Lecture on County Water Issues Draws CrowdPermalink +
Fri, Dec 06, 2013, 11:03 pm // Wendy Harris
Timing is everything, and no where is this more evident than in Whatcom County’s water supply and demand problems. We have a surplus of water in the winter months when demand is the lowest, while the supply of water dries up in the warmer summer months when the demand is highest.
This is a problem requiring comprehensive water planning, but according to local resident, attorney and WWU professor Jean Melious, that is exactly what we are lacking. Armed with an impressive mound of evidence, the result of countless hours of research, Jean (who represents several local clients, including myself) was able to convince the Washington State Growth Management Hearings Board that Whatcom County was failing to protect rural character because it did not have plans in place that protect water quality and water quantity.
The Hearings Board decision has generated attention locally, and around the state, because of its potential impacts on exempt wells. This accounted for a diverse standing-room only crowd attending the lecture given by Jean this Thursday afternoon at WWU. The lecture was attended by students, faculty, government staff, environmentalists, and Tea Party members. Jean’s lecture focused on uncontroversial basics of science and law.
She emphasized that state law was largely controlling over the matter of water rights, leaving little local autonomy over water allocation issues. Most water basins in Whatcom County are closed to new withdrawals, either full time, or seasonally, during the high demand and low supply summer months. Washington follows a “first in right, first in time” rule, entitling those with senior water rights to use water before those who hold junior water rights.
Washington water laws impact both surface water and ground water. Surface water may be in the form of water withdrawal, or in the form of “in stream flows,” which is the obligation to keep water in the stream at a sufficient quantity to protect fish and habitat. Many local streams rely upon groundwater to maintain water flow, particularly in the summer. This reflects the generally shallow groundwater reservoirs in Whatcom County. And where surface water and ground water are in hydraulic continuity, a likely situation where there are shallow reservoirs, groundwater withdrawal could be restricted to protect senior surface water rights.
Traditionally, this was not something that rural residents worried about because Washington State provides for ground well exemptions. However, the exemption is from obtaining a permit. It is not an exemption from water priority rights. And the Hearings Board noted that this was as true for exempt wells as for other types of ground water. This challenges assumptions by some that exempt wells provide a special type of protected water right.
This decision could have a big impact on Whatcom County, where 2/3 of our farmers lack the legal right to the water they use for irrigation and other crop needs. Although there is potential for an additional 34,000 lots in the rural county, before accounting for new growth that could be allocated as part of the 2016 Comprehensive Plan update, the county has failed to engage in water planning efforts for the last 13 years.
The county may no longer plan for rural growth as if water quality and quantity are of little concern. Instead, the county must allocate its water to meet current and future needs. The Hearings Board noted a number of ways that the county could achieve this goal. It could limit growth in areas with water limitation. It could direct growth from rural areas back to the urban areas. It could reduce density or the intensity of water use activities. It could limit impervious surface to maximize stream recharge, impose low impact development standards and/or water conservation efforts. And it could develop mitigation options.
These types of smart growth techniques would reduce the possibility of restrictions on exempt wells. Moreover, even if this were to occur, it would affect only new exempt wells, while existing exempt wells would not be impacted. This has not prevented some amount of hysteria from the Tea Party, which claims that rural property owners will be stripped of water, leaving property of little use and value.
Planning for our future requires moving beyond invalid fears, determining our water supply based on the principles of sound science, and drafting a plan that complies with the state’s legal requirements. Jean, her clients and concerned county residents will be monitoring this process closely to make sure the county gets it right.
Fri, Dec 06, 2013, 11:03 pm // Wendy HarrisThe county will be required to consider water quality and water quantity when planning rural growth.
3 comments; last on Dec 10, 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.
4 comments; last on May 26, 2013
Paper Dreams in Fairhaven
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
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
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
1 comments; last on Jul 27, 2013
Tue, May 15, 2012, 6:32 pm // Wendy HarrisA City staff memo on the Bloedel dock closure reads more like an advocacy brief
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.
