Sunday, April 27, 2014

Still Outlaws

The Bellingham Herald reported today that County Council Chair Carl Weimer said "Happy Earth Day."  

This is a stunning development.  After all, Council Chair Weimer's remark stands in stark contrast to the official Whatcom County moniker for Earth Day:  as [County Executive] Louws called it, National Jellybean Day.” 

Therefore, Q.E.D., the environmentalists are winning.  Everyone, please go back to sleep until the next election.

I wish that I could join the happy siesta.  Truly.  The past four years of County Council mismanagement have worn us all down.  

But the thing is, there's this pending case addressing Whatcom County’s failure to plan for the protection of its water resources in rural areas.  Yes, that case, the one where the Growth Management Hearings Board found that the County had not protected water quality or quantity.

The case that the County lost, although you wouldn’t know it from the folks vigorously asserting the sanctity of the County’s right to continue not to plan.  

These saber-rattlers neglected to address one salient fact:  not only did Whatcom County lose, but it has a current legal obligation to comply with the GMA.    

On April 15, 2014, the Growth Management Hearings Board found that the County remains in noncompliance with the Growth Management Act, because it still has not implemented the planning needed to protect its water resources.  The Board’s “Second Order on Noncompliance” states: 
"Whatcom County is in continuing non-compliance with the Growth Management Act as found in the Board’s June 7, 2013, FDO. This matter is remanded to the County to take action to comply with the Growth Management Act. . .”
The Board requires the County to file a status report in early October 2014, with compliance due on November 21, 2014.

How does the County plan to comply?  Nobody talked about that in the Herald article.

Republican Party leader and Tea Party activist Charlie Crabtree talked about how Whatcom County ought to fight in court because that's what "the party and conservatives" across the state want the County to do.  If the County Council believes that it is under an obligation to uphold the statewide conservative agenda, then so be it  -- and does that mean that the County will continue to thumb its nose at the Growth Management Hearings Board?

Council member Ken Mann asserted that my clients and Futurewise would need to come up with a "profound settlement proposal"  to avoid court.  No word on the County's plans to "take action to comply" with Board's order on water quantity.

Whatcom County is in charge of planning. The County has staff.  The County is the entity that is required “to take action.”

Whatcom County is [still] the outlaw.

I hope that optimism over the new County Council will be justified by words and actions demonstrating that the Council takes its own obligations seriously.   

The responsibility for “profound” proposals to address the County’s ongoing noncompliance with state law ought to be a two-way street.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

“Whatcom County Has Plenty of Water,” And Other Happy Talk That Really Isn’t Helpful

This post is a delayed reaction to a panel discussion of Whatcom County water issues that took place last Saturday (this link will take you to Terry Wechsler’s summary of the forum on Northwest Citizen).

One phrase that was repeated umpty-times was “Whatcom County has plenty of water.”  Well, OK.

Let’s think about some other commodities that are plentiful in the County: 

Whatcom County has plenty of money:  Meander through Semiahmoo or Edgemoor, check out the coastal properties off of Chuckanut Drive, and it becomes readily apparent that there is plenty of money in Whatcom County.  I’m betting that we have so much money in Whatcom County that some of it even is sent abroad, to be hidden offshore. 

Whatcom County has plenty of food:  I was in Haggen’s just last night, and the shelves were downright groaning with food.  Farmers grow a lot of food here – milk, berries, all sorts of good things.  Plenty of food.  We even export some of it.  We have so much food that some of it gets thrown away.
And yet, people are poor.  And yet, people go hungry. 

The point is, of course, that overall quantity is one measure of plenty, but it isn’t the most useful measure when distribution is the problem.  And distribution is the problem with water.
Unless and until those winter flood waters voluntarily decide to route themselves into giant natural cisterns, and then accommodatingly flow onto farm fields in August, the fact that we have “plenty of water” (as an annual figure) doesn’t really solve our problem.

OH NO, have I started a meme?  Will people now claim that flood waters will route themselves into previously-unknown natural cisterns, and then will disperse themselves onto farm fields?

