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The Gristle

Drip, Drip, Drip

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

DRIP, DRIP, DRIP: In 2011, Lummi Nation and other tribal authorities requested a declaratory judgement by the federal government on their treaty-reserved water rights, concerned that the oversubscription of water withdrawals threatened tribal fisheries. While the tribes wait for a federal response, case law continues to accumulate that suggests the federal government will indeed take their tribal water claims very seriously, including a decision in March of last year that requires the state to retrofit disruptive water systems to provide fish with additional stream habitat. For those paying attention, these events signaled serious departure from years of stalling and dithering and bluffing about water rights and water access. For these reasons, 2014 has become a watershed year for local concerns about water.

Many groups are at work trying to quantify and qualify water rights and water access. Some groups are likely to be more effective than others.

The Lake Whatcom Policy Group met this week in one of their more productive meetings to date to discuss the strategies and investments necessary to achieve phosphorous reduction in the reservoir that supplies half the county’s population with drinking water. The reduction of total maximum daily load (TMDL) of pollutants entering the lake is outlined and required by the state Dept. of Ecology. The agency gave local governments two vectors upon which to base their investigations: How much money would it take to achieve the TMDL reduction in 50 years? Conversely, how long would it take to achieve the reduction given amounts of money local governments are willing to spend?

The county mapped the answer to both these questions in 2008 in the county’s integrated water resource plan (CWRIP), and the Policy Group spent much of their time this week blowing the dust from that document and updating its cost estimates. The answer to the first part of Ecology’s question appears to be about $90 million, based on those earlier estimates and what local governments have spent to date removing a mere fraction of the phosphorous required under the TMDL. That removal amounts to about $20,000 per pound of phosphorous required to achieve DOE’s standard.

Local governments receive a couple of understated economies in the equation. Ecology assumed the watershed would be extensively logged, and set their TMDL baseline to that standard. The watershed will not be extensively logged. Ecology also assumed the City of Bellingham would continue to introduce phosphorous into the lake through the city’s diversion on the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River. The city may not continue to introduce Nooksack River water into Lake Whatcom. Both policies could improve Ecology’s modeling forecast, and local governments should get credit for what they do not do, even as they seek to improve what they are doing.

Sluggish as policy on Lake Whatcom has been, the larger picture of countywide water policy appears far less promising.

Whatcom County Council last month authorized another $40,000 to continue to challenge the findings of a state board that found the county had not appropriately coordinated development with available water resources. We’ve written before of the high bar set by the state’s growth laws that presume counties know what they are doing unless it can be demonstrated their actions are “clearly erroneous.” Given earlier findings by the boards and courts, it seems very nearly impossible that the county will prevail in this challenge that has cost taxpayers well in excess of $250,000; however, council seeks certainty, even the certainty of a loss, moving forward. In fact, the county has very clearly suggested that it does not intend to take any further legislative action without the certainty of a court ruling. That includes actions county policymakers know they must undertake, whatever the outcome in court.

Meanwhile, County Council continues to throw money at the all-but-useless Planning Unit authorized by the State Watershed Planning Act, a board representing ten caucuses of various quarrelsome stakeholders in water resource planning. Council last month authorized another $20,000 to fund the fumbling and bumbling of this group for another six months in what is, at core, the abdication and surrender of council’s policymaking authority to a cabal infamous for its paralysis and dysfunction.

At the heart of the Planning Unit’s dysfunction is the organization’s inability to subordinate the competing goals of the various stakeholders to the local governments who initiate and sponsor watershed planning under RCW 90.82. In this mash-up of private well owners, irrigators, fisheries, environmentalists, water purveyors and initiating governments, all stakeholders are not created equal and their rules of order should reflect this.

Among them, the initiating governments clearly hold the broadest, most general purpose interest in providing equitable balance to competing interests. In the case of cities like Bellingham, they also have clearly established rights to water. The county holds no water right, provides water service to no one, and for this reason is the perfect instrument to establish reasoned policy in coordination with other initiating governments.

Whatcom County already has the perfect instrument to represent these interests, the Council of Governments.

The WCCOG already does regional analysis and planning for transportation and growth, and is an instrument to coordinate that planning with state and federal grant and loan programs.

