wed, Dec 07, 2011, 8:00 am // Wendy HarrisTell the Planning Commission to eliminate this loophole
2 comments; last on Dec 14, 2011
Sun, Dec 04, 2011, 5:53 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the sooty prospect of economic necessity rears its ugly head
2 comments; last on Dec 05, 2011
Mon, Oct 31, 2011, 3:07 pm // Guest writerBob Ferris of Re-Sources takes a values based perspective on our community and a possible coal port.
9 comments; last on Nov 02, 2011
Fri, Jul 29, 2011, 10:11 am // John ServaisThe Gateway Pacific coal port appears to be under construction now - secretly and w/o permits.
36 comments; last on Aug 05, 2011
Fri, Jul 22, 2011, 3:52 pm // John ServaisWashington Federal has bought out Greenbriar's interest in Chuckanut Ridge.
3 comments; last on Jul 25, 2011
Mon, Jul 18, 2011, 9:03 pm // Riley SweeneyThe Political Junkie interviews Christina Maginnis
4 comments; last on Jul 22, 2011
Thu, Jun 23, 2011, 7:30 am // Wendy HarrisTime is running out for public comment on the Port's proposal to use toxic waste as a cap at waterfront re-development site.
5 comments; last on Jul 02, 2011
Wed, Jun 08, 2011, 1:09 pm // John ServaisWho all is on the take? Who all has not been up front about being on the take for the Coal Port?
4 comments; last on Jun 12, 2011
Fri, Jun 03, 2011, 11:56 am // John ServaisA running update of links and info on the Coal Port and Trains of proposed Gateway Pacific at Cherry Point.
15 comments; last on Jun 29, 2011
Thu, Jun 02, 2011, 6:45 pm // John ServaisThe public meeting to hear opinions about the coal port last night saw local union leader Dave Warren playing games.
3 comments; last on Jun 05, 2011
Wed, Jun 01, 2011, 4:32 pm // Guest writerGuest writer Mark Flanders' call to action for June 1 flash mob at coal port meeting
7 comments; last on Jun 09, 2011
Wed, May 18, 2011, 9:31 am // Riley SweeneyPatti Brooks' war on gophers shows how she is a socialist
3 comments; last on May 28, 2011
Thu, Dec 23, 2010, 5:19 pm // John ServaisCrawford, Kremen & Co. have been stopped by Growth Management Board.
4 comments; last on Dec 27, 2010
Wed, Dec 15, 2010, 9:07 pm // Guest writerWendy Harris writes about a multi million dollar planned city of Bellingham project.
9 comments; last on Dec 18, 2010
Sat, Nov 20, 2010, 3:13 pm // Guest writerDave Stalheim warns us the Council is poised to rob the Conservation Futures Fund.
2 comments; last on Nov 25, 2010
Tue, Nov 09, 2010, 5:04 pm // Guest writerEric explains his resignation from the Greenways Advisory Committee and lists his concerns.
1 comments; last on Nov 10, 2010
Open letter to Bellingham Planning Director Jeff Thomas re: Fairhaven Highlands application deadline
Sun, Oct 31, 2010, 6:20 pm // Larry HorowitzUpdated Sun, Oct 31. An open letter to Bellingham Planning Director Jeff Thomas re: Fairhaven Highlands application deadline
12 comments; last on Oct 28, 2010
Tue, Sep 07, 2010, 9:59 am // Guest writerEric Hirst reviews a new book by Andres R. Edwards, Thriving Beyond Sustainability: Pathworks to a Resillient Society
Mon, Aug 16, 2010, 1:55 pm // John LesowJohn Lesow rebuts Jack Petree's Herald oped article that strongly criticized county planning.
30 comments; last on Aug 25, 2010
Fri, Aug 13, 2010, 9:39 am // John ServaisAm looking for a writer to rebut Jack Petree's BIAW propaganda article the Herald saw fit to print.
3 comments; last on Aug 20, 2010
Wed, Aug 04, 2010, 9:12 am // John ServaisBellingham Planning Department is giving quiet extensions to the Chuckanut Ridge developer - propping up the property value.
1 comments; last on Aug 04, 2010
Fri, Jul 16, 2010, 5:44 am // Guest writerEric Hirst reviews this October 2009 book by Stewart Brand of Whole Earth Catalog fame. Stewart is critical of several mainstream environmental stances.
1 comments; last on Jul 19, 2010
Wed, Jul 14, 2010, 12:52 pm // John ServaisThe Atlantic Monthly has an article on Climate gate that every Enviro true believer should read. Some healthy skepticism is very needed.
1 comments; last on Jul 17, 2010
Mon, Jun 28, 2010, 2:17 pm // John ServaisBP oil spill video taken on a private plane flight over the Gulf of Mexico. The spill is worse than our media are telling us.
Fri, Jun 18, 2010, 12:31 am // John ServaisLet's help get one million signatures on the anti-whaling petition.
1 comments; last on Jun 21, 2010
Fri, Apr 09, 2010, 4:12 pm // John ServaisAn article that questions the man-made global warming hysteria
Mon, Apr 05, 2010, 5:30 pm // John ServaisGreenpeace has more empty threats for anyone who doesn't believe as they do. Guess they are going to cut off NwCitizen funding.
2 comments; last on Apr 08, 2010
Thu, Apr 01, 2010, 11:00 am // Guest writerTom Anderson submits this guest column. He brings attention to our local earthquake risks - and what we can do to prepare.
1 comments; last on Apr 01, 2010
Wed, Mar 31, 2010, 5:59 am // Ham HayesSandhill Cranes: the Columbia River Basin's swallows of Capistrano
Sun, Mar 21, 2010, 5:45 am // Ham HayesIf you are going to visit the heron nesting area at Post Point Lagoon in the near future, you are in for a pleasant surprise.
Wed, Mar 10, 2010, 8:42 pm // Kamalla Rose KaurMaybe NOAA knows the truth about our waterfront. Our Port of Bellingham pretends it is not toxic. But it is criminally toxic.
2 comments; last on Mar 15, 2010
Wed, Mar 03, 2010, 6:00 am // Ham HayesEnough has been revealed, written and said about “Climate-gate” for me to be alarmed.
7 comments; last on Mar 07, 2010
Wed, Feb 03, 2010, 6:00 am // Ham HayesHam is vacationing in Costa Rica. He sends us his observations.
Mon, Dec 21, 2009, 2:59 pm // Tip JohnsonIt looks like we've got a pretty watered down climate accord. It doesn't provide accountability and won't limit warming to within the two degree Celsius out-of-control climate tipping…
9 comments; last on Dec 23, 2009
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