I was on an interesting panel at the Water Supply Symposium today. There were nine of us, representing different interests. After the first eight of us had spoken, in civil and probably fairly boring terms, Randy Kinley Jr., from Lummi Nation, said what needed to be said. To paraphrase:
Everybody knows what needs to be done. It doesn’t get done because of politics.
Well, yeah. There it is.
County Council candidate Rud Browne asked for “thinking outside of the box” on the issue of water rights and water supply. Somebody suggested to me after the symposium that it would be “thinking outside the box” if our County Council decided to comply with the Growth Management Act.
And that is also something that needs to be said:
In our county, a decision to comply with state law would be thinking well outside the current box.
My interest was “land use.” Here’s what I said:
There’s a definition of “planning” in BusinessDictionary.com that says that planning is:
A basic management function involving formulation of one or more detailed plans to achieve optimum balance of needs or demands with the available resources.
The planning process (1) identifies the goals or objectives to be achieved,
(2) formulates strategies to achieve them,
(3) arranges or creates the means required, and
(4) implements, directs, and monitors all steps in their proper sequence.
We expect businesses to plan. We expect families to plan, to make sure that the family budget balances needs or demands with available resources. And planning is what Whatcom County should do.
Yes, we need to know more, but we actually have quite a bit of information about water availability. We know that:
Most of Whatcom County’s surface waters are closed to further water withdrawal, either all year or in the critical summer months. .
Most farmers don’t have legal water rights.
There isn’t enough water for salmon in some of our streams.
The Sumas aquifer has one of the worst levels of nitrate contamination in the state, with 70% of wells violating state water quality.
Water supply is a problem that requires planning – a rational effort to achieve a balance of needs or demands with the available resources.
But for some reason, the idea that Whatcom County should plan to achieve an optimum use of our most precious resource, water, has been viewed as way too radical. Or a low priority. Or something.
There’s no question that the County has the authority it needs to plan for the rational use of our water supply. In fact, Goals 9 and 10 of the Growth Management Act require the County to protect water quality, the availability of water, and fish and wildlife habitat.
The County is required to plan for rural development that protects surface water, protects groundwater resources, and is compatible with fish habitat.
As the Washington Supreme Court said recently, in its 2011 decision in Kittitas County v. Eastern Wash. Growth Mgmt. Hearings Bd.,
Several relevant statutes indicate that the County must regulate to some extent to assure that land use is not inconsistent with available water resources. The GMA directs that the rural and land use elements of a county’s plan include measures that protect groundwater resources.
What could the County do?
When it’s deciding where to encourage or discourage growth, it could make water availability a key factor. It could prevent further pollution of groundwater and surface water, because poor water quality in some areas translates into a lack of water supply.
I am representing local citizens who, along with Futurewise, are asking the Growth Management Hearings Board to find that Whatcom County has an obligation to make sure that its rural land use planning takes water supply into account. This obligation is not only to address the exempt well issue, but also to consider water supply when planning for growth.
The County has said that it has no obligation to do anything that the Department of Ecology doesn’t force it to do. A decision should be out next month.
But whether or not the County is required to protect water supply through planning, it certainly has the ability to do so.
Why does this matter? Because we have a limited number of tools at our disposal, and because the stakes are so high.
The tools that we have are state water law, and as previous speakers said, state water law is not enforced, and it’s not adequate to the task.
The tribes have options and rights, which are theirs to talk about;
And we have the County’s ability to plan for the optimal balance of needs.
Let me leave you with another quote.
While none of us who live in Washington’s beautiful “fourth corner” are pleased with the prospect of spending substantial amounts of money on water resource issues, all of us have an important stake in the outcome of this work. If we fail to initiate and see these important projects through to successful completion, we will pay a much heavier price in the future. Without available and viable water resources, the beauty, strength and vitality that make Whatcom County a desirable place to live, raise our families and pursue our dreams will wither away.
This is nobody’s campaign speech. This is from the introduction to Whatcom County’s current Comprehensive Water Resources Plan, signed by County Executive Peter Kremen in 1999. Yes, Whatcom County’s current plan is now a teenager – 14 years old.
What were our ambitions at the turn of the millennium, when we adopted our current plan? Let me quote just a couple of the goals of this Comprehensive Water Plan:
· Whatcom County will have coordinated land use and habitat management that protects drinking water supplies and provides recreational opportunities while restoring and sustaining natural systems.
· WATER SUPPLY: Whatcom County will have a locally developed watershed plan and implementation strategy that provides for long-term, reliable and sustainable water supplies by 2003.
Ten years later, in 2013, my fear is the fear of most of the people in this room. My fear is that we’ll all be here – older, greyer, a little less spry – ten years from now. In 2023, in a county that has successfully resisted planning, we will find that it has also failed to provide for coordinated land use and habitat management. Failed to provide for long-term, reliable, and sustainable water supplies. A County with more farmers uncertain about their water supply, more wells that violate state water quality, and fewer salmon.