Vote expected on funding for small groups in Whatcom water-rights conflict

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 18, 2014 

The citizens who represent the smallest voices in Whatcom County's water-rights conflict will get a vote of confidence - or not - from the County Council on Tuesday, April 22.

The council will convene as the Flood Control Zone District Board of Supervisors to decide whether to spend $20,000 from the county flood fund to support a facilitator for the group's meetings for another six months.

Planning unit members - small water systems, well owners, farmers and foresters, to name a few - started meeting in September 2013 after the organization went dormant for more than four years. The County Council reinvigorated the unit after public pressure to have grassroots voices in negotiations that include bigger players such as Indian tribes; state, county and city governments; and the Public Utility District of Whatcom County.

The groups are trying to reach agreement on how to divide available water in the county. Water use currently exceeds the water rights that have been issued.

County officials earlier this year started losing patience with the planning unit, which had yet to approve a work plan or a budget. Executive Jack Louws suggested at a meeting last month this would be the last time he would recommend funding the unit.

The budget request could be discussed at a council committee meeting at 11 a.m. Tuesday, with the vote coming at the full council meeting at 7 p.m. Both meetings will be at the county courthouse, 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2289. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2298.

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