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The threat of adjudication

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

My name is Hans Wolfisberg and I own and operate an organic dairy farm outside Lynden along the Nooksack River. The river is the lifeblood of my farm’s sustainable grazing practices, providing the necessary irrigation water during the hot summer months in order to maintain the certified organic standards developed for our farm by the USDA.

As it stands today, my family farm has junior irrigation water rights. This means that my ability to use water from the Nooksack River basin is dependent on the flow rate of the river, which is measured by the Department of Ecology.
On April 25, the Washington State Legislature earmarked funds for the state Department of Ecology to begin the slow process of sorting through water rights, both senior and junior, in the Nooksack River basin. This process is known as adjudication and will ultimately pit water rights holders against one another in the courts while costing the taxpayers millions of dollars from both sides.

The underlying concern that many contestants and persons involved in this adjudication of water rights have is that there truly isn’t enough research on the quantity and quality of water in the river to determine optimal salmon spawning and fish habitat conditions all along the Nooksack’s path through Whatcom County. 

As I have lived alongside the Nooksack River for 25 years and observed the seasonal flows and levels of the river, it has become apparent to me that agriculture’s seasonal use of water from the river is the most sustainable process ongoing.

As the adjudication process proceeds, not only will it harm family farms like mine, but additionally put our towns, cities and industries—such as oil and gas refineries—in jeopardy of amending or forfeiting water access due to the outcome of legal rulings and not sound scientific evidence. 

For example, during the months of September and October, the flow rates of the Nooksack are at a natural low point. Only the year-round water right holders (city and industry) are using water from our local watershed during this time. Our farmers who hold water rights rarely use any water beyond the end of August. 

As it looks right now, Ecology’s concept of legal rulings for the adjudication process will be long, drawn out, and pull money out of the taxpayer’s pockets for decades. This, despite the fact that feasible solutions to the concerns about the water level in the river are within our grasp.

No judge or lawyer or jury has the capability to put more water in the river—only our community can do that.

Water rights issues are not unique to our local community and the Nooksack River basin. It is a convoluted topic, with many sides and perspectives, that exists all along the west coast.

The Lummi Nation and Nooksack Indian Tribe are key players in pushing a legal battle that favors their demands for certain water rights while pushing out Whatcom County’s farming community. However, I believe that the next steps we need to take start with working together in a spirit of collaboration, something we can’t do in court. This means allocating our financial resources wisely.

By working together we can determine the best steps that are needed.  The rich heritage of our fish and our farms deserves this effort.

Hans Wolfisberg owns and operates an organic dairy farm outside Lynden.

Past Columns
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March 3, 2021

Emissions-Free Future

November 11, 2020

Restoring the Grizzly

July 22, 2020

Unhealthy wages

June 30, 2020

Iowa Fiasco

February 5, 2020

Oil Slick

October 23, 2019

Rethink Our Food System

September 25, 2019

The Kampuchean Lobbyist

April 10, 2019

The Public Charge

November 28, 2018

Road to Damascus

April 18, 2018

Orcas and Oil Don’t Mix

February 21, 2018

End Cash Bail

February 7, 2018

A Sorry State

January 31, 2018

Backyard Cottages

January 17, 2018

Fight City Hall

January 10, 2018

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November 29, 2017

Big Blue Wall

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Works by as many as 45 Whatcom Art Guild members can be viewed from 11am-5pm Tuesdays through Sundays at Whatcom Art Market, 1103 11th St.

Unmasked WACK Exhibit

11:00am

“Unmasked: Imagining New Beginnings” will show from 11am-4pm Tuesdays through Saturdays June 4-26 at Allied Arts, 1418 Cornwall Ave. The exhibit features two-dimensional ceramic art from…

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Wednesday
Whatcom Art Market

11:00am

Works by as many as 45 Whatcom Art Guild members can be viewed from 11am-5pm Tuesdays through Sundays at Whatcom Art Market, 1103 11th St.

An Artist's Universe at Hotel Bellwether

9:00am

View painter and mixed-media master David Syre’s latest installation, “An Artist’s Universe,” hanging throughout the corridors, lobby and dining room of Hotel Bellwether and the Lighthouse…

Whatcom Art Market

11:00am

Works by as many as 45 Whatcom Art Guild members can be viewed from 11am-5pm Tuesdays through Sundays at Whatcom Art Market, 1103 11th St.

