Some building halted as counties react to water rights case – AP & Bellingham Herald

For a couple of decades now, scientists, tribes, and environmentalists have fought a battle against pro-development counties to protect in-stream flows so that decimated salmon stocks and the endangered Orcas that feed on them, can survive. This biased piece, that only talks about the fallout of the mismanagement of the resource, make it seem as if it’s just suddenly appeared because of one Supreme Court ruling. There is a long history of this being debated and fought since the 1990s. During the height of the hottest and driest part of the year, late summer, as salmon are returning to spawn up rivers, we find that because of the perfect storm of global warming, over population, lax regulation, and farming needs, that the stream levels are too low to sustain the fish.

If anyone should be blamed by these families who are finding themselves in limbo, it should be their own elected officials, county and city officials, who have fought every possible attempt to put reasonable limits on  water use. If you wanted to sue someone over this, start with the real estate agents that likely downplayed or didn’t discuss the issue of water rights, and move to the county who should have clearly delineated the risk when they put in the tax plots for development.

In the late 90s, before I was even aware of this issue, I looked for property near Early Winters up in the Methow. We found a lovely piece of land, across the road from the river, and backing up on a spectacular ridge. We put some money down on it, and then I started reading the documentation of the property and also checked up on the issues of the valley. I found a number of stories talking about WRIA and water rights issues. The more I checked, it became clear that I might not be able to count on the water from the river, nor from any well I might drill. I decided that I wasn’t willing to take that risk, and walked away from the land. Assuming that all is well, without checking it out, is not a good idea.

Do you want salmon or not?  And why would you think that you get to decide that? We have treaty rights to deal with. It’s as much a tribal question as it is a question of the innocent people being conned by local officials who are fighting the in-stream rules. These officials will cry to the new Trump administration for relief, and likely they will get some. But as global warming heats up, and the snowpacks that provide our water vanish, this is the future. And it’s here, now.

As a counter to this article and the issues it raises, you can take a look at a short film I did a few years ago for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and the Dungeness River Management Team, two groups that are fighting for best practice management on the Dungeness. And they are making great progress.

As counties across Washington respond to a far-reaching state Supreme Court decision involving water rights, angry and frustrated property owners are finding they cannot depend on groundwater wells to build new homes as they have in the past. In October, the court sided with four residents and the group Futurewise who argued that Whatcom County failed to protect water resources by allowing new wells to reduce flow in streams for fish and other uses. The court said counties must independently ensure water is legally available before granting new building permits. The decision is likely to affect thousands across the state and represents the latest struggle to balance competing needs of people and wildlife for limited water. Phuong Le reports. (Associated Press)