Letters to the Editor

Whatcom watershed improvement districts working on farm water, wildlife needs

An adequate supply of clean water is crucially important to every Whatcom resident. Farms are no different. We depend on water and have responsibilities to manage water on behalf of the rest of the community. Our land provides the short-term storm water storage, the recharge of our underground aquifers and much of the lowland habitat that fish and wildlife depend upon. We have significant challenges trying to produce safe, quality, low-cost food and to do so in a manner that contributes positively to water management.

Landowners throughout the farmed areas of the county voted to assess themselves on a per-acre basis to create and manage six watershed improvement districts. The districts have joined together to form an Ag Water Board. The board will provide long-range, common-purpose services to farmers while the individual watershed improvement districts will be managing water concerns within their respective boundaries. The new structure builds on the past 20-plus years of efforts to protect our water that have involved partnerships among farmers, tribal leaders, environmental groups and city, county and state governments toward finding solutions that benefit our land — and ultimately all of Whatcom County.

The closures of the Portage Bay shellfish beds and the restrictions on the Drayton Harbor oyster farm due to fecal coliform contamination are an immediate test that has occupied most of our recent discussions. All the watershed improvement districts have committed themselves to better understanding the sources of bacteria and, once that is reasonably understood, dedicated to corrective measures that will reduce these sources. This means using some of our funds to do more monitoring, to provide education and technical assistance and to support enforcement of regulations when merited. We rely on partners like the Whatcom Conservation District, Whatcom County Public Works and even enforcement agencies such as the Washington State Department of Agriculture and Department of Ecology to work with us on achieving this goal.

Water supply remains a common challenge for most farms, and the Bertrand Watershed Improvement District has been leading the community response by proposing changes to the state water code that would benefit both fish habitat and farm access to irrigation and stock water. Bertrand has partnered with Whatcom County, the Public Utility District, City of Bellingham, Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Tribe to gain a clearer understanding of the relationship between our aquifers and streams.

We are convinced that we have an abundant water supply under our fields. Our challenge is to manage this supply so that it remains sustainable and adequate to support the stream flows needed for fish habitat. We can do this, but only a cooperative effort led by the watershed improvement districts and Ag Water Board can accomplish it.

We are actively addressing the maintenance needs within each watershed improvement district’s drainage system, connecting with the (county) Flood Advisory Board, representing farm water interests to the Water Resource Invetory Area 1 Planning Unit, and ensuring that we operate our watershed improvement districts in an open and transparent manner. We seek your patience as we develop our plans and the structure to implement them.

Farm Friends hosts an overview and links to all the watershed improvement districts on the website at wcfarmfriends.com. Your ideas, questions and suggestions are always welcome. Help keep us focused on your farm’s water needs.