Ericksen proposes sensible solution to Whatcom County water concerns

Avoid court battle by pursuing policy-based path instead, says veteran lawmaker

OLYMPIA… It took 42 years and countless tax dollars to produce the 2019 court decision that finally settled a case about water rights in the Yakima River Basin. Sen. Doug Ericksen doesn’t want farmers, homeowners, employers and other with a stake in the Nooksack River Basin to endure a similar delay and expense.

The veteran Whatcom County lawmaker has a five-part strategy aimed at responding to stakeholders’ water concerns in lieu of a basin-wide adjudication. He shared it today with Gov. Jay Inslee and the director of the state Department of Ecology, Laura Watson.

“I hope you will join me in leading the way to promote water solutions today and not delegate responsibility to a court system that is not geared to handle this situation and could prevent real solutions from being implemented for decades,” Ericksen wrote in a letter to Inslee and Watson.

“This is about keeping Whatcom County farms alive and thriving, having more salmon in the rivers, and being ready for future development,” said Ericksen.

“These steps aren’t simple, and they can’t be taken overnight, but they’re a sensible way to avoid a decades-long quagmire like what we saw in the Yakima Basin. As a lawmaker I would rather pursue good policy and invest in tangible things, like water storage and more hatchery capacity, instead of leaving it all up to the judicial branch. I hope the decision-makers in the executive branch can get behind that thinking too.”

Ericksen’s approach would focus on:

  • A policy solution to questions raised by the 2015 Foster decision, regarding instream flows;
  • New water-storage and -distribution infrastructure in the Blaine area of northern Whatcom County;
  • Reform of the state’s water-right relinquishment standards;
  • Issuing water-right permits to uphold a promise made to local farmers in the early 1990s by a former deputy Ecology director; and
  • Permitting and funding for Ericksen’s Whatcom County Salmon Hatchery Pilot Project, which he introduced as SB 5824.

Ericksen’s plan will provide a “fundamental base on which to move forward,” he wrote Inslee and the Ecology director.

His letter to the governor and Watson is here.