Friday, October 7, 2016

Washington Supreme Court to Whatcom County and Ecology: Work Together to Protect Water

It’s a “blockbuster.”  It’s “BIG.”  That’s how some commentators have described yesterday’s Washington Supreme Court decision in Hirst v. Whatcom County.  As someone who’s been working on the case for a few years now, I would describe it as. . .

common sense.

The case simply says that Washington’s Growth Management Act, or GMA, means what it says.  The GMA tells local governments to plan for their fair share of population, and to do so while protecting all of the reasons that people want to live here – including clean water and habitat for fish and wildlife.  The Supreme Court found that Whatcom County has not protected its ground and surface water resources, as the GMA requires, because it approves subdivisions and building permits without determining whether water is legally available for new development. 

To anybody who has been paying attention, this cannot be a surprising result. Water scarcity has been a well-known fact in the County for at least 30 years.  In 1986, the state Department of Ecology closed most of Whatcom County to new water withdrawals, either year-round or during the dry months.  Ecology itself has said that most water in Whatcom County has already been spoken for.  

The Supreme Court paid attention to these facts.  It noted that “a large portion of the County is in year-round or seasonally closed watersheds and that most of the water in the Nooksack watershed was already legally appropriated”; that “average minimum instream flows in portions of the Nooksack River ‘are not met an average of 100 days a year’”; and that “the County recognized as early as 1999 that [its] proliferation of rural, permit-exempt wells was creating ‘difficulties for effective water resource management.’”

These are facts – facts that the County never disputed.

And yet – Whatcom County has planned for a huge increase in development in its Rural area, in closed basins.  In areas of water scarcity, where is all of this new development supposed to get water?

The answer until now has been:  from existing, senior water users, that’s where.  The County and Ecology have turned a blind eye to the fact that new development in areas where water is not legally available simply takes water away from senior users.  That’s contrary to our state’s law of prior appropriation, or “first in time and first in right,” and that’s what the Supreme Court found.

Drop by drop, well by well, the County and Ecology have turned a blind eye to the need to plan for a stable, plentiful water supply.  They have ignored stream flows that are too low, and too warm, for threatened salmon species to thrive.  They have avoided making hard decisions today, despite the fact that delay will only make tomorrow’s decisions even more difficult.

In this case, Whatcom County pointed fingers at Ecology, saying “They let us do it!”  Ecology pointed its finger back to an undocumented past, claiming that when it adopted the Nooksack instream flow rule in 1986, Ecology didn’t know that cumulative groundwater withdrawals by permit-exempt wells could affect streams.  Based on this post hoc recollection of 30-year old beliefs, Ecology argued that nobody – neither Ecology nor the County – has any obligation to address the water rights or water demands of new rural permit-exempt wells.

The Supreme Court was having none of it.  It told the County that land use planning is, indeed, the County’s job, and that “the GMA holds counties responsible for land use decisions that affect groundwater resources.”  With respect to the need to respond to changed circumstances, the Court observed that, “[a]s scientific understanding of water resources has increased, so too have Washington’s restrictions on the availability of water.” As “Washington’s population increase[s] and the limitations on its natural resources become more apparent,” state law has made it clear that “sufficient water must be retained in streams and lakes to sustain fish and wildlife, provide recreational and navigational opportunities, preserve scenic and aesthetic values, and ensure water quality."

The Court also made it very clear that the County and Ecology need to work together to ensure water availability. Did the Court say that poor li’l Whatcom County will have to take over Ecology’s role in water law?  No, it did not.  It said that state law makes it very clear that Ecology needs to work with the County.

And given the most basic law of small-e ecology – that the earth is an interrelated system – how on earth could we continue to justify making land use decisions and water decisions in two separate silos? Sure, it’s easier for the County to make land use decisions without paying any attention to water supply. Sure, Ecology would rather not bother with land use decisions that also have the effect of allocating water through new permit-exempt wells, even where water is not legally available.  But now we know that operating within silos is not only a violation of natural systems.  It also violates state law.

