Whatcom County has a Public Utility District, commonly known as a PUD. The PUD is a county-wide government entity, a municipal corporation, with taxing power and a charter to perform a variety of roles and functions, such as providing water and electricity as a non-profit utility company.
Because the PUD is a local government and it is not a for-profit corporation, the PUD is governed by a publicly elected three-person board of commissioners. Each commissioner is chosen by the registered voters in one of the three county council districts. A commissioner serves a six-year term, and the terms are staggered by two years so that only one position on the board is at stake in any given election. This year the seat for District 1 is up for election.
The PUD is a provider of electric power, potable water, and industrial-grade water for several dozen clients in the north part of the county between Cherry Point and Lynden. Our PUD provides irrigation water to 50 farms located between Lynden and Blaine. The PUD also provides drinking water and water for fire suppression to a business/industrial park west of I-5.
The PUD's biggest customers, in terms of the amount of revenues it receives for the services it provides, are its six industrial customers at Cherry Point on the west side of Ferndale. The PUD provides electricity as well as water to three of its customers, the two oil refineries and the aluminum smelter. The PUD's electric and water services throughout the county currently generate about $18 million a year in income.
Aside from delivering electricity and water every day as a utility provider, the PUD No. 1 of Whatcom County participates in some environmental protection projects, including restoration of salmon habitats in the north county and a project to recycle agricultural waste to generate energy.
The PUD's greatest environmental impact, though, is as a key player in efforts to manage water resources. The PUD is a member of three different water resource management programs in Whatcom County, including the county-wide WRIA. The acronym "WRIA" stands for Water Resource Inventory Area No. 1 Watershed Management Project.
Our PUD and is one of the five government bodies that are members of WRIA and hold veto-power over the decisions the WRIA can make. The WRIA has a Planning Unit, which was recently re-activated after being suspended for four years. The WRIA and its Planning Unit have statutory authority to work closely with the state Department of Ecology to develop, review and update a comprehensive Watershed Management Plan. The Watershed Management Plan is a long-term blueprint for regulating the usage of water throughout the county.
As both a utility provider and as a water resource manager, the PUD has experienced some controversy. For example, the city of Ferndale voted to end its contract to get drinking water from the PUD when they could not reach an agreement on the rates Ferndale would have to pay. Another example is the participation of the PUD in confidential negotiations with the Lummi and Nooksack tribes to further the work of the WRIA's Watershed Management Plan. Several stakeholders in watershed planning have complained of being left out of the process due to the way these negotiations were conducted.
As one of the three candidates competing for the District 1 commissioner position, I would like to highlight the need to improve the governance of our PUD with regards to three issues: openness, sustainability and fairness.
As commissioner, I would work to make sure the PUD increases its commitment to openness and transparency. I would propose to my colleagues on the board that the PUD videotape its bi-monthly board meetings, conduct town-hall meetings, and put in place a citizens advisory committee.
To ensure the sustainability of water supplies and consumption in the county, the PUD needs to facilitate input from all interested parties. Otherwise, the PUD risks undermining the public confidence it needs to do its crucial work on the WRIA. Putting the Planning Unit back into operation was a big step in the right direction. The scope of this work is so great that the only way to ensure fairness to all is to give everybody the opportunity to participate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This is one of a series of commentaries from candidates in the Aug. 5 primary election. Matthew Goggins is a candidate for District 1 commissioner for Whatcom County Public Utility District No. 1. The top two vote getters in the primary will be on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. The district has countywide authority to supply electric and water services. It is governed by a three-member nonpartisan board of commissioners who serve staggered six-year terms. District 1 covers south Bellingham and southeast Whatcom County with boundaries that match those for the Whatcom County Council.