EVERSON - The Nooksack River has been tearing away a strawberry field along Highway 9 one chunk at a time, and the farmers want something done about it.
Marty Maberry of Maberry Packing said he wanted the vulnerable area to be protected about six years ago, when it was much smaller and his business hadn't yet lost 6 or 7 acres of strawberries.
"We just need a better system, catching problems when they're small," rather than having property owners and taxpayers face a larger expense later, said Maberry, standing near a line of hazard tape intended to keep people away from the jagged topsoil cliff over the river.
The berry farmer said he watched 8-foot-deep chunks of topsoil fall into the river this spring, when the water was much higher and faster than it was on Tuesday, July 16. That morning, the Maberrys hosted the Whatcom County Council at the field they rent from David Syre north of Nugents Corner. Four council members - Barbara Brenner, Bill Knutzen, Pete Kremen and Ken Mann - saw the damage firsthand.
"There's been more significant erosion" at other places along the river, Kremen said.
"But this is getting worse," Brenner said.
The county Flood Control Zone District advisory committee was briefed on the erosion on July 11 and recommended further consideration by the council. Knutzen said the council, acting as the Flood Control Zone District board, could take it up as early as its next meeting, on July 23.
Kremen said a majority of the council appears to be "on board" to find a solution, which would require state, federal and tribal approval. Possibilities include building a rock wall or wooden barriers, or diverting the water into a channel closer to the opposite bank.
The cost of such a project and how the county would pay for it are unknown. The county has flood control funds from a property tax it collects, and it typically seeks grants for this kind of work.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife wouldn't approve a fix several years ago, when the problem was much smaller, Kremen said. Agency officials couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
"Now the fix is going to be a lot more extensive, a lot more expensive," Kremen said. "I think we need to move as quickly and as reasonably as possible to address it" while paying attention to any effects on wildlife habitat - salmon in particular.
Even if a project can get approved quickly, the work cannot coincide with the salmon runs, which begin later this summer.
Maberry cast a long look over the land between the Nooksack, a house owned by Syre and Highway 9. He said the river is on a trajectory to wash away many more acres than it's taken so far.
"Something needs to be done this fall," Maberry said. "Next fall is going to be a lot worse."