Tell Ecology: Save water, plan for climate impacts

January 3, 2020

Take action

Comments due January 17, 2020.

It started with one court decision, in one county, concerning one river in Whatcom County. But it sent ripples outward that shook how all of Washington state would plan to balance water for salmon, agriculture, and a growing population across many watersheds. Your engagement is critical to make the state Department of Ecology do everything in their power to protect the water we share — before the climate crisis makes the problem worse. 

Take action


A 2016 State Supreme Court case between Whatcom County and the State Growth Board found that Whatcom County was allowing rural development and the creation of private wells without first verifying if water was available to begin with – meaning not impacting other preexisting (or “senior”) water rights. This case (also known as the “Hirst decision”) had implications across the state as many counties were also relying upon Department of Ecology’s rule that allowed people to use private rural domestic wells as a source of water without needing a legal water right. 

In 2018, the state legislature passed the Streamflow Restoration Act (SRA) to allow local governments to rely upon Ecology’s water right exemption rules; however, it required Whatcom County’s watershed Planning Unit and local governments to plan future development that would offset future rural wells’ water use over the next 20 years. The Planning Unit and governments failed to submit a plan by the state’s deadline, leading and Ecology to take over the rulemaking, a process in which an agency establishes new regulations.

The Streamflow Restoration Act reinvigorated a much-needed conversation about our water supply challenges in Whatcom County. Many farmers lack sufficient legal water rights; many creeks frequently have too little water for salmon to survive; and our climate continues to change while thousands of people move to Whatcom County each year. Ecology should take this rulemaking as an opportunity to lead on climate resilience in the watershed, rather than take the easy way out and meet the bare minimum water use offsets required by the state. 

The amount of water Whatcom needs to save over the next 20 years as a result of future rural well use is relatively modest. Only about one-half cubic foot per second — 125 million gallons per year — of water needs to be offset by 2038. This amount of water is equivalent to less than 1% of the annual water used in the City of Bellingham. We can easily make this change by conserving water in existing rural homes and businesses without spending extra money on fancy efficiency projects. 

What you can do

Please sign-on to this letter before January 17, 2020 asking Ecology to: 

  • Keep the 500 gallon per day limit for all new permit exempt wells and the one-twelfth acre outdoor water use limit.
  • Prioritize water conservation and efficiency for all current and future water users.
  • Include new projects, rather than projects already in progress, to offset the impacts of new well water use and achieve net-ecological benefit.
  • Prioritize the impacts of climate change on water use and streamflow and suggest projects that will improve watershed resilience.
  • Make sure projects are being implemented as anticipated by requiring self-reporting of project proponents every year as opposed to five years.

Share this information over social media, and with 10 friends over email. Copy the following language. Feel free to personalize it!

I just signed this to ask the state Department of Ecology do everything in their power to balance water for salmon, agriculture, and a growing population across many watersheds — before the climate crisis makes the problem worse. I hope you’ll sign on, too. Thank you.

Attend one of the three public hearings in January to share your suggestions and concerns. 

  • January 7, 2020
    6:00 p.m.
    Fairhaven Middle School, Commons Area
    110 Parkridge Rd, Bellingham, WA 98225
  •  January 8, 2020
    3:00 p.m.
    Lynden Middle School, Commons Area
    8750 Line Rd, Lynden, WA 98264
  •  January 9, 2020
    10:00 a.m.
    Ecology’s Padilla Bay Reserve
    10441 Bayview Edison Rd, Mt. Vernon, WA 98273

More info: Ecology’s website on Nooksack Watershed Rulemaking | Our work on water supply issues

Questions? Contact Karlee Deatherage. or (425) 268-5245