Ecology oversteps authority in proposed water restrictions for Nooksack Basin, Ericksen says

  • Ecology took over after local planning effort reached no agreement
  • Early draft Imposes restrictions on water use not authorized by law
  • Ecology should follow law, respect Legislature’s decision

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OLYMPIA – The Department of Ecology is reaching too far in proposed new restrictions for new household wells in the Nooksack River basin, says Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

In comments submitted to Ecology, Ericksen said the department’s proposed restrictions overstep the authority granted by last year’s water bill. Lawmakers in 2018 created a watershed-by-watershed planning process to ensure rural landowners would be able to drill new household-sized wells, after the state Supreme Court’s Hirst decision imposed unworkable bureaucratic hurdles and brought rural development to a standstill.

Ecology has taken over planning efforts in the Nooksack Basin because a local planning process failed to reach agreement. Ecology sought public comment on a preliminary draft of its rules as it prepares a formal proposal.

“Last year’s Hirst-fix legislation was a carefully balanced compromise,” Ericksen explained. “We wanted to make sure water is available for development, not throttle development back with new restrictions. Every word in the law is there for a reason. Ecology should respect and honor the Legislature’s decision, and its rules for Whatcom County should adhere closely to the law we passed.”

Among other things, the preliminary draft version of the rule would:

  • Limit new wells to no more than 500 gallons per day. Last year’s law permitted up to 3,000 gallons a day, measured on an annual-average basis.
  • Restrict outdoor acreage watered by new wells, for lawns, gardens and other uses. The law does not authorize restrictions on outdoor uses.
  • Impose drought curtailment requirements, even though the law does not specifically authorize drought curtailments in the Nooksack basin.
  • Open the door to metering in Whatcom County, even though the law limits metering to specific watersheds other than the Nooksack.