Just a few months into Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood’s tenure as mayor, he was notified the Nooksack River basin was being considered for adjudication by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

The adjudication process takes years — sometimes decades, not to mention the financial burden it causes, Fleetwood mentioned. The adjudication has been set out until 2035, starting with information gathering and ending with a legal battle of sorts.  

“I’m more interested in finding some process that would employ interest based mediation where parties come to the table and really try to leave egos at the door and try to establish some trust and some faith and really understand and listen to each party’s perspective and try to identify whether we could negotiate a settlement,” Fleetwood said. 

Fleetwood says the City of Bellingham completely supports senior tribal water rights and other tribal treaty rights. He also recognizes the ag community and Whatcom County residents also need to be taken into consideration when negotiations happen. 

As more people move to the region, the necessity in quantifying water rights and establishing systems that ensure good water quality is going to be something that needs to be worked on, Fleetwood said.