Mon, Nov 14, 2011, 11:07 am // Wendy HarrisProposed new storm water regulations will increase Lake Whatcom development. Hearing this Thursday.
1 comments; last on Nov 14, 2011
Sun, Nov 06, 2011, 10:48 pm // Wendy HarrisImportant events concerning the Lake occurred during the election with little comment from the public, the candidates or the media.
16 comments; last on Nov 10, 2011
Wed, Oct 19, 2011, 12:23 pm // Guest writerSue Taylor guest writes this perspective on WCV and their alliance with the Dan Pike for mayor campaign.
16 comments; last on Oct 23, 2011
Fri, Jul 22, 2011, 6:35 am // Wendy HarrisA pro-active, extremely cost effective solution for protecting Lake Whatcom exists!
3 comments; last on Jul 22, 2011
Mon, Jul 18, 2011, 9:03 pm // Riley SweeneyThe Political Junkie interviews Christina Maginnis
4 comments; last on Jul 22, 2011
Mon, Feb 02, 2009, 7:57 am // g.h.kirschWhile it went almost unheralded Friday, Kremen & Co temporarily backed away from their earlier position that driving a road into the forest on Squalicum Mountain, to…
4 comments; last on Feb 02, 2009
Mon, Dec 29, 2008, 12:13 pm // g.h.kirschAt the risk of displeasing friend and foe alike, may I ask what has been accomplished this past year to fix Lake Whatcom and protect Bellingham's water supply?…
12 comments; last on Jan 02, 2009
Tue, Sep 30, 2008, 4:19 pm // g.h.kirschFrom the outset of discussion of the proposal to reconvey forest lands to the county for a new park I have written that it is necessary to first…
1 comments; last on Oct 01, 2008
Wed, Sep 17, 2008, 9:41 pm // Tom PratumThis past winter, during torrential rains to the South of us, there were some very serious slides on Weyerhaeuser land in Lewis County adjacent to Stillman Creek (a…
5 comments; last on Sep 20, 2008
Mon, Jun 30, 2008, 2:33 am // g.h.kirschNo matter how one hopes things will change, things remain the same. Bellingham wants the county to curb development in the watershed, but can't seem to stop allowing…
2 comments; last on Jul 05, 2008
Fri, Jun 27, 2008, 11:16 pm // Myron WlaznakI received a Notice of Complete Application for the construction of an impervious trail through the center of a parcel of forested land acquired with funds collected for…
5 comments; last on Jul 01, 2008
Fri, Jun 20, 2008, 11:26 am // Guest writerby Wendy Harris |
Wendy is a resident of Silver Beach on the north side of Lake Whatcom. This is her second guest writer article - and follows…
Mon, Jun 16, 2008, 10:33 am // g.h.kirschWhile the Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District races to expand its infrastructure to serve sprawling development on the north shore of the lake, the King County Superior…
2 comments; last on Jun 18, 2008
Sun, Jun 15, 2008, 12:17 pm // Guest writerBy Wendy Harris
Wendy is a resident of Silver Beach on the north side of Lake Whatcom. She is an active citizen. Today she is our first guest writer.…
9 comments; last on Jul 31, 2008
Mon, May 26, 2008, 8:51 pm // g.h.kirschWhy all the hubbub about building moratoria in the Lake Whatcom watershed? You can't build or subdivide without adequate water, and the entire watershed is closed to new…
1 comments; last on Jun 01, 2008
Tue, May 20, 2008, 12:08 am // g.h.kirschAnother important step towards dealing with the pollution of Lake Whatcom was taken tonight. The mayor and city council have thrown down the gauntlet to Pete Kremen and…
14 comments; last on Jun 01, 2008
Fri, Apr 04, 2008, 10:42 am // Tom Pratum
In early February, I and several other folks met with Whatcom County Parks director Mike McFarlane to ask some questions about the proposed reconveyance of Forest Board…
3 comments; last on Sep 25, 2008
Sun, Sep 30, 2007, 9:03 pm // John ServaisThe Bellingham Herald editorial today is excellent. It raises the basic questions about the newly proposed Lake Whatcom land reconveyance deal to make a park on the very…