No politician, no bureaucrat operating in highly charged political times, wants to deal with issues of scarcity.  Of course, County Council members and Ecology staff would rather let future decisionmakers take the heat.  Of course, this is a bad time and we are strapped for resources and so forth and so on (the same rationale that we hear before bridges fall down and trains crash).

But if not now, when?  When will we start to plan and protect our most precious natural resource, the substance that every living thing cannot live without?  When the last drop from the last North Cascades glacier has melted into the Nooksack and flowed out to sea?  When the last salmon has gasped out its last breath?  Do we need to wait for a human and natural catastrophe before we take water scarcity seriously? 

Or can we take heed of the fact that global warming is no hoax and that Mother Nature bats last, roll up our sleeves, and get to work right now? 

Now is the right time to Get Whatcom Planning. 

Thanks, Eric Hirst, Laura Leigh Brakke, Wendy Harris, and David Stalheim!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Prim and Proper Trump Protest in Washington

The Northwest Washington Fair, in Lynden, Washington, is clean and wholesome.  If you’ve taken small children to the Fair, you have appreciated the sanitary bathrooms and the separate carnival ride area for the little ones.  At night, middle schoolers from Whatcom County and beyond converge on the “adult” carnival area, roaming in packs in a miasma of hope and hormones.  The fairground glitters, but in a safe way.

Nobody would ever call Lynden edgy. It's pleasant.  And that pleasant somnolence appears to have rubbed off on Donald Trump’s visit to Lynden's fairground yesterday. 

Despite calls from some in the progressive community to stay home in order to avoid unseemly confrontation, hundreds of protesters came to Lynden on short notice.  And many more people came to the fairground to see the candidate.  Trump supporters stood in line to get into the rally on one side of the street; protesters lined the other side of the street.

Here are a few impressions.
Favorite wonky sign.  
What people yelled 

I carried a sign that said “Trump scares me.”  I chose that message for three reasons:

(1) The pundits say that this presidential election will be all about emotion, with no room for rationality.  The pundits say that Trump appeals to emotion.  I searched my emotions, and this is what they told me:  Trump scares me. 
(2) It’s a simple declarative sentence that can’t be argued with.  It’s how I feel. 
(3) It doesn’t say anything mean about Trump or his supporters.

While everybody was on their best behavior, and probably not meaning to be mean, people did yell.

An angry man walked down the street, yelling at each protestor he passed. When he got to me, he said “’Trump scares me?’  HUH!  What are you FOR?”  That was his rehearsed line, but alas for him, it turned out to be a non sequitur.  

My friend carried a sign saying “Keep Obamacare.”  The angry man yelled “Obamacare!  Get your hands out of my pockets!  You just want to get your hands in my pockets!”

I could have mentioned that his pockets were the next-to-last place that I wanted to put my hands, but I didn’t.

Generally speaking, the Trump side of the street yelled about “taking”: “You’re takers, we’re makers!”  “Get off your butts and get a job!”  “You don’t have jobs and you just want to take what we have!”  “Communists and socialists!” 

The other theme was The Wall.  “Build the Wall!”  “Build it higher!” 

Another angry man walked down the street, yelling at protestors:  “Mexico’s southern border is with Guatemala, and there’s a fence along the entire border!  Don’t you know that?  DON’T YOU KNOW THAT?  YOU DIDN’T KNOW THAT!”

If rationality, rather than emotion, mattered in a presidential election, it might have made sense to yell back “!”  Checking is an easy way to find out that this meme is complete hogwash.  But it's emotionally appealing, I guess.

There were angry people on both sides, I'm sure.  I'm just reporting on the angry people who yelled at me. 

What does America looks like?

Across from the entrance to the fairgrounds, there was a call and response:  “Tell me what America looks like!”  “This is what America looks like!” Latinos and Native Americans stood in that group, as their signs and t-shirts indicated.  

The “makers” in the Lynden area include migrant farmworkers.  Without them, Whatcom County's berry crops would rot in the fields.  I did not see them in line to hear Mr. Trump. 

