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Ecology will take over planning for water use in the Nooksack River basin

Bellingham man calls property owners ‘collateral damage’ in Whatcom water dispute

Bret Espey of Bellingham testified before a state House committee Tuesday, March 28 that rural property owners are "collateral damage" from the recent state Supreme Court decision involving water rights and the use of domestic wells.
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Bret Espey of Bellingham testified before a state House committee Tuesday, March 28 that rural property owners are "collateral damage" from the recent state Supreme Court decision involving water rights and the use of domestic wells.

State officials will take over planning for water use in the Nooksack River watershed after the Whatcom and Skagit county committees failed to agree on a solution, the Department of Ecology said Tuesday.

Ecology said in a statement that a Nooksack River watershed plan was due Feb. 1, so, under Washington state law, Ecology will develop that plan.

“To accommodate rural growth and protect water needs for fish, the legislature adopted the streamflow restoration law last year. It requires local watershed planning groups to approve plans for offsetting future water consumption by new permit-exempt wells in their watersheds,” Ecology said in the email.

Planning for water use is an offshoot of the state Supreme Court’s 2016 Hirst decision, which said Whatcom County had violated the Growth Management Act and wasn’t protecting its water resources when deciding whether to issue permits for wells that draw from groundwater in the Nooksack basin.

The Bellingham Herald reported earlier that in 2018 the state Legislature reversed the Supreme Court’s decision, allowing counties to use Ecology rules for water resources, which let Whatcom County issue building permits for projects that depend on wells.

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.


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