- Henry Bierlink, Farm Friends
- Clare Fogelsong, City of Bellingham
- Sue Blake, WSU Extension Whatcom County
- Peter Gill, Whatcom County Planning Dept.
- George Boggs, Whatcom Conservation District
- Oliver Grah, Nooksack Tribe Natural Resources Dept.
- Eric Carabba, Whatcom Land Trust
- Kasey Ignac, Washington Dept. of Ecology
- Alan Chapman, Lummi Nation Natural Resources Dept.
- Bert Rubash, Marine Resources Committee
- Treva Coe, Nooksack Tribe Natural Resources Dept.
- Rebecca Schlotterback, Public Utility District No. 1
- Erika Douglas, Whatcom County Public Works
- Marcus Schumacher, CCA North Sound
- Barbara Fisher, Lummi Nation Natural Resources Dept.
- Wendy Steffensen, Re Sources
- Bill Verwolf, City of Lynden/Small Cities Partnership
Who would coordinate such a meeting, working up lists like that? Becky Peterson, an independent contractor working under the business name “Geneva Consulting.” There's a lot of special interest on the list, innit?
Who would mastermind and pay for this? The Puget Sound Partnership. Whatcom County joined up as a "local integrating organization" a while ago.
With our money? Yes! They use federal and state tax money, quite a lot of it.
Why are they doing this? To “restore the watershed.”
Huh? Restore to what level? What’s going on? There's all this talk about the Growth Management Act having to protect "rural character" to conserve farms and agriculture. Independent rural living is a zero? Can this be true? Yes! Government, supposed to protect human rights and safety, prioritizes everything but!
At a meeting held January 31 in Bellingham, these seventeen people met for two and a half hours in their third meeting of the “Whatcom Integration Team” (WIT for short).
But a handful of citizens heard about this and showed up uninvited, sitting on the sidelines stunned. They could hardly contain shock and awe at what was described as a “technical” planning exercise, and all kinds of other local plans were discussed. It seems that everything that happens in the watershed falls within their reach, they say - to protect water and fish. To do that, they'll have to involve themselves in land use, forestry, farming - everything. Where we live, what we do.
How could “community attributes/values” like cultural be considered technical? Water rights, baby. And planning control. To put a finer point on it, to determine which “watershed services” are most important in the big ecological scheme of things - at least according to these government bureaucrats, tribal staffers, and a very short list of preferred special interest groups who live on grants, rent-seeking.
You see, use of water is managed by the state (the Department of Ecology), and that use has to be “beneficial.” Very few people have documented water rights on paper, stapled to the deeds of their property (property: that thing you used to have free use of). While the state Supreme Court made it clear that people have a right to use water without permits (many if not most are legally "exempt"), the use has to be beneficial. Without documents and permits, and even with them, water use has limits. But the limits are pretty generous. That may change drastically here in one of the most water-soaked places in the state, if the planners have free rein.
Is your use of water less beneficial than somebody else’s? That’s the gazillion dollar question. If you live independently in a rural area, you're definitely at the bottom of this list, value/attribute = zero. How did this water planning business get so far out of whack?
Whatcom County falls inside a big watershed that was categorized years ago by the state as Water Resource Inventory Area #1 (WRIA for short, sounds like “why-rah”). Back in 1998, the legislature in Olympia came up with a way for folks who don’t have formal water rights, plus the few who do, to work out watershed planning together. Whether people drew water from the ground (like, from a well) or from the surface (from a river or stream), they’d all work as something called a Planning Unit. What’s the bill that set up this process? It's the Watershed Planning Act, RCW 90.82. Take a look at it.
So, that sounds pretty good. What’s going on? Are these people who are coming up with lists like this supposed to be setting goals and for our watershed? Big NO.
Whatcom County Charter says that only council, our legislature, can adopt plans. In Charter 2.20(d) it says council’s job is “To adopt by ordinance comprehensive plans, including improvement plans for the present and future development of the county.”
When that planning act was passed, each inventory area (each WRIA) was legally obliged to develop its own local plan. The law said an area’s county government (or governments, if a watershed crossed county lines), plus its biggest city, local tribes if there were any, and the biggest “utility” had a duty to make sure the work got done. So City of Bellingham, the Lummi Tribe, PUD #1 and Whatcom County signed a contract to work together, and Whatcom County took the official “lead agency” role. Then the Nooksack Tribe joined-up. As a group, these five were called the IG - or “initiating governments.” And the state paid money for them to get something started called a Planning Unit. The law said,
The purpose of this chapter is to develop a more thorough and cooperative method of determining what the current water resource situation is in each water resource inventory area of the state and to provide local citizens with the maximum possible input concerning their goals and objectives for water resource management and development.
It is necessary for the legislature to establish processes and policies that will result in providing state agencies with more specific guidance to manage the water resources of the state consistent with current law and direction provided by local entities and citizens through the process established in accordance with this chapter.
So, the local process was supposed to provide the local citizens a real role in planning, not pass it off. This was supposed to give state agencies guidance, "direction provided by local entities and citizens" not the reverse. Sounds very reasonable.
And a bottom up Planning Unit was formed just as the law required, and County Council approved that in 2005. This local group (actually, a group of groups called Planning Unit “caucuses” for water associations, cities, the PUD and so on) worked together for four years. The county’s departments would attend, and contractors were hired who were supposed to help determine the water situation. The Planning Unit would review and vote on the acceptability of technical work as studies were done. Some very extremely expensive work was done by USGS and a university that didn’t go well. The "current situation" wasn't well understood. And as time went by, questions were asked that were unwelcome. By August 2009, the bureaucrats decided to simply “stop convening” the Planning Unit; even though there were protests about it. But the initiating governments - the big five - decided to hand over the work to their own staff, called the Management Team.
In short, that’s how so many bureaucrats ended up doing what they’re doing. After the Planning Unit was out of the picture, they adopted and they're "implementing" a new set of plans on their own. And at this point does this look anything like what the Planning Act called for? And the Puget Sound Partnership is directing how other local plans should fit into its own regional "Action Plan."
WE did some poking around, and discovered the “WIT” meetings have been happening way outside the Council's knowledge and view. We can thank the Puget Sound Partnership and the WRIA 1 initiating governments (IG's) for WIT. They abandoned the council approved process, and departments and agencies have run everything internally. The WRIA initiating governments joined up with the regional group of governor appointees, the Puget Sound Partnership which brought them lots of grant money. PSP is an unelected quasi-agency, a bureaucracy with zero accountability to citizens. Geneva Consulting works directly for the PSP as well as to WRIA; very convenient.
With work like this going on, WE think it's good that citizens have gone into "WRIA Watch" mode. People are meeting at the Rome Grange at 7 pm Friday Feb 8, and there may be another meeting Monday Feb 11, too!
Write to council right away and call too if you can, if you think this is mixed-up and backwards. Better speak loudly and soon.
WRIA 1 desperately wants to hand even more of this over to the PUD next Tuesday February 12 on a one-way trip that will take this totally beyond the Watershed Planning Act. The PUD only serves water directly to Cherry Point, but they want to take over planning, to develop a "Water Supply Plan" for the whole county. Sound anything like what the WRIA law requires? "The powers' are furious that everyday people, particularly farmers and rural people, should try to stop this. When you explain your concerns, you might want to remind them that...