Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Yes, Virginia, There Will Be Enough Water For Your Christmas Tree

Yesterday was a strange day.

Bright and early, I got a phone call saying that a Channel 5 news reporter would be in Bellingham to do a story on “wells in Whatcom County.” 

Earlier this year, the state Growth Management Hearings Board found that Whatcom County’s planning for “rural” areas failed to protect water quality and quantity, and habitat for fish and wildlife. (You can read the decision here.   And I’ve blogged on water issues from time to time – most recently, here.)

I represented four local citizens in the case before the Growth Management Hearings Board, so I thought that the reporter wanted to talk about it.  But it turns out that the reporter was on the trail of something quite different from the truth, more elusive than reality.

The reporter was trying to find the Grinch who wants to steal the Tea Party’s Christmas.

The reporter said that we could meet either in my home or in my office.  You really don’t want to see the dust bunnies in my home, and I was going into my office at WWU anyway, so we agreed to meet there.

At about 12:30, the cameraman and reporter rolled in.  I talked about the issues in my best sound-bitey way, and then the questions came.

“Is it fair to take away people’s water?”

Say what?

I explained, as sound-bitingly as I could, that our case would not take away anybody’s water.  We’re asking the County to plan, which means that prospectively, the County needs to think about where water is available and where it isn’t.  In the future, when it decides about where land development should occur, the County should know whether or not water is available.

“They’re saying that people with existing wells will be closed down.”


I had asked the reporter what brought him here, and he mumbled something about “getting around.”  “They’ were not identified. . 

Our case won’t affect existing wells, I said.  Hypothetically, the state could cut down on water use by people with wells if it decided to do so -- but that decision would be under state water law going back a hundred years, not as a result of our case.  And that’s a very unlikely scenario, I observed, because state water law is like a speed limit that’s posted, but everybody knows that nobody will ever enforce it.

The reporter’s last question:  “Do you have any evidence, any evidence at all, that there isn’t enough water?”

Oh my goodness, I said, there’s bountiful evidence.  The Department of Ecology closed many river basins in Whatcom County in 1985.  In 2003, the Department of Ecology and the Department of Fish and Wildlife designated the Nooksack as one of 16 “critical basins” in the state, where water is so overallocated that it threatens the survival of fish.  Many streams in the County don’t meet instream flows, not just periodically, but for much of the year.  Somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of the water used for irrigation is used without a legal water right.  And so forth.

If we didn’t have this evidence, I concluded, the Board would not have found in our favor.  The reporter nodded, and asked if there was anything else I wanted to say.

Yes, I said.  I want to say that we’re not interested in taking away anybody’s water.  We want the County to plan for the future, to make sure that there’s water for people, crops, and fish.

They filmed me reading my e-mail for a while, and off they went.

What came out of it?  This report.

In the event that the link goes away, the report starts at the lovely, dust-bunny-free home of ubiquitous Tea Party activists Greg and Karen Brown.  Karen is watering her Christmas tree, while a voiceover announces, ominously, that the water might be the most expensive item under the tree.

Say what?  Do the Browns water their tree with Evian?

Karen, looking kind and sad, speaks forlornly about the people who want to take their well away from them.  Their home will be worth nothing!

Who ARE those mean people?

Well, guess who pops up next.
It’s not apparent why I’m there, or why it is that I’m talking about speed limits.  But at least there’s an inference that, in reality, nobody is going to desiccate the Browns’ Christmas tree.


If you go to all the usual Tea Party places – the Whatcom Excavator, the blog of Tea Party activist and KGMI commentator Kris Haltermann – you can see the themes starting to line up.
  • There is no water shortage.  (That’s the source of the reporter’s question, I’m sure.) 
  • Therefore, there is no good reason for anybody to worry about water allocation, water quality, or water for fish.
  • People who do promote good water allocation, who want to protect water quality, and who worry about water for fish are nothing but mean ol’ Grinches.

That’s the story that the reporter was pursuing, and that’s the story that he didn’t get.  

Because it’s simply not true.