Current Property & Water Rights Issues, Events Whatcom County CAPR Report

Whatcom Chapter, Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights (CAPR)                                                                                             September 23, 2019

Election Events: This Wed, Sept 25, the Biawc and other local business orgs. will host a debate for City of B’ham candidates, starting at 5.30 pm, at the Biawc building: 1650 Baker Creek Place, Bellingham (Irongate area). Wed. October 9, they will host one for county gov’t candidates, same time, place. More info: https://www.biawc.com/events/whatcom-county-construction-industry-bellingham-candidate-debates/

Water Resource Planning, Regulation: The several groups continue to meet separately, arguing about who should update the 2005 Water Management Plan (WMP): the Planning Unit (PU), representing almost all interests, or the Water Management Board (WMB), made up of local and state gov’t agencies and tribes, and their staffs. State law says the PU does this, but many want to ignore that. These processes and issues are complex.

There are two important meetings this Thursday, Sept 25: 9.00 to 10.30 am: Water Management Board (County, B’ham, PUD, tribes et al), Fireplace Meeting Room, Bellingham Municipal Court Building, 625 Halleck Street. Agenda: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Ryjw_cwyCVOqKPcKu_r4jsI5P-gWs7B7/view?usp=sharing

6:00-8:00pm WRIA 1 Planning Unit (local citizen caucuses and agencies), Garden Room, Civic Center Building, 322 N. Commercial Agenda: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1okIKETfiVJQSvZwpIoHTZ-uqhh13rA0E/view ; and more items at the main Water Resource Inventory Area 1 website: https://wria1project.whatcomcounty.org/

Controversy continues over the PUD’s draft Drought Contingency Plan, mainly over the less than inclusive and “very quiet” process of producing it. Exempt well owners and several other rural interests were not invited; many agency and tribal staff were. Very little public notice has been provided. What happened to transparency and inclusiveness? A well written piece by Skip Richards on these and other concerns with the process was published in the Ferndale Record last Wed., Sept. 18.  Mr. Richards article can be read below.

Whatcom PUD’s draft Drought Contingency Plan – March 2019 , 9/ 9/ 2019

By Skip Richards, provider of professional consulting services on water issues in WRIA 1 since 1994

The Nooksack River Basin and the Coastal Drainages of Whatcom County - A Drought Plan For Whatcom County, But Without Public Process

This year has seen lower than usual rainfall locally, which has led Governor Inslee to add Whatcom County (actually, the Nooksack Watershed, aka WRIA 1) to the list of state areas already under a drought emergency declaration.  By itself, the Governor’s declaration does not provide the robust response that a serious drought would warrant. What is needed is a local plan, understood and supported by the public, which guides preparation for drought years during years prior to a drought, and effective drought responses when one occurs.

Recognizing this need, in April 2016 the Public Utility District #1 of Whatcom County (PUD) applied for a grant from the US Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) under its WaterSMART Program to develop a drought plan. The application was supported by a PUD- selected group of local residents including some elected officials and representatives of a few water resource interests. The result, a 119-page draft Whatcom County Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) dated March 16 2019: https://tinyurl.com/y4tnh6qg

The manner in which the DCP was produced, and the operational and administrative framework upon which it is based, raises questions as to the probability of broad public acceptance. Such a plan needs that acceptance if it is to be successful in coping with future water supply shortages that could severely impact our economy and way of life. While the draft DCP proclaims it is the product of a diverse group of stakeholders, in fact it was developed by a Task Force (TF) appointed by PUD general manager Steve Jilk. Of the TF’s twenty 23 members, 16 are government agency personnel (14 local, 2 state), while another is a contractor for the PUD.  The TF developed the DCP during a series of closed-door meetings. The written records of these 26 meetings, if there are any, have not been released to the public. There has been no widespread public notice of the process or opportunity for public comment.

The DCP carves out a significant role for the Sheriff Department’s Division of Emergency Management, including assistance with water rationing, but no member of the Sheriff’s staff is listed as a participant on the TF. The DCP also provides a role for the Washington State Military Department Emergency Management Division.  The 14 local agency personnel who serve as TF members have been acting as individuals, without formal approval of their actions by the legislative bodies of the jurisdictions they work for. Thus, any person who feels injured by any action undertaken while implementing the DCP may have no formal recourse to the governments involved, hence, no due process, no accountability. 

The PUD has not sought County Council review or approval for the draft plan. The DCP claims public outreach will take place through the Whatcom Watersheds Information Network. Do you even know what that is?  The PUD appears to have no explicit statutory or other authority to initiate, develop, nor implement such a plan. The BOR apparently issues these types of grants based simply on whether the applicant is among their list of types of agencies pre-approved to apply for them – without requiring approval from the county council.

