Update on public water systems and exempt wells in Whatcom County

In Common Voices, Hirst Decision, Local Government, News, Whatcom County Council by commonnw

Update on local efforts to comply with the State Legislature’s mandates for public water systems in the “Hirst Fix” bill passed in January, 2018.

Land use consultant Roger Almskaar, also President of the Whatcom Chapter of Citizens Alliance for Property Rights (CAPR), presented documents to the Whatcom County Council on June 19th asking for a change to the Drinking Water Code to clarify what is meant by, timely and reasonable water service.” See PDF article on from King County on this issue.

This matter affects many land owners in most of rural Whatcom County. The broad issue here is that the subject section of the County’s adopted Drinking Water Code, WCC 24.11.050.C.4, ignores and omits any reference to the policies of timely and reasonable water service, as identified and required for public water systems in state law and guidance.

The proposed change would specify that, If the cost for a single family dwelling to connect (to a public water system) exceeds the system’s current share cost, the applicant may decline said service. If the system receives such a notice, it will issue a Letter of Denial within 30 days. The Council sent this issue to the Utility Coordinating Committee for a proposed amendment on, Timely and Reasonable policies, with a deadline of Sept. 30th, 2018.

Link to Roger Almskaar speaking to council

Link to audio of full committee meeting


Background info on the “Hirst Fix” bill

Whatcom Chapter of CAPR understood that the sheer volume of information about the local WRIA 1 – Watershed Management Project seriously lacks the ability to inform normal citizens the information they need to be aware of critical aspects of the local water issue here in our community. Everyone living in Whatcom County is affected by these policies currently under discussion. The local chapter of CAPR made a decision to undertake this project in an attempt to produce monthly update reports, focused on local efforts to comply with the State Legislature’s mandates within ESSB-6091 (the Hirst Fix), a bill which was passed in January, 2018. There is a mind-boggling amount of moving parts to consider as we seek to resolve this issue due to the numerous government bureaucracies that intersect the process.

In an effort to help those trying to make sense of local watershed planning over recent decades and how we got here, CAPR has included some very abbreviated history in the first two reports which are attached here. Each report has been carefully limited to two pages of material. There are links for those wishing to explore some of the detailed aspects in depth.


CAPR 6091 WRIA 1 – Monthly Report # 1, May 10, 2018
Current Status of Whatcom County’s Water Resource Planning Program

This report is the first in a monthly series. It will summarize the background and conclude with comments on current major issues. Future reports will include a calendar of events. Note a few
upcoming important meetings on p 2.

Our purpose is to provide key information on the topics and process of this very important matter to concerned citizens To our knowledge, no other entity, public or private, is doing this.
These reports will distributed widely and posted on our site: http://proprights.org/whatcom under, Current Issues: Water. Resource documents etc. underlined will be posted.

Please support our efforts by donations or membership. Thank you.

Breaking News:This Tuesday evening, May 8th, 2018, the County Council, after a half-hour of spirited discussion, voted 4 to 2 to adopt a Resolution as presented to clarify the roles of the various parties in the current water resource planning process, based on state law. It had been introduced March 27th, 2018, by Councilpersons Brenner and Byrd:  Roles of Water Resource Planning.

Resolution recognizing the roles and duties of Whatcom County, the WRIA 1 Planning Unit, and the WRIA 1 initiating governments regarding water
resources planning under RCW 90.82 and ESSB 6091

A draft alternative by the Executive’s office was introduced May 24th, 2018:  Amendments to WC Comp Plan, WC Code Title 15, WC Code Title 20, WC Code Title 21, and WC Code Title 24; Relating to Water Resource & Implementing of ESSB 6091

An Ordinance Repealing Ordinance Nos. 2018-001 and 2018-005 and Adopting Amendments to the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan and the Whatcom County Code Title 15 Buildings and Construction, Title 20 Zoning, Title 21 Land Division Regulations, and Title 24 Health Code, Relating to Water Resources and Implementing ESSB 6091.

Over the last few decades interest in local water resource planning has waxed and waned. Many citizens did not believe that there could be actual water shortages in our area given all the rain we get. A popular attitude has been is that water issues were just politics. However, in October 2016, the “Hirst decision”, described below, became a major issue for all of Whatcom County. In January 2018, the legislature passed a “fix”, ESSB 6091, which required specific water planning and regulatory actions. Now, county government and other public entities must work with affected private interests to update the current Watershed Management Plan (WMP) on several matters.

Continue reading May 10, 2018 Report.


CAPR 6091 WRIA 1 – Monthly Report # 2, May 23, 2018
Recent local water resource events:

Co. Council Surface Water Work Session May 15. The WRIA 1 Watershed Management Board (WMB) five-year implementation plan was discussed: Watershed Management Board 2018-2023 Funding Plan & Implementation Strategy
Some council members expressed concern over the limited role of the Planning Unit in water resource issues in general and the WMB five-year plan in particular. One member said the plan had
no identified funding, and it looked a lot more like planning than implementation. Staff did not directly answer some questions. Council took no action; staff wants council to approve the document by this Fall.

Planning Unit (PU) regular meeting; May 23rd, 2018: Two PU caucus representatives were replaced: Port of Bellingham staff nominated Kurt Baumgarten to replace Sylvia Goodwin, who retired; Fishers’
caucus replaced Terry Montonye with Shannon Moore, with Alan Chapman as their alternate representative.

ESSB 6091: Rural Population Growth Estimate: ESSB 6091 requires an estimate of new private wells
over the next twenty years. The county contracted with BERK, the consultant that provided population estimates for the last Comp Plan update, to update their estimate and spread it out over the nine distinct areas into which the staff team has divided WRIA 1. Using an average household formation rate of 2.56, the staff team then will estimate the total number of households, hence the total number of private wells.

Continue reading May 23, 2018 Report.