Hopes for local representation on watershed planning in Whatcom County appear to be fading as even a stripped-down version of an update to the Watershed Management Plan failed to pass with just days to go before the deadline.
On Jan. 23, 2019, the Planning Unit for WRIA 1 – the Water Resource Inventory Area designated by state law that includes the Nooksack River basin and Lake Whatcom – voted down a simplified plan update designed to meet the minimum requirements of ESSB 6091 (now RCW 90.94). That law – the so called “Hirst Fix” law – ended a building moratorium on projects using permit-exempt domestic groundwater wells. The law says “at a minimum, the watershed plan must include those actions that the planning units determine to be necessary to offset potential impacts to instream flows associated with permit-exempt domestic water use.”
The Planning Unit is working with the Watershed Management Board and Watershed Staff Team to write the plan update. Of the 3 groups, the Planning Unit most directly gives local citizens a seat at the table to give input and direction to the process.
The proposed simplified plan was submitted by the Planning Unit’s Land Development Caucus as a last-minute attempt to approve a plan before the Dept. of Ecology’s Feb. 1 deadline. A version of the plan (LINK TO ATTACHED DOCUMENT) got approval from a majority of the caucuses but failed due to the somewhat arcane voting procedures embedded in the Planning Unit’s “Process and Procedures Agreement” (PPA). The caucuses designated as “government” needed to approve “by consensus” for the proposal to receive full approval, but the PUD and state caucuses voted “no.”
During public comments at the end of the meeting, one citizen said failing to pass a simplified alternative plan was the “last hope for representation of the citizens of Whatcom County on watershed planning.”
So now the Planning Unit is back to what they agreed upon at the Dec. 12 meeting, which was to package and index the work that has been done and send a letter to Ecology and to legislators to inform them the plan update is not done but is being worked on. A vote to approve and send the letter passed with 9 in favor, 2 opposed, 1 abstained and 1 recused. (LINK TO ATTACHED DOCUMENT)
The following is the text of the letter from Planning Unit to Department of Ecology and Legislators.
Maia Bellon, Director
Washington State Department of Ecology
P.O. Box 47600
Olympia, WA 98504-7600
Subject: Streamflow Restoration Act Watershed Plan Update
Dear Ms. Bellon:
This letter is submitted on behalf of the WRIA 1 (Nooksack Basin) Planning Unit and provides information on the status of the WRIA 1 Watershed Management Plan Update pursuant to the Streamflow Restoration Act (ESSB 6091).
In February 2018, the WRIA 1 Planning Unit in collaboration with the WRIA 1 Initiating Governments initiated a WRIA 1 Watershed Management Plan Update (Plan Update) pursuant to the Streamflow Restoration Act. The local process for completing the Plan Update was prepared and approved by both the WRIA 1 Planning Unit and Initiating Governments February 28 and March 1, 2018, respectively (attached).
The approval process reflected in the attached diagram reflects the approval process used for the original WRIA 1 Watershed Management Plan. A general timeline was also prepared based on the legislative deadline established in ESSB 6091 for WRIA 1 to submit an approved Plan Update (attached).
In order to meet the attached timeline using the approved local process, the WRIA 1 Planning Unit was scheduled to approve a Plan Update at its December 12, 2018 meeting. While significant work has been completed to date, an agreed to Plan Update was not ready for approval at the December 12th meeting. The next steps identified at the December 12th meeting as part of a Planning Unit motion includes:
- Prepare an index of what has been done,
- Send a letter to Ecology to inform them the Plan Update is not done but is being worked on, and
- Send a letter to the legislators expressing the same.
The WRIA 1 Planning Unit Caucuses voting in favor of the above motion made by the Water Districts Caucus and seconded by Private Well Owners Caucus included Agriculture, Diking/Drainage, Environmental, Fishers, Forestry, Land Development, Non-Government Water Systems, Port of Bellingham, Private Well Owners, Public Utility District, and Water Districts. The Small Cities and Whatcom County Caucus abstained from the vote, and the State Caucus recused themselves.
Please feel free to contact me if you have questions regarding the above
information, which is being submitted on behalf of the WRIA 1 Planning Unit.
Senator Doug Ericksen
Representative Luanne Van Werven
Representative Sharon Shewmake
Jack Louws, Whatcom County Executive
WRIA 1 Planning Unit
WRIA 1 Watershed Management Board
NOTE: The same letter will be sent to the 40th and 42nd District Legislative Representatives.
Cc: Mary Verner, Water Resources Program Manager, Dept. of Ecology
The Whatcom County Council is expected to discuss the Planning Unit’s decision at a Special Committee of the Whole meeting Jan. 29 at 1 pm in the council chambers. The WRIA 1 Planning Unit’s next meeting is scheduled for February 27, 2019.