The PUD intends to ask the WRIA 1 Watershed Management Board (WMB) – which consists of the executives of the county, Bellingham, PUD, the two tribes and the small cities, to approve the DCP.  The WMB has no statutory authority to issue such an approval. Because many of the local agency TF members also serve as staff to the WMB, its approval is likely to be automatic. It’s advocates say the DCP is only voluntary. But the DCP provides on page 89 that the TF can “… prioritize specific mitigation measures, and develop specific plans to implement those measures in Whatcom County.” So, if and when “voluntary” proves unpopular, hence ineffective, how will long will it remain voluntary?

When I raised some of these issues with US BOR, the PUD’s reaction was caustic and defensive. In a memo to the TF dated August 30, a PUD representative said: “Taking an obstructionist approach to community problem solving is never the answer to collaborative work.” Since when does calling out disregard of established public processes qualify as obstructionism?  The PUD rep went on to say, “Ownership and control by individuals for that purpose is not the way we reach those common goals.”  Does submitting comments to a public agency constitute asserting ownership and control of anything?  The criticism applies to the critic: The PUD staff and their handpicked Task Force are the individuals who have attempted to assert ownership and control over a matter that concerns the entire community.

We, the people, need a drought plan. And we, the people should have a say in the content of the plan, and how it will be implemented.  What can concerned citizens do? Ask your local elected officials, including the Sheriff and PUD commissioners, to demand that the PUD bring the draft DCP before their legislative bodies for public review and approval prior to any further action by the TF. 

end

Re septic (OSS) systems, state Health staff is doing a workshop near Mt Vernon Monday Sept 30 on draft rule changes based on a law passed early this year. Details: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/4450/RuleRevision-WorkshopAgendaMtVernon.pdf and https://www.doh.wa.gov/CommunityandEnvironment/WastewaterManagement/RulesandRegulations/OnsiteRuleRevision

Co Cncl mtg: Tues Sept. 23; 311 Grand Ave, B’ham: Agenda for evening meeting, 7.00 pm: https://whatcom.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=A&ID=657137&GUID=F1B1DFC3- 3BA8-46CF-834C-B4A0FF033316

There are at least 4 items of concern or interest:

1 - 9.30 am, Nat Res Comte.: Discussion of WRIA 1 Watershed Management Board 2018-2023 Work Plan. Important, see details: https://whatcom.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=7541694&GUID=F42307A8-3D3E-4208-B5ACF447C1A01EBA

2. 11.00 am: Finance etc Comte.: Special Presentation by State Senator Bob Hasegawa (D) regarding the benefits of public banking. Details: https://whatcom.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4140604&GUID=52E55D52-E72E-4658- 95E6-C9BB275C4C54

3. 2.00 pm: Plan’g Comte.: Resolution to replace the Business Rules of the Whatcom County Hearing Examiner. Details: https://whatcom.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4140605&GUID=D5057F74-E4E6-41B9- B526-6D6015B7901F

4. General Meeting, 7.00 pm: Resolution declaring the County Council's support for the update to the Rural Land Study to identify areas deserving heightened agricultural protection measures. Details: https://whatcom.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4140588&GUID=334D0BE3-2FCB-4CB3-B765- D65E35315916 This item has been moving ahead under the radar for a few months. I’m not knowledgeable on its specific implications, too many issues to track! I suggest those who work in rural areas review it asap and contact council members asap. The resolution could be adopted Tues. eve.

Co Planning Commission will continue its series of meetings/hearings on the Council’s draft stricter rules on fossil fuel uses etc at Cherry Pt: Sept 26, Oct 10 & 24. Details: https://wa-whatcomcounty.civicplus.com/2849/Cherry-Point-Amendments Well over 100 people opposed the new rules at the Sept 12 mtg. However, most written comments are “form messages” in support of more restrictions, and against the use of fossil fuels.

At 6.30 pm, Wed, Oct. 2, Common Threads and others are holding a forum on these Cherry Pt. issues at Meridian High School; more info soon.

Other Events: Capr state-wide holds its 3rd annual Property Rights 911 event at Black Diamond Gardens Saturday Oct 6. Rene Holaday and other great speakers too. Live music, beer and brats. Info: https://proprights.org/

We need your support to keep publishing the Water Reports and related products! Please contribute to this cause at the Capr state level site: https://proprights.org/support, thanks! Our chapter site is being re-juvenated. Questions, suggestions? Roger Almskaar, President, Whatcom Chapter; [email protected] 360 739 1184. Please notify me if errors, thanks.

-end-


September 24, 2019