Wednesday, September 18, 2019
NETSE MOT: Whatcom Water Week (Sept. 14-22) is the annual event designed to raise appreciation of marine and fresh water resources and the important role water plays in our lives. The week’s events are organized by the Whatcom Watershed Information Network (WWIN), a network of representatives from government agencies, businesses, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, tribes, and citizens who are involved and interested in marine and freshwater ecosystems and natural resources education and outreach. The network’s mission is to support and improve watershed education, stewardship, information exchange and public involvement efforts in Whatcom County.
It is therefore with a deep irony that the start of Water Week began in the shadow of a long anticipated (dreaded) rollback by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of protections afforded by the 2015 Clean Water Rule, leaving millions of stream miles across the country vulnerable to pollution and degradation.
The rollback of the Obama-era measure, known as the Waters of the United States rule, adds to a lengthy list of environmental rules that the Trump administration has worked to weaken or undo over the past two and a half years.
“An immediate effect of the clean water repeal is that polluters will no longer need a permit to discharge potentially harmful substances into many streams and wetlands,” the New York Times reported. “But the measure, which is expected to take effect in a matter of weeks, has implications far beyond the pollution that will now be allowed to flow freely into waterways.
“Overhauling the rule had been a central campaign pledge for President Trump, who characterized it as federal overreach that impinged on the rights of farmers, rural landowners and real estate developers to use their properties as they see fit,” the Times reported. Trump signed an executive order in the early days of his administration directing federal agencies to begin the work of repealing and replacing it.
Agricultural groups praised the repeal. In a statement, the American Farm Bureau Federation said the water rule had prompted outrage from thousands of farmers and ranchers across the country and led to the largest effort to reverse a regulation in his organization’s history.
For Whatcom County, the rollback means years of progress to reduce waste and pollution entering streams and tributaries from industial-scale dairy operations could potentially be quickly unwound—placing renewed strain on struggling salmon stocks and area shellfish beds.
A study released in Snohomish County last week found 73 percent of more than 5,700 miles of rivers and streams flowing into Puget Sound were in poor condition or bordering on poor. The condition of waterways in the ag-intensive northern counties is likely analogous.
Coastal states—including Washington, Oregon, and California—were among ten that originally sued the Trump administration to rescue the Clean Water Rule. Those challenges will continue.
Pressure on the announced changes may also arrive from the affiliated Northwest tribes, whose treaty fishing rights could be imperiled. The USACE, in particular, may be ultimately persuaded the proposed changes endanger those treaty rights.
In June, Lummi Nation launched the Salish Sea Campaign, calling for additional protections of Northwest coastal waters. Their efforts were quickly joined by other tribal leaders from around the region.
“Everything interrelates,” Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman said in an announcement of the Salish Sea Campaign. Forsman, who is also president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians said, “Salmon habitat, shellfish habitat, water quality and all these things impact the food web.”
Later this month, Lummi and other tribal leaders will gather at the international boundary in Blaine to demonstrate they are Netse Mot (of one mind) when it comes to protecting this home. “We share a Xa Xalh Xechnging (sacred obligation) to Xw’ullemy,” the ancestral name for this area, tribal leaders said in a statement.
In August, Lummi Nation held a Sna’teng, a traditional naming ceremony for this area’s resident killer whale population, whose numbers have fallen as these creatures slowly starve, deprived of their preferred food source.
On a beach at H’eT’atCh’L, an ancestral village site on Orcas Island, the whales received the name Sk’aliCh’elh in a traditional ceremony that connects family members to one another.
“We call the orcas qwe‘lholmechen, which means “our relations under the waves.” Lawrence Solomon, secretary of Lummi Nation, explained.
Forsman stood as a representative of the Suquamish Tribe. He was joined by Chief Leah George-Wilson of Tsleil-Waututh Nation; Kevin Paul, Senator of Swinomish Tribe; and Rueben George, of Tsleil-Waututh Nation.
“The southern resident killer whales are like us,” Forsman said. They depend on these waters for their survival, for their well-being, for food and recreation, for their spirituality as well. What they need is more salmon, more clean water, less vessel traffic. They’re asking for the same things that we’ve been asking for.”
“What happens to them, happens to us. We’re out of balance right now,” Chief Leah George-Wilson said. “But I think we’re in a period of transformation: we are becoming what we’re supposed to be, and what we’re supposed to be is naut’sa mawt, one heart, one mind.”
Symbolic, yes, the actions of the affiliated tribes on both sides of the international boundary lay the groundwork for a more aggressive defense of the Salish Sea. As Water Week teaches us, symbols are important.