Best bike cops  

The City of Bellevue police bike corps periodically performed synchronized bike swoops out into the street, like an exultation of starlings.  Fun to watch.

A waste of time?

The world probably did not change because my friend and I stood by the side of a street with signs.  But I can't agree with those who are saying "Don't waste time on Trump." Pretending that  Mr.Trump is not a factor in this country's political life has not worked very well so far.  

The right of both sides to assemble peacefully shows what is great about America and why we need to keep America great. That's not a great slogan for a visor cap, but it's why I'm glad that I went.

(I forgot my phone.  Thanks to my friend Kathryn for the photos.) 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Bellinghamster Walks Past a Trump Rally

Bellingham is lucky that it will never have a Trump rally.

I’ve been spending time in Kansas City, Missouri (spoiler alert:  Donald Trump appears to have squeaked past Ted Cruz to win the Missouri caucus).  Aside from the part about it being in Missouri, I like Kansas City.  For one thing, the Mayor, Sly James, has the best name of any politician in the country.

I bought tickets to a play last Saturday night.  The day before the play, the theater called to say that there would be a Big 12 men’s basketball tournament game right across the street, and we should be prepared for traffic.  OK, that’s life in the big city.

What they didn’t tell us – perhaps because they didn’t know until Saturday morning, when I read about it in the paper – was that Donald Trump would be holding a rally a block away from the theater and kitty-corner from the Big 12 game.  That was a whole different kettle of fish.

The Trump rally started before the play.  The local Fox News station provided a live feed. Chicago on my mind, I watched part of it, just to make sure that we could, indeed, get to the play that night.

The Donald didn’t really say much in the part of the feed that I watched. He was mostly on the prowl for protestors.  “Is there a protestor?  Is there another one?  Anybody out there?  OK, I guess not.”  Then somebody in the back of the room would dutifully raise a sign or make a noise, allowing Trump to yell “Get him out of here!”  When Trump perfunctorily said “Send him back to his mama,” the crowd roared and two 8- or 9-year old boys in front of the camera jumped up and down and punched each other.  They had been waiting for that applause line.

I only heard two substantive statements.  Trump said that journalists are terrible people, just the biggest liars.  And he said something along the lines of “What are they protesting about?  We all want a strong defense, good jobs.  We all want the same things, so why protest.”  That was not an applause line.  “Let’s all get along” sank like a lead balloon.

I was glad to turn off the feed to go to the play.  Our planned route was blocked by police cars, so we parked a few blocks north and ran the gauntlet, on the theater/anti-Trump side of the street.

The only other middle-aged white people that I saw were wearing golf shirts and visor caps with the logo of their preferred Big 12 teams.  They looked perplexed.  At least I knew what to expect.

Here’s what they, and we, saw:

--The only professionally-made signs that I saw were held by some very young women.  The signs said “Ask me about Bernie Sanders.” I couldn’t see that anybody was asking them.

-- Some of the other, handmade, signs were crude.  One referred to the size of Mr. Trump’s manhood.  Of course, to be fair, the Republican candidates (and especially Mr. Trump) put that issue into play.

-- Three bedraggled-looking young people asked where there was a publicly available restroom.  I suspected at the time, and the timing confirmed it as I read about the rally afterwards, that they had been pepper-sprayed. 

--The protestors were young, mostly non-white, and pretty ramped up.  Except for a woman in a head scarf, standing silently with a sign saying “We make America great.”  A young man walked up and gave her a fist bump, saying “I like that.”

There were a lot of people on the pro-Trump side of the street as well, but I couldn’t really see them. 

We made it into the theater, which was only half full – despite the fact that the play had been almost sold out when I bought tickets.  I heard a lot of people say that friends couldn’t get there.  By the time the play was over, the streets were empty.

What does all of this tell us?

