Update on Water: County Council approves continued funding of Planning Unit (03/11/2014)

UPDATE: On Saturday, March 22, 2014 there were three programs on KGMI dealing with; the Planning Unit, on water resource planning and “Rural Life – Then and Now.”  I’ve provided links SML for anyone who wishes to listen and learn more on this terrificly important issue.

SML 3/22/2014 – Planning Unit Rural Life – Then & Now Parts 1 & 2

Last Tuesday’s Council meeting was lengthy, but very important issues were discussed, approved or moved forward for public introduction.  One of those issues was to approve funding for the WRIA 1 Planning Unit (water resource inventory assessment area one) to hold meetings with the many participating governmental and public groups who draw water for the purpose of human or agricultural benefit.  The Planning Unit is made up of the stakeholders who have the legal standing (as purveyors of water) and the expertise to fulfill the goals set forth by the Washington State Legislature to resolve pending and future water rights for the State of Washington.

Also, last week I received an email from local Bellingham Herald journalist, political blog contributor, Ralph Schwartz, regarding the Planning Unit.  Because there is an undercurrent of an effort to circumvent the Planning Unit’s authority to do its job, I believe it is incumbent upon me to share this mail.  I trust my response will help to educate and enlighten citizens.  

The audio files of last Tuesday’s committee and evening Whatcom County Council meetings, contain public and Council discussion about the Planning Unit.  Four of the public speakers are private citizens who participate in the Planning Unit.  The first speaker is Henry Bierlink, acting in representation of Whatcom Farm Friends.  The second speaker is Robin Dexter, acting in representation of the Environmental Caucus (note that they have chosen not to attend PU meetings).  The third speaker is Ellen Baker, acting in representation for the Glacier Water District.  The third speaker is Perry Eskridge, Government Affairs Director for the Whatcom County Realtors Assoc.

It is worth your time to listen to each speakers comments closely and to the discussion given to this topic by the County Council and the Whatcom County Executive.  There is a wise saying; “If you are not at the table, you are likely on the menu.”

Direct play of public comments to WCC about funding of the Planning Unit: discussion:   Direct play of Council evening discussion whether to approve funds for Planning Unit:  Direct play of County Exec Louws’ comments at Tuesday’s Committee meeting:  Direct play of Council Chair Weimer’s comments at Tuesday’s Committee meeting:  Download Public Comments & Council Discussion

My notations are italicized and underlined below:

See notations below.

From: Schwartz, Ralph [mailto:ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com] Sent: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 10:50 AM
To: Kris Halterman
Subject: planning unit

Kris,

I’m working on a story over the next day or so about the planning unit. I learned a lot about it yesterday, sitting in on county council committee meetings.

I seek background: Can you articulate for me why there was such a push last year to revive the planning unit? Why is it perceived to be so crucial in getting the county’s water problems solved? (I think I basically know the answer, I just want to hear what your take is on it.)[Kris Halterman]  Because it has the legal authority to direct the water planning given to them by the Washington State Legislature.  It addresses that the “stakeholders” all need to have a seat at the table in order for this to be an open and transparent process with anyone who is a purveyor of water in WRIA 1.

I heard yesterday Jack Louws’ concern over the planning unit’s consensus model for coming to decisions. What do you think? Can a group made up of such diverse interests realistically reach consensus? Further, can the planning unit really succeed without the participation of the tribes or the environmentalists?[Kris Halterman] It may be a messy process (all democracy is) but it also will eventually achieve the best outcome for the community.  Anyone who wishes to participate will and those who choose to sit outside of the PU have chosen to.

And what’s the value of the planning unit ultimately, when the county council and/or the joint board have the last word?[Kris Halterman] The state allowed for this option to do water planning, which Whatcom County signed on to. The PU is given the authority to do this because our “part-time” County Council do not have the time (nor the expertise) to tackle complicated water planning.  The WRIA process as designed by the State Legislature asks that all who participate in this process setup two entities, the “Lead Agency” which would be Whatcom County who is given that role.  The Planning Unit (PU) does all the heavy lifting and directing to facilitate the Counties to do “good” water resource planning.

With regards to the Joint Board, they do not have the final word. The Joint Board evolved after the fact, as a result of the local tribes walking away from the PU process and requested a separate board.

The final approval for water resource identification and planning will come from our elected officials on the County Council, as it should.

I sent you an email rather than calling you to give you time to put together your thoughts. My deadline is Thursday morning. But if you want, don’t hesitate to discuss this over the phone with me at 715-2289.

Thanks as always for your help,

– Ralph

Ralph Schwartz, reporter
The Bellingham Herald and BellinghamHerald.com
1155 N. State St., Suite 200, Bellingham WA 98225
Voice: 360-715-2289
E-mail: ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com
Visit us at www.bellinghamherald.com
Mobile site: www.bellinghamherald.com/mobile

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