Unmasked WACK Exhibit

11:00am

“Unmasked: Imagining New Beginnings” will show from 11am-4pm Tuesdays through Saturdays June 4-26 at Allied Arts, 1418 Cornwall Ave. The exhibit features two-dimensional ceramic art from…

An Artist's Universe at Hotel Bellwether

9:00am

View painter and mixed-media master David Syre’s latest installation, “An Artist’s Universe,” hanging throughout the corridors, lobby and dining room of Hotel Bellwether and the Lighthouse…

Whatcom Art Market

11:00am

Works by as many as 45 Whatcom Art Guild members can be viewed from 11am-5pm Tuesdays through Sundays at Whatcom Art Market, 1103 11th St.

Unmasked WACK Exhibit

11:00am

“Unmasked: Imagining New Beginnings” will show from 11am-4pm Tuesdays through Saturdays June 4-26 at Allied Arts, 1418 Cornwall Ave. The exhibit features two-dimensional ceramic art from…

An Artist's Universe at Hotel Bellwether

9:00am

View painter and mixed-media master David Syre’s latest installation, “An Artist’s Universe,” hanging throughout the corridors, lobby and dining room of Hotel Bellwether and the Lighthouse…

Vast Exhibit

10:00am

View the rotating landscape show “Vast” from 10am-5pm Fridays through Sundays through June 27 in Edison at Smith & Vallee Gallery, 5742 Gilkey Ave. As pieces from the multi-artist show sell,…

Whatcom Art Market

11:00am

Works by as many as 45 Whatcom Art Guild members can be viewed from 11am-5pm Tuesdays through Sundays at Whatcom Art Market, 1103 11th St.

Julie Paschkis at i.e.

11:00am

View new works by Seattle artist Julie Paschkis from 11am-5pm Fridays through Sundays through June 27 in Edison at i.e. gallery, 5800 Cains Court. The pieces combine gouache, ink, cut paper,…

Spring Has Sprung Exhibit

11:00am

See works by 16 regional artists at a “Spring Has Sprung” exhibit from 11am-5pm Fridays through Sundays (and by appointment) through June 27 on Camano Island at Matzke Fine Art Gallery and…

Twin Sisters Farmers Markets

9:00am

From 9am-3pm, stop by the Twin Sisters Farmers Market’s Nugents Corner Market in the parking lot of the Bluebird Building, 3833 Mt. Baker Hwy. From 10am-3pm, the Kendall Market will take…

Lummi Island Saturday Market

10:00am

Stop by the Lummi Island Saturday Market from 10am-1pm in the field next to the Islander Grocery, 2106 S. Nugent Rd. The market will feature produce, art and good works from island nonprofits…

Concrete Saturday Market

10:00am

The Concrete Saturday Market takes place from 10am-1pm at the Concrete Community Center, 45821 Railroad Ave. The longtime event continues Saturdays through Sept. 4. COVID-19 protocols will be…

Origins and Evolutions Farewell

11:00am

For the final week, see “Origins and Evolutions: Five Generations” from 11am-4pm Tuesday through Thursday, and 11am-4pm Sat., June 26 at Gallery Syre, 465 Stuart Rd. The show gathers together…

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12:00pm

From 12pm-1pm, tune in for “Mary Bly in Conversation with Meg Tilly” on Zoom. Bly—who has been celebrated as “the thinking woman’s romance writer” in the Washington Post—will share her new…

Rainbow Reads

3:00pm

Students in grades 6-12 can join Whatcom County Library System for virtual “Rainbow Reads” discussions from 3pm-4pm every Wednesday on Zoom. Do you love reading and stories with LGBTQIA+…

An Evening with Stacey Abrams and Cari Champion

4:00pm

Livestream “An Evening with Stacey Abrams and Cari Champion” from 4pm-5pm on Zoom as they discuss the urgency of voter suppression and how to empower citizens to use their power to shape the…

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6:00pm

At 6pm, join Village Books for a virtual conversation between Rachel Michelberg and Cami Ostman on Zoom. The two will discuss Michelberg’s new book, Crash: How I Became a Reluctant…

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