Rather than throw $20,000 at a dysfunctional Planning Unit, council should use that money to activate the COG on local governments’ contribution to regional watershed planning. All cities and major water purveyors are already seated on COG’s governing council. Allow the COG to proceed while County Council dithers and frets, awaiting their court ruling.

Attend a panel discussion on water this Sat., April 19, at Bellingham Public Library starting at 9:30am. Panelists include County Council member Carl Weimer, Public Utility District Manager Steve Jilk, and City of Bellingham engineer John Hutchings. State Rep. Vincent Buys will moderate. Set the COG in motion.

Ticket Cascadia
Past Columns
A Stitch In Time

September 28, 2016

Closer to home

September 21, 2016

Zombie Stumbles On

September 14, 2016

Drip-drip-drip:

September 7, 2016

Much ADU about nothing

August 31, 2016

A Matter of Equity

August 24, 2016

A Lock on the Crypt

August 17, 2016

Zombie Terror

August 10, 2016

A Raucous Caucus

August 3, 2016

Lockup Lockstep

July 27, 2016

Polar Wastes

July 20, 2016

Chapter Two

July 13, 2016

Close the Schools!

June 22, 2016

Closing a Circle

June 8, 2016

Roads to Nowhere

May 25, 2016

Trails versus Jail

May 18, 2016

Events
Today
Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Get an edible education

4:00pm

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Run Like a Girl

8:00am|Fairhaven Park

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Benefit Garage Sale

9:00am|T.G. Richards Building

Cabbage Class

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Model Train Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner

Healthcare Film

9:30am|Bellingham Public Library

Fermentation Fun

10:00am|Blaine Library

Fall Family Fun

10:00am|Glen Echo Garden

Birding Walk

10:00am|South Whatcom Library

Fall Fruit Festival

10:00am|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms

10:00am|Skagit County

Film is Truth Anniversary Party

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|Peace Portal Drive

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Whatcom Artist Studio Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Porpathon

10:00am|Salish Sea

Buddy Walk

11:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

National Geographic's 50 Greatest Photos Opening

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Banned Books Week Read-In

12:30pm|Village Books

Intro to NaNoWriMo

1:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Artist Lecture

1:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Matched Makers Opening

2:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Timber Rose

2:00pm|North Fork Library

Traditional Jazz

2:00pm|VFW Hall

Blessing of the Animals

3:30pm|Cornwall Park

Poetry Palavers

4:00pm|Village Books

Matzke Art Auction

5:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Edison Opening

5:00pm|Smith & Vallee Gallery

Celebrating Jack Prelutsky

5:30pm|Western Library

USA Dance

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Fred Morrison

7:00pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

The Aimees

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

George Winston

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Tannahill Weavers

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Folk Dance Party

7:30pm|Fairhaven Library

Bellingham Chamber Music Society

7:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Mount Baker Theatre Everybody’s Store
Tomorrow
The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Benefit Garage Sale

9:00am|T.G. Richards Building

Model Train Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms

10:00am|Skagit County

Whatcom Artist Studio Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Fall Fruit Festival

10:00am|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Community Breakfast

8:00am|Rome Grange

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Fueling Education Fun Run

9:30am|Washington Park

Sunday Market

1:00pm|Alger Community Hall

Walk the Wall

1:30pm|Lake Padden

Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day

2:00pm|Lake Padden Park

Sunday Night Fusion

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Bruce Molsky

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

White Christmas Auditions

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Northwood Steak and Crab Zoots Side Bar
Monday
Handling the truth

9:35pm

White Christmas Auditions

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

The Land That Remains

3:00pm|Perry and Carlson Gallery

Educators Afternoon Social

3:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Raw Desserts

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Pumpkin Particulars

6:30pm|Gretchen's Kitchen

Selector Dub Narcotic

8:00pm|Bellingham Alternative Library

Poetrynight

8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

see our complete calendar »

MBT Wynton Marsalis Northwood Steak and Crab Bellingham Farmer’s Market Everybody’s Store Village Books Andrew Subin Swinomish 2016 CW BOB 2016 Zoots Side Bar Artifacts Wine Bar Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1