Proposed water rule in Whatcom County imposes sharp restrictions on new household wells

Ericksen urges Whatcom residents to offer public comment

  • Ecology took over after local planning effort failed to reach agreement
  • Rule imposes limits and restrictions on new household wells
  • Public comment could help reshape proposal

OLYMPIA – New water rules for Whatcom County drafted by the state Department of Ecology impose sharp restrictions on new household wells, and Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, says residents need to let regulators know their concerns.

Ericksen urges Whatcom County residents to submit written comments to the agency or attend public meetings on the proposal next week. “The restrictions proposed by Ecology are precisely what the Legislature wanted to avoid when we created our new state watershed planning process last year,” he said. “These proposed rules are much more restrictive than anything the Legislature contemplated.”

Public meetings are set for:

  • Ferndale – 1 p.m. Monday, Ferndale Public Library, 2125 Main Street, Ferndale.
  • Lynden – 6 p.m. Monday, Ferndale Public Library, 216 4th Street, Lynden.
  • Mount Vernon – 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Padilla Bay Reserve, 10441 Bayview Edison Road.

Ecology took over watershed planning in the Nooksack basin in February, after local planning efforts failed to reach agreement. The preliminary draft of the proposed rule, released last week, would:

  • Limit withdrawals from new wells to 500 gallons a day.
  • Restrict the outdoor acreage watered by new wells — for lawns, gardens and other outdoor uses.
  • Open the door to metering of wells.

Ericksen noted that lawmakers fought long and hard in the Legislature to avoid onerous metering requirements, and to ensure small household wells could withdraw as much as 3,000 gallons a day, if local planning authorities approve. But the Legislature also allowed Ecology to take over planning if local efforts failed to reach agreement by the deadline.

Lawmakers last year launched the watershed planning process to preserve small wells for rural landowners. The household-sized wells are exempt from water rights permit requirements, and are crucial to development of properties beyond the reach of municipal water systems. Lawmakers adopted  the new approach after a 2016 Supreme Court decision in Whatcom County v. Hirst forced new water planning responsibilities on county governments and brought rural development to a standstill.

The preliminary draft of the proposed rule can be found here. Information about submitting public comments can be found here. Comments can be submitted through May 10, ether online or by mail. Comments can be addressed to:

Annie Sawabini
PO BOX 47600
Olympia, WA 98504-7600