The League of Women Voters hosted an excellent panel this morning. Five experienced, knowledgeable speakers discussed water resource problems and issues from a variety of perspectives. The Center for New Media taped the forum, if you missed it (here’s the link).
Every issue that the panel discussed had to do with the area of the County in which Whatcom County is the sole local general-purpose government – that is, the parts of the County that are not within cities.
There was no representative from Whatcom County.
I do not believe that this reflects a lack of foresight on the part of the League of Women Voters. Rather, it reflects how far Whatcom County is from playing a leadership role in water issues.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been asking people with various types of involvement in County water issues if they can tell me who the County’s overall water resource experts are. (When I say “overall,” I mean “outside of Lake Whatcom.”) The unanimous answer, from folks in all walks of life and with varied involvement in water issues, has been:
This is quite a recent development that reflects several strands of the County's dominant belief system over the past few years – a lack of a grounding in science (We have more salmon than we know what to do with! There is no water problem!), opposition to the County’s environmental mandate and obligations (The state can't tell us what to do! Leave water issues to Ecology!), and a sometimes raucously anti-government ideology (Water law is a communist plot to take away property rights!). As the County has increasingly limited its role to development services, its capacity to address natural resource issues has diminished to the point of -- well, to the point of the answer above.
But without dwelling on the past, the question is: moving forward, should our most important local general purpose government, Whatcom County, take a leadership role in resolving water resource issues? Or at least be an active participant?
The reaction to a resolution proposed by Council Member Carl Weimer, which asks the County and its partners to develop a “water action plan,” will help to provide the answers to these questions.
Everybody on the water resources panel seemed to think that it’s a good idea. Perhaps, if other people support it too, the County will develop the capacity that it needs to be part of the solution.
And then, perhaps, the League of Women Voters will be able to hold a Water Resources Panel that focuses on Whatcom County's intelligent, proactive approach to addressing its water resource challenges.