The coming election is going to test ends versus means, effective action versus self expression.  There’s an argument that the protest wasn’t effective, in that Trump won the caucus.  The protestors within the rally provided Trump with an opportunity to turn the rally into a “call and response” event – “are there any protestors?” “Trump is a racist!”  “GET HIM OUT OF HERE!” – which Trump clearly sought.

What did the Big 12 fans, or the theater patrons who could not get to the play, think?  Judging from the Kansas City paper, which may not be a good basis of judgment but it’s what I’ve got, the reaction has not been adverse to the protestors.  There’s skepticism about the decision to plump the rally into the center of the “Power and Light” District of downtown (which means beer, bars, more bars, more beer, and basketball) at the same time as a Big 12 game.

There’s also skepticism about the police response.  The police, on horseback, used pepper spray a couple of times, and that’s not Kansas City Nice, a phrase that commonly refers to city residents’ tendency to avoid overt confrontation.  After all, the whole city turned out for the Kansas City Royals’ World Series celebration with no major problems.  On the other hand, it was a pretty big crowd, and one woman hit a police horse in the face (captured in a photograph). That was a bad idea.The City Council will be holding a hearing on the police response.  

I think that the takeaway was pretty neatly summed up by this New Yorker article,  which states: “To many members of minority groups, the sight of Trump and Trumpism atop a national ticket would represent a grievous insult to their dignity, and a potential threat to their well-being; to many moderates, liberals, and leftists of all backgrounds, it would represent a moral outrage. The anti-Trump forces won’t stand back and let him parade around the country unopposed. They will exercise their democratic right to protest against him and what he represents, and some of them will be disruptive. Which, doubtless, will provoke more anger from Trump and his supporters.”

We can sit on the sidelines and condemn these tactics and say that they are ineffective, but the anger and fear – and the desire to express opposing views -- aren’t going to go away.  How do we avoid a downward spiral of violence?  How can protest be channeled into effective action?  I have read no clear prescription for this.  The New Yorker article describes the situation but has no solution. 

It would help if Trump’s fellow Republicans would refuse to endorse him because of his calls for violence against protestors, even if they can’t bring themselves to condemn his horrible statements about Mexicans, the religion of Islam, and the use of torture. 

And the Trump protestors could do worse than to follow Mayor Sly James’ Twitter advice:  “Hey folks, I know that there are concerns re: Trump.  Please avoid situations that incite violence.  Be careful and be Kansas Citians.” 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

How's the Nooksack Doing?

Tropical salmon, photographed in the South Fork of the Nooksack.
  Salmon are very adaptable.
I’ve been out of town for most of July.  From afar, I see that low water levels and high temperatures are killing off fish in the Columbia River, the Snake River in Idaho, and some rivers in Oregon.  

Bummer for them, right?  But they’re not OUR fish.  Who can tell me how the Nooksack is doing?

I know, I know, there’s nothing to worry about.  Whatcom County has “plenty of water.”  That’s the favorite line of the state Department of Ecology, which is charged with making sure that there's enough water in the Nooksack to keep fish alive.  Similarly, our local opinion-leaders in the building industry and the Tea Party folks insist that we’re wasting water by leaving so much in the rivers. (See my earlier blog, in which I relay their clarion call that “The fish are drowning!”)

But could it be that Whatcom County has “plenty of water” in the same way that the water expert told Vashon that it has plenty of water:  “There’s no lack of water on Vashon, he said; all you have to do is dry up the streams”?

NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has a website with some monitoring data from a few sites on the Nooksack.  I’m not sure what the previous hisorical minimum level was on the South Fork of the Nooksack at Saxon Bridge at this time of the year, because the river is off the charts – below the previous minimum. Every day sets a new record.

But still, Ecology says we have plenty of water, so that can’t matter.  Low water means warmer water.  How about on the South Fork at Saxon Bridge?

 It’s a treat for salmon to bask in 74-degree water, right?

Perhaps not.  Back in 2012, Ecology published a report on “South Fork Nooksack Water Temperature.”   For the water nerds among us, this is because the South Fork has a TMDL, or Total Maximum Daily Load, for temperature.