My concern is not as far-fetched as you might think.  The statement that got the biggest rise out of the audience last week was farmer Marty Maberry’s announcement that a previously-unknown deep aquifer, “bigger than the Amazon and the Columbia Rivers put together,” had been discovered under Seattle.

Members of the audience (1) immediately thought that he meant “under Whatcom County” (he hadn’t said that, but we all tend to hear what we want to hear), and (2) asked how we can get one of our own.  Marty suggested that we should be putting our money into drilling, so we can discover more previously-unknown deep aquifers.

Well, heck.  Who can blame Marty.  We all want a silver bullet.  And dealing with water issues in this county does have all the fun and sense of achievement of trying to run through a vat of drying cement.   I think that everybody involved is frustrated and would like to be rescued by a giant deep aquifer.

The only problem is that there is no vast, previously-unknown deep aquifer under Seattle.  There is a vast underwater canyon that belches salty, nutrient-laden water into Puget Sound, as my comments on the Northwest Citizen argument explain (with links).  UW researchers recently found that this canyon is bigger than the Amazon and Columbia Rivers, combined.   But it’s no freshwater source.

It’s a bummer.  It throws us back into the vat of drying cement, where none of us wants to be.  But you know what -- we’ve made a big part of that vat ourselves by our heedlessness in ignoring water issues.  The natural world is complex and only getting more so with climate change.  And that’s the reality that we face.

Therefore, I would suggest that it doesn’t help to keep repeating “we have plenty of water” without some clarification.

Who are “we”? Do We the Fishes count?

How do we gauge “plenty”?  Do time-and-place matter?

The state of Washington answered both of those questions in 1985, when it established instream flows (for We the Fishes) and closed watersheds during dry periods.  Yes, fish are part of “we.”  No, “plenty” doesn’t mean that we have enough water when and where we need it.

Almost thirty years later, it’s not like these concerns have gone away.  “Plenty” is as plenty does, and our “plenty” has some strings attached.

So please, no more empty happy talk.  Let’s have some action.


Why is Grumpy Blogger so grumpy?  See the response to Progress Hornsby, below.  

As promised, here's the factual record of Whatcom County's water resource management, in the words of the State Growth Management Hearings Board.  

But hey, this is nothing that Happy Talk can't handle. If we all believe -- REALLY BELIEVE -- that we have the best of all possible County governments. . . . 

if we all snap our fingers and say "Yes, Tink, I believe!". . . . (or, alternatively, "Whatever is, is right," with the theme from Candide running through our minds),

then all these problems just go away. 

"The record demonstrates the following in the County’s Rural Area regarding surface and groundwater resources:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Water Wars Forever

As our loyal readers know, Whatcom County's rural and agricultural areas can accommodate enough new houses to take care of the County's population growth for the next 25 years.  Not one new house or apartment needs to be built in a city -- the County's zoning allows all the new houses anybody could need to be built in rural and ag land.  

And you know that the rural and ag areas don't have water to spare.   Most of the basins in Whatcom County are closed to further withdrawals, but that hasn't affected the County's decision to allow all those new houses to be built, tapping groundwater that will not be available to farmers or to fish.

And you know that the Growth Management Hearings Board has found that the County needs to protect water quality and quantity.  As a result, the County is under a legal compliance obligation; it is supposed to be working towards compliance with the Board's order.  That's the law. 

And you know that the County has the option of improving its water quality and quantity planning to comply with the Board's order. 

Instead, the County Council just voted to spend $40,000 more taxpayer-provided dollars to keep fighting in court.  

And today, in a compliance hearing before the Growth Management Hearings Board (this is a public hearing, so I'm not telling any tales), the County's attorney stated that the "County does not intend to take any further legislative action without guidance by the court."

So much for following the law!

So much for protecting water quality and quantity!

So much for all of those campaign promises NOT to keep funding Seattle attorneys to fight against GMA compliance!  I hope that We the Taxpayers are prepared for many more requests for many more tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars, because this Council apparently does not see a need to end the old Council's GMA battles any time soon.

I'm very disappointed as a citizen.  But as an advocate -- well, nobody ever promised us a rose garden, so on we go.