Ericksen calls on Ecology to stop plans for water rights adjudication in Nooksack basin

Similar effort in Yakima basin took 42 years to resolve — Nooksack adjudication would be twice as big, twice as complex

— Ericksen will oppose any legislative appropriation for Nooksack adjudication
— Would create great uncertainty, cloud property rights, land values
— Other issues need to be resolved before adjudication is considered
— Poor use of state funds in time of economic distress

To read Sen. Ericksen’s letter, click here.

OLYMPIA – State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, is calling on the state Department of Ecology to stop plans for an enormous court review of water rights in the Nooksack River basin, saying it would launch a years-long litigation nightmare for thousands of Whatcom County property owners and threaten the area’s agricultural economy.

In a letter to Ecology Thursday, Ericksen said, “An adjudication is not appropriate for the watershed, which has been embroiled in controversy long enough. An adjudication will not create certainty or help the process in any way – it will only lead to more division and strife.”

In a report to the Legislature, the state agency last month recommended that the Nooksack basin and a watershed near the Lake Roosevelt reservoir in Eastern Washington begin a court adjudication process to review and confirm water rights claims. The adjudication process allows courts to determine which water rights take priority if water runs short.

The hitch is that in an area like the Nooksack, where 5,400 water rights have been issued, the decision-making process is likely to take years. That’s more than twice the size of a similar adjudication process completed last year in the Yakima River basin. The Yakima process involved 2,300 water rights, took 42 years to resolve, and dealt only with surface water. In the Nooksack basin, Ecology also could choose to include groundwater in the adjudication, further increasing the complexity of the case.

Ericksen notes that other groups are working on water-allocation efforts in the Nooksack Basin, and says adjudication would interfere. Ericksen will oppose any effort during the 2021 legislative session to allocate money for Nooksack adjudication.

“Ecology promises to do a better job next time, but its track record is unimpressive, and everyone in Whatcom County who depends on water ought to be very, very worried,” Ericksen said. “There are many missing elements. Before Ecology even considers an adjudication process, it needs to clarify its rules regarding the amount of water it wishes to allocate to instream flows, and its position on how it intends to treat tribal water rights. Many farmers would see their livelihoods threatened, and whatever the conclusion, the years of courtroom battle could have a devastating effect on our agricultural economy.

“The view from Ecology is that this process would somehow be helpful, but it has failed to make a compelling argument. What we really have is an effort by the Olympia bureaucracy to create a costly and completely unnecessary process that will tie Whatcom County in knots for years, and waste taxpayer money at a time when state tax collections are plummeting.”