The report says:  “The South Fork Nooksack River watershed is impaired by high water temperatures.”  The figure below shows the South Fork watershed. 

Note water temperature standards.  16 degrees Celsius is equivalent to 60.8 degrees Fahrenheit.  12 degrees C = 53.6 degrees F. 

As the report notes,
“Temperature levels fluctuate over the day and night in response to changes in climatic conditions and river flows.  Since the health of aquatic species is tied predominately to the pattern of maximum temperatures, the water quality criteria are expressed as the highest 7-day average of the daily maximum temperatures occurring in a water body.”
The 7-day average for July 20-26, a period that takes in that little cloudburst that cooled down water temperature, was around 66.8 degrees – or 6 degrees higher than the water quality standards.  And this is July. Not August.

But of course, that’s the South Fork.  In a state full of fishery closures, “the only Whatcom County river affected is the south fork of the Nooksack River,” chirps the Bellingham Herald. 

So let’s look on the bright side.  Everything is OK everywhere else, right?

Looking on the bright side, NOAA predicts that the Nooksack at Ferndale may get as high as, or perhaps even get a little higher than, the previous historical low flow during the first few days of August.  In other words, there may be a few days in our future when the Nooksack isn’t setting a low flow historical record at Ferndale.  See, plenty of water!

What about temperature?  The 7-day average from July 20-26, taking into account the summer rain, is 64.3 degrees. That's less than 65. 

That’s something.  How good is “something”?  All I know is that  in 2008, the latest year for which NOAA posted a report with annual data, the highest single-day water temperature at the Nooksack in Ferndale in July was 59 degrees.  The highest single-day temperature of the year, in August, was 62.6 degrees. 

A 7-day average of 64.8 looks a bit warmish, relatively speaking. Perhaps the salmon are shaking the wrinkles out of their tropical attire.

Because August is coming. 

August is coming, and then Winter is Coming (note allusion to popular culture), and then all of the currently-dead salmon will revive in our abundant waters.  That’s how I understand Ecology’s position, which is that Whatcom County has PLENTY OF WATER!* *except for a few months.

And so.  Since the streams aren’t dry in Whatcom County, there’s plenty of water.  For people. 

In one of the articles that I linked to previously, the author discusses conflicts between fish and humans.  “In Washington," he observes, "salmon have a special place in the calculations. Endangered Species Act listings and the treaty rights of Indian tribes make it impossible to just forget about the fish.”

The thing is, nobody’s paying any attention to the Endangered Species Act in Whatcom County.  Ecology’s instream flow for the Nooksack was calculated before the Endangered Species Act salmon listings, and Ecology has acknowledged publicly that it doesn’t meet ESA requirements. 

Tribal rights?  They’re out there.  People talk about them a lot.  And then they ignore them.  The Lummi are working to get people to pay attention.  That’s a process that’s heading somewhere or nowhere right now.

But, in the meantime – can somebody tell me how the Nooksack is doing? 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Wasting a Good Crisis

When isn't it?
“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” or so they say that Winston Churchill said.  I’ve been seeing that quote in a lot of news articles lately, possibly because the world has no lack of crises not to waste.

Close to home, on April 17, Governor Inslee expanded a previous drought declaration to cover Whatcom Skagit, and northern Snohomish counties.

Drought declarations are based on likely “hardships” to farmers, water providers, and fish.  Department of Ecology director Maia Bellon’s drought order states that “Many of our major rivers are forecasted to have April through September runoff volumes that will be the lowest in the past 64 years.”

“In watersheds originating on the western slopes of the Cascades Mountains,” Director Bellon continues, “there is a high risk that fish populations will experience extreme low flow conditions this year. . . “”

Map of 2015 Drought Declaration Areas

These are the conditions that are likely to be the rule, not the exception, with increasing climate change, according to UW Professor of Atmospheric Sciences Cliff Maas.  (Perhaps those who still don't want to "believe in"  climate change  will find it persuasive that Pope Francis is a believer.)

