This is an op-ed column that was originally published in the Lynden Tribune Oct. 16, 2020. It was written by Greg Ebe, local engineer, third-generation seed potato grower and a board member of the Drayton and Bertrand watershed improvement districts. 

Salmon are an extremely important part of the history, legacy and future of Whatcom County, as is farming. Farms are essential to our economy, employment, the preservation of open spaces and environment. 

We need both fish and farms not only to survive, but to thrive. But some in our state government would lead you to think that we must choose between fish and farms. Court action the state is considering, namely adjudication, would prove catastrophic for all of our county.

Fish need farms because one of the greatest threats to the future of salmon in the Puget Sound comes from conversion of farmland to urban development, resulting in loss of habitat and pollution entering streams from urban areas.

Research overwhelmingly shows that water running off pavement pollutes our waterways and greatly alters the hydrology. Other urban pollution includes raw sewage overflows, toxins remaining in treated wastewater, phosphorus and fecal coliform. These all contribute to degraded stream health. Despite best efforts to reduce the impacts of development, waterways are still being polluted.

Farms preserve pervious surfaces that allow for infiltration and recharge of our aquifers, and farm vegetation filters rain and helps keep water clean. Farms also provide vegetated stream buffers that shade and keep water cool for fish. Farmers are working with various groups and agencies to help protect and improve fish and wildlife habitat necessary to help restore fish stocks.

Farms are becoming endangered, much like our salmon. Over 60% of farmland in Western Washington has been lost to urban growth. In order for fish to thrive, protecting the future of our farms must be a high priority. It is a recurring tragedy that agricultural land is converted to other uses such as commercial and residential development, and fish habitat suffers in the process. Vast tracts of former farmland in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties are evidence that pavement is forever.

Unlike other regions, the Pacific Northwest has an abundance of water for thriving fish and farms. What is needed is proper management, allocation and protection of this key resource.

Many of our farms have water rights, and those that do not have been working for the past 25 years to become fully legal. Our state has promised repeatedly to work with farmers to help in this process. This commitment is now being ignored and the Department of Ecology is considering abandoning present efforts at local planning and negotiations and instead using a process known as adjudication that may permanently subject farms both large and small, with and without legal water rights, to restricted and uncertain water access.

Farmland without water is not farmland, and it will most certainly transition to development and end farming in Whatcom County. This will be detrimental to salmon recovery efforts.

Ecology is viewing a lack of opposition to this process as support for adjudication, so please contact the department, your local government leaders, and state representatives and speak out against this unnecessary and destructive course of action that will take decades and waste hundreds of millions of dollars on legal costs in the process.