Independent Rural Living threatened by Whatcom Integration Team (WIT)

Rural_LifeWhatcom County Surface Water Committee meeting summary from an independent rural resident’s perspective.

On Tuesday, I attended the Surface Water Council committee meeting. On the agenda was discussion of moving forward in a process set in motion by the state in 1998 to evaluate water usage in Whatcom County. See the following website for some history: http://www.co.whatcom.wa.us/publicworks/water/watershed.jsp

This process was initially controlled in our county by the WRIA1 Planning Unit comprised of 13 people. It included one representative each from Whatcom County Public Works, City of Bellingham, Public Utilities District No. 1, a small cities Caucus, a State Caucus, the Local Tribes, an Agriculture Caucus, an Environmental Caucus, a Diking/Drainage District Caucus, a Water Districts Caucus, a Forestry Caucus, a Land Development Caucus, a Non-Government Water Systems Caucus, and a Private Well Owners Caucus. Although it was a slow process they did move forward in gathering the information needed and members also gained a broader knowledge of water concerns in our county. (Meeting minutes are available on county website.)

Sometime around three years ago this Planning Unit appears to have been replaced by a “Whatcom Integration Team” comprised of Disk_Tractor17 people who represent the following organizations: Whatcom County Public Works, City of Bellingham, Public Utilities District No 1, City of Lynden/Small cities, WA Dept of Ecology, Farm Friends, RE Sources, WSU Extension-Whatcom County, Whatcom Planning Department, Whatcom Conservation District, Whatcom Land Trust, Marine Resource Committee, CCA North Sound, and 2 representatives each from the Nooksack Tribe Natural Resource Dept. and Lummi Nation Natural Resource Dept.. (Meeting minutes are not readily available)

On December 11, 2012 the WIT “team” met and came up with a new method to look at water priorities in the county. The team was given a list of “Community Values/Attributes” and a list of “Key Pressures” that had been prepared for them and they pasted dots in areas that represented their top priorities thus ranking the list.

Results:
Top three pressures to our water resources in Whatcom County chosen were:

  • Climate change
  • Runoff from development,
  • Runoff from agricultural use.

Top three priorities (community values) for our water resources in Whatcom County chosen were:

  • Sustainability
  • Green infrastructure
  • Harvestable seafood.

At the bottom of the community values list, receiving “0” votes; “Independent Rural Living.”

Let me take you back to the committee meeting on Tuesday. The council allowed the public who attended this meeting to speak their minds. Of all who testified I was most taken by the farmer who attempted to describe the huge pressures he faces everyday from Federal and State and County agencies all regulating his small holding. His voice became quieter and quieter as he haltingly attempted to convey the overwhelming nature of complying with everyone else’s subjective views without any real science or data being used in a process that will ultimately impact his ability to use water. He ended with a shrug, and just above a whisper, “Well, I guess that is all I have to say.”

  • What more could he say to a community that placed no value on his independent rural living?
  • Has the Whatcom Integration Team truly represented Whatcom County’s values?
  • I believe it is time to ask your County Council members to exercise some oversight and return to the Planning Unit.

~ Lorraine Newman
Whatcom County – Independent Rural Resident

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