So, what will Washington and Whatcom County do, to take advantage of this crisis? 

Well, the state plans to respond by digging us into a deeper hole.

According to Ecology,  “Once an area has been declared in drought, it can qualify for drought relief funds that can be used for leasing water rights for irrigators, deepening wells or drilling emergency wells.”  

So this crisis likely will provide an opportunity for taxpayers to subsidize private enterprise, likely at the expense of public resources – such as fish.  To read more about such “mischief in the public policy arena,” read CELP’s new blog.

In Whatcom County, the drought will give us the opportunity to practice ignoring water scarcity on a larger scale than usual.

Even when there isn’t an official drought, Whatcom County’s water management is based on a single principle:  possession.  Possession is 10/10ths of water law in Whatcom County.  Dig a ditch or pond, sink a well, stick a pump in the river, take what you need – that’s the law.
  • “Over 50% of ag water use in violation of some aspect of water code.”
    • Presentation, Whatcom Water Supply:  Searching for Certainty in Uncertain Times, 2013 (Farm Friends)
  • “60% of irrigation non-permitted”
    • Farm Flash E-News, Jan. 2012 (Farm Friends) 
  • "From the review of compiled public water system information, it appears that 326 public water systems do not have water rights." 
    • 2013 WRIA 1 Groundwater Data Assessment, p. 91
Even without drought conditions, fish are often out of water during the dry months. 
  • “From 1986 to 2009, the Nooksack River failed to meet instream flows 72 percent of the time during the July-September flow period.”  (Source:  NW Indian Fisheries Comm’n). 
  • “[A]verage minimum instream flows in the mainstem and middle fork Nooksack River are not met an average of 100 days a year.”  (Source:  Dept. of Ecology, Focus on Water Availability). 
The Nooksack “instream flows” were set in 1986, hypothetically to protect fish.  But they don’t.  Not only are instream flows ignored, but Ecology and the County have actively fought to reduce any protection that instream flows would provide (assuming that instream flows weren’t ignored, which they are).

For fear of backlash from building interests, Whatcom County and Ecology have teamed up (successfully, so far) to fight for the rights of new development to deplete instream flows.  The County and Ecology went to court to make sure that new water users can take water away from any senior water user with water rights dating as far back as 1986. 

And they've succeeded.  Ecology and Whatcom County obtained a court decision stating that new houses and subdivisions have the right to take water away from farmers and fish. Even if senior water users (such as farmers) have to cut back on water use to meet instream flows, even if brand new exempt wells dry up streams entirely, new exempt wells have highest and absolute priority.

This matters because of the very extensive rural sprawl that is baked into Whatcom County’s Comprehensive Plan and development regulations.  County planning provides for the greenfield construction of seven new City of Blaines (in population terms) outside of cities, in rural and agricultural areas. 

Where there’s already water scarcity, new greenfield construction will simply take water away from senior users.  Tough luck, fish and farmers! 

So -- what could we do about that? 

Well, I had a good idea.  My idea was that the County could use water availability to help guide its land use planning.  Where water is available, plan for growth.  Where water isn’t available, and can’t be made available without taking it from senior water users, guide growth away. 

What's the problem with that?  Potential backlash, of course.  I previously noted that "possession" is the only law of water use in this County, but come to think of it, that's wrong.  The second law is "avoid backlash."

Fish don't lash back, of course, and politicians only pretend to care about future generations during campaigns.  The reality is that future generations won't be voting in November.

And that is how the Tragedy of the Commons plays itself out, over, and over, and over. 

"Tragedy," as Garrett Hardin and Alfred North Whitehead define it, resides in "the remorseless working of things."

I still think that my idea was a good one.  Reflecting the remorseless working of water policy in Whatcom County, however, I have a new suggestion, and I think that it will be a popular one that will avoid backlash.

Everyone can agree that the highest and best use of water is for microbrews.  The proliferation of new breweries in Bellingham will help us to drown our sorrows.  To end with another optimistic quote from another eminent British thinker (John Maynard Keynes, this time), “In the long run we are all dead.” 