Tue, Sep 25, 2007, 9:25 pm // John ServaisTom Pratum has some good information on the proposed - and still mostly secret - Lake Whatcom land reconveyance plan. He posted it on the North Cascades Audubon…
Sat, Sep 22, 2007, 9:40 pm // John ServaisThe October surprise is a week early. Today's Herald has the carefully managed news of the land swap that John Watts alerted us to on Sep 11 -…
Wed, Sep 12, 2007, 10:12 pm // John ServaisRather than answer several emails individually, this post will clarify a couple things. First, why is yesterday's post by John Watts that I praised any different from his…
Tue, Sep 11, 2007, 10:19 pm // John ServaisAn astounding post by John Watts this afternoon on his HamsterTalk website. He has what amounts to a prediction of an October Surprise - implying strongly that it…
Thu, Jun 03, 2004, 6:15 pm // John ServaisToday the Washington Department of Ecology released a report that says, basically, that mercury in the lake is less now than in the past. "Decreasing" is the operative…
Mon, May 24, 2004, 6:22 pm // John ServaisThe initiative is 'remove motor boats', not 'remove boats' from Lake Whatcom. Our Chamber of Commerce just lies in print to achieve their goal of defeating the initiative.
Fri, Feb 13, 2004, 7:48 pm // John ServaisWe see 1/100 of one part per billion or less of benzene to water during most of the year 2000 and into the spring of 2001. Then in…
Thu, Feb 12, 2004, 7:52 pm // John ServaisMotor boats off Lake Whatcom? What was that apology from City Senior Planner Chris Spens at the city council on Monday? El-bull-in-china-shop Chris got the word from el…
Mon, Feb 09, 2004, 7:57 pm // John ServaisWe have mercury contamination all over our county. That we know. Lake Whatcom and Bellingham Bay. Georgia Pacific's chlorine plant leaked mercury for about 35 years and neither…
Sun, Nov 23, 2003, 3:51 pm // John Servaisof some local developers is plain to see in this photo essay at the Lake Whatcom website. The WA Dept of Ecology has enforcement folks tooling around in…
Mon, Oct 13, 2003, 6:38 pm // John Servaistelling me they are voting for Brett Bonner for mayor. Some very prominent ones - but they are not going public. Why not? Fear of retaliation.
Why are they…
Wed, Oct 08, 2003, 6:51 pm // John ServaisThe two differed strongly on several issues. The differences between them are becoming more apparent and this should continue for the next two weeks.
Brett continues to develop his…
Sun, Oct 05, 2003, 7:12 pm // John ServaisWe need one to follow Asmundson during the next three weeks - and to nudge the Herald to do minimal checking of facts before publishing. I'm referring to…
Tue, Sep 30, 2003, 5:55 pm // John ServaisThe first of three Bellingham Herald Election Forums is taking place this evening at the County Council chambers.
The forums are being broadcast live on KGMI radio, 790 AM.…
Wed, Jun 25, 2003, 5:07 pm // John ServaisPosted here because the Bellingham Herald has now ignored this for two days. Of very high importance to Bellingham - and with significant developments.
On Monday evening, the Bellingham…
Fri, Jun 13, 2003, 12:20 pm // John ServaisSt. Joe's Hospital will probably be facing fines for venting toxic gas into the construction area of their new addition. Our Bellingham Herald has not reported a bit…
Tue, May 13, 2003, 6:00 pm // John ServaisThe Bellingham City Council last night voted 5-2 to support the Clean Water Alliance legal action against Whatcom County's designation of Sudden Valley as an Urban Growth Area…
Mon, May 12, 2003, 3:15 pm // John ServaisThe Bellingham City Council will finally hold its very first public hearing of the Public Facilities District (PFD) proposals next Monday, May 19, 7 pm at city hall.…
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