Jan. 24th, 2018 – Planning Unit Meeting Report

In Hirst Decision, News, Organizing for Whatcom County, Wake Up Whatcom by commonnw

Subject: 1/24 Planning Unit Meeting

The Planning Unit met on January 24th, 2018. The meeting was packed with interested people, including Eric Hirst, Carl Weimer, and an array of people who supported the Washington State Supreme Courts, Hirst decision. There was a large number of private well owners and supporters of the work being done by the Planning Unit (PU), in attendance.  The Dept. of Ecology is back seated on the PU, with new members Paul Isaackson – Well Owners Caucus, (former chair Karen Brown introduced Isaackson), Fred Likkel – Ag. Caucus, and Dick Whitmore – Forestry Caucus, who chaired the meeting.

(Caucus Representatives take turns chairing meetings)

Andy Ross reported on the Governance & Funding-Committee (GFC) work, regarding  a reply to Satpal Sidhu’s questions sent to the PU in October 2017.  The GFC recommended replies to Councilmember Sidhu with minor wording changes, which was passed and will be sent in response to his questions.

Summary of the Letter:


  1. Acknowledge that Whatcom County has a water problem and each caucus / stakeholder wants to be part of local solution for Whatcom County.

The Planning Unit caucuses don’t all agree that there is a physical lack of water but do agree and acknowledge that there are immense political and legal challenges/problems regarding water in Whatcom County.  The latter essentially eliminates developing practical solutions.

The Planning Unit supports a local solution, which the August 23, 2017 Memorandum from the Planning Unit to the County (attached) addresses through clearly stating what a successful County water resource management program should include and prioritize.

  1. Write down three things that are so important for your caucus that these may be deal breakers.

The Planning Unit believes it is better to start from areas of agreement than disagreement.  To that end, the Planning Unit believes the following are critical to successful resolution:

  • Transparency
  • Equitability, which is lately a significant issue between the rural and urban populations.
  • Accountability
  • Practical solutions—solutions that are based on data and will be effective.

The 8/23/2017 Memorandum to the County addresses the above elements.

  1. Pledge to negotiate in good faith to reach fair solutions for each caucus / stakeholder.

Yes, and the Planning Unit has been committed to this since the WRIA 1 Watershed Management Project began.

  1. Pledge that accessing Courts will be the last resort to reach a solution on the water issues.

Yes, with three caveats:

  • Caucuses cannot stop individual caucus members from going to court.
  • A court will likely be needed to certify a negotiated settlement.
  • Court may be required for negotiations to take place in that a Judge can create significant leverage for parties to come to agreement that may not be present without imposed conditions and timelines.

The majority of meeting time was spent listening to Gary Stoyka, Whatcom County Public Works, and  Mark Personius, Whatcom County Planning and Development; talking about ESSB-6091, the Hirst fix, which lawfully resolved the use of exempt wells for rural property use and development in Washington State.

However, ESSB-6091, also dictates that counties which have developed water plans, like that of the WRIA 1 Planning Unit, must update those plans by February 2, 2019; failing this, Ecology will take over and come up with a plan. Thus there is great incentive for Whatcom County and the Planning Unit to upgrade the Whatcom County exempt well water plan, showing it has no negative impact on the Nooksack Basin.

This is a formidable task and will take a lot of input from water users, data to be collected, technical assistance, and funds from  Whatcom County and Washington State.  Gary Stoyka will reach out to the local Tribes, City of Bellingham, Small Cities Diking and Drainage, and other caucuses who had ceased attending the Planning Unit meetings.

It was agreed that the Planning Unit, along with the Governance & Funding Committee, will need to meet more frequently than once per month in order to accomplish the updating of the WRIA 1 – Planning Unit Water Plan.

Next schedule meeting dates are:

  • Governance and Funding Committee: February 14th, 2018
  • Planning Unit Meeting: February 28th, 2018
  • There likely will be a Special Meeting scheduled, to be announced soon