Bellingham is considering a deal with Lynden and the PUD to pull water out of the Nooksack River in Lynden and Ferndale, instead of at the existing Middle Fork diversion site much farther upstream.
The people involved say there is no actual water transfer deal in the works, but the new arrangement - if approved - could be one small step toward a broad solution of countywide water rights issues that have defied solutions for many years.
The Bellingham City Council got a first look at the proposal at its Aug. 12 meeting, and council members decided to delay action pending further discussion at its Sept. 16 regular session.
If Bellingham, Lynden and the PUD all agree to the arrangement, it would be submitted to the Washington Department of Ecology for approval. The PUD is involved because that public agency still maintains an unused water withdrawal site in Ferndale.
When and if the affected governments approve, the new water withdrawal opportunity for Bellingham would be one small step toward a possible transfer of surplus Bellingham water rights to water users who need more. That includes both farmers in the greater Lynden area and private water associations north of Lynden whose well water exceeds state health standards for nitrate content.
In 2001, Lynden's municipal water consumption was well in excess of its own water right, and Lynden officials were hoping they might be able to buy Bellingham's unused water right for their own city. But since that time, Lynden Mayor Scott Korthuis says the city has raised its water rates, and the resulting household conservation has brought Lynden's own water consumption back into line.
The Ferndale and Lynden withdrawal sites farther down the river could also supply Bellingham itself in the distant future, leaving more water in the upper stretches of the river where salmon spawn. That means that the potential new city withdrawal sites could also be part of a deal with the Lummi and Nooksack Indian tribes. Both tribes contend that their treaty fishing rights are being violated by excessive withdrawal of water from the river and its tributaries.
At the Aug. 12 meeting, Mayor Kelli Linville and Bellingham Public Works Director Ted Carlson assured council members that there is no actual water transfer deal in the works, and any such deal would get council and public scrutiny before it could be enacted.
"This really is the start of the planning process," Carlson said. "We're not assuming any outcomes at this point."
Linville said the same: "We are not proposing anything right now to supply water to anybody else."
It's complicated. I hope to have more details for you in a day or two, in a story I'm preparing for print and online.