State agency is picking up on what county could not do on rural planning

WHATCOM — The state Department of Ecology has opened the first comment period on a streamflow rule change that will accommodate rural growth and protect water supply needs for fish in the Nooksack River watershed.

The comment period is part of the rulemaking process on streamflow restoration efforts. The watershed includes most of western Whatcom County and a small portion of Skagit County.

Under the 2018 state streamflow law SB 6091 — considered legislators’ “fix” of the Hirst state Supreme Court ruling of October 2016 — a Nooksack watershed plan was due by Feb. 1, 2019. However, despite the diligent work of local planning groups, the plan for the Nooksack watershed was not completed in time, and the state took over the effort.

Now Ecology is asking for feedback on the preliminary drafts of the rule amendment language and the document supporting the rule.

Anyone wishing to comment on the draft language can do so using Ecology’s online comment form, or by mail to: Annie Sawabini, Department of Ecology, Water Resources Program, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600.

Ecology will also host three public open houses as an opportunity for informal conversations about the preliminary drafts. These are ahead of formal rule proposal and hearings planned for next winter.

These are the open houses:

  • 1 p.m. Monday, April 22, at the Ferndale Library, 2125 Main St.
  • 6 p.m. Monday, April 22, at the Lynden Library, 216 Fourth St.
  • 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 23, at Ecology’s Padilla Bay Reserve, 10441 Bayview Edison Rd., Mount Vernon.

This rulemaking process is tied to the 2018 streamflow restoration law that requires offsetting 20 years of future water consumption by new wells for homes built in the watershed. Ecology’s rulemaking process began in February 2019 and is to be completed by Aug. 1, 2020. To accommodate the public through each step, there will be several opportunities for public comment.

For more information, visit Ecology’s website on the Nooksack watershed plan rulemaking.