Whatcom farmers seek to establish unified voice in water issues

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 10, 2014 

Farmers in Whatcom County have always understood that managing water is a vital part of operating successful farm businesses. For years, farmers have created and maintained adequate drainage systems so their land can be farmed productively. They are always working to ensure the supply of irrigation and stock water needed to support our dairies and crops. And farms in the floodplain are constantly aware of the havoc flooding might unleash.

What is relatively new to most farmers is the amount of pressure that governments, tribal treaty rights and the threat of legal action by well-meaning community groups now exert on water management. Our farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their drainage systems, be assured of adequate water for their cows and crops and preserve flood protection. Frustration with our inability to address these concerns has prompted a renewed effort to help farmers organize in such a way that they will have a more effective voice. Farmers need to wisely and clearly represent their interests to governments and others that affect our water management practices.

We invite farmers and farm businesses to a farm water meeting 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday, Jan. 20 at the Mount Baker Rotary Building, Lynden. This will serve as the kickoff discussion for what a group of farmers, organized as the Ag District Coalition, have devised as the preferred means of creating a significant and sustained voice for agriculture in our county.

Members of the Ag District Coalition have been involved in water-related meetings and presentations for a few years and have come to understand water issues from the divergent points of view that exist in our county. We organized as a formal non-profit in late summer 2013 and have enjoyed the strong financial backing of Whatcom Farmers Co-op as we developed our strategy and determined the best means to accomplish it. We are now ready to engage the farm community in discussions over the following points:

What are the issues that need to be addressed and why?

What are the options for how farmers can address them?

Can we, as farmers, agree on a strategy and then support its implementation?

The Jan. 20 meeting will provide opportunity to understand current tribal, as well as a local environmental advocacy groups' interests in the water we all need. We want to communicate the reasons why the Ag District Coalition is making a significant effort to get the whole farm community on a better legal footing with respect to all of our water issues.

Bill Clarke, a highly respected water attorney providing legal support to the Ag District Coalition, will then help clarify the challenges and lay out the options available to us under Washington state law with plenty of opportunity for questions and discussion.

The Ag District Coalition intends to place farm perspectives firmly into the local water debates. We intend to do so in the most transparent manner possible so that all farmers will have a voice in how we organize and address our water challenges.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Whatcom farmers Randy Honcoop and Ed Blok co-chair the Ag District Coalition. Also on the board are farmers Andy Enfield, Jim Heeringa, Scott Bedlington, Tom Thornton, Rod Vande Hoef, Marty Maberry, and Greg Ebe. Contact the group at info@whatcomadc.org, 360-306-3580, P.O. Box 737 Lynden, WA 98264.

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