Politics Blog

Meeting Wednesday on obscure yet important Nooksack River ‘instream flow rule’ for salmon

The Nooksack River watershed planning unit began meeting a year ago after a four-year hiatus. The group, charged with advising the Whatcom County Council and other water-management leaders about water planning, has been using its first year back to develop a work plan and draft a budget. Members, which include representatives of groups with an interest in water, also have been getting up to speed on the relevant water topics.

It’s all very heady stuff, and the public also could benefit from some of the instruction the planning unit is receiving.

The public will have just such an opportunity on Wednesday evening, Dec. 3, at a special meeting of the planning unit. Officials from the state Department of Ecology will discuss a fairly obscure but nevertheless vital part of water planning in the watershed: the instream flow rule.

The rule, found in WAC 173-501, restricts withdrawals from the Nooksack and certain tributaries so that enough water is kept flowing for salmon.

The relevant paragraph in the WAC includes interests other than salmon, but for practical purposes the rule is intended to protect salmon habitat, largely for the benefit of the Nooksack Indian Tribe and Lummi Nation:

The purpose of this chapter is to retain perennial rivers, streams, and lakes in the Nooksack water resource inventory area with instream flows and levels necessary to provide for preservation of wildlife, fish, scenic, aesthetic, and other environmental values, and navigational values, as well as recreation and water quality.

The agenda outlines the topics around the instream flow rule that will be discussed:

• The science behind setting instream flows

• How was the current Nooksack rule set and how does it work?

• Setting instream flow rules, then vs. now

• Ecology’s current policies for setting/modifying instream flow rules.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 3, in the Garden Room of the Civic Center Annex, 322 N. Commercial St., Bellingham. Time has been set aside for public questions after the meeting adjourns, tentatively scheduled for 8 p.m. The Garden Room is at street level, on the northwest corner of the building (corner of Commercial and Lottie St.)