So let us eat, drink beer, be merry, and avoid backlash, until the long run catches up.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Of Salmon and Bagpipes

I’ve lived in Whatcom County since 1996, and it has always seemed a bit like Brigadoon to me. The land that time forgot. A county-dwelling friend claims that this aura is related to the County's staunchly conservative electorate: “These are the folks who ran as far away from civilization as they could, until the water and the border stopped them from going any further.”

Maybe that’s why the idea of “planning” meets so much resistance in our county. “Planning” means that change is going to happen, that the future may be different from the past, and that change might make us do things differently.

No change will be bigger than climate change. The scientific evidence of climate change’s effects makes it clear that our future is going to be quite different from our past. And when I say “our future,” I mean our future. Right here in Whatcom County.

Just yesterday, for example, a peer-reviewed article confirmed what we already know: that climate change is giving salmon a tough time. As NOAA Fisheries states
Many salmon rivers around Puget Sound have experienced increasing fluctuations in flow over the past 60 years, just as climate change projections predict - and that's unfortunate news for threatened Chinook salmon, according to a new analysis of salmon survival and river flow.
More pronounced fluctuations in flow can scour away salmon eggs and exhaust young fish, especially when lower flows force adult fish to lay eggs in more exposed areas in the center of the channel.
Flow fluctuates so wildly because of bigger storms, more droughts, and more water falling as rain instead of snow. This study makes it clear that these fluctuations are already happening – this is not just something that may happen in the future.

Oh well, you may be thinking, that’s OK, we’ll just get our salmon from British Columbia. Except that a recent Canadian study shows that warming waters in B.C. rivers will give chinook salmon heart attacks. Literally.

So maybe we shouldn’t “plan” to outsource our salmon dinners
These studies, and many more like them, show that the future will not be like the past. In fact, “the future” is now. It’s already on the job. What can we do about it?

Whatcom County is in the middle of its most important planning exercise: the update of its 2016 Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan is supposed to identify and protect frequently flooded areas. It’s supposed to protect surface and groundwater resources. It’s supposed to protect fish and wildlife habitat. Climate change will affect all of these “protected” resources. We could -- in fact, we should -- plan to avoid and ameliorate the effects of climate change.

But I’ve been watching County planning for a while now, and I have a prediction based on past performance. I predict that Whatcom County will continue to plan for the past, because that’s where its most vocal residents are the most comfortable.

The County will continue to promote land conversion that way it’s always been done in Whatcom County-- without worrying about water supply, or how much pavement covers watersheds, or whether farm land is protected, or even whether impact fees are in place that could help to pay for some of the impacts of land conversion. The County will continue to give the very highest priority to making sure that tens of thousands of new houses can be built on farm land and in rural areas, even when the new houses’ new wells deprive salmon of the water that they need.

In short, Whatcom County will continue to plan for 1950, not for 2050.

Now, some readers are shaking their heads, saying “I live in the most progressive community in the universe! We love the environment! What are you talking about?” And that may be right, as far as it goes. Psychologically, if not geographically.

As Gail Collins has pointed out, there’s a large and increasing difference between what she calls “crowded places” and “empty places.” "Empty places" are a state of mind, not necessarily a geography; Texas views itself as an empty place, Collins notes, despite the fact that 80% of its population lives in urban areas

In our crowded place, Bellingham, it can be easy to stay cocooned in our proto-Brooklyn hipster vibe. But the fact is, our mini-Brooklyn is located smack in the middle of mini-Texas, when it comes to voting patterns and cultural affiliations.

Speaking of Texas – we have a lot of folks in Whatcom County who would find Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s favorite climate joke to be really funny: “It’s cold! Al Gore told me this wouldn’t happen!”

Best available science recognizes that climate change is already upon us. Whatcom County is required to use best available science when it protects critical areas.

But will it?

Or is that the sound of laughter over Al Gore jokes that I hear, almost muffling the faint strain of a bagpipe, as Brigadoon fades back into the past?