The harmful ‘adjudication’ process state leaders are calling for in Whatcom County has been used before–in Yakima, where it caused far more harm than good. 

John Stuhlmiller, Washington Farm Bureau CEO, joins Dillon Honcoop to explain the history, and how the story of what happened in the Yakima basin clearly shows why adjudication is not the right solution for the Nooksack basin’s water woes.

The case in Yakima started in 1977, Stuhlmiller said. 

“A brief 42 years later it was completed,” he said. 

Stuhlmiller explains that “mini-adjudications” with small streams and a small group can be beneficial, but it’s the bigger adjudications that deal with entire basins where adjudication isn’t helpful. 

The proposed Nooksack River Basin adjudication would be the first time the state would deal with both surface level and ground water at this scale. 

Stuhmiller explains that water use in Whatcom County has changed over the years. Whatcom used to have a lot more dairies, but now there are a lot of berry fields. 

“There has been doubt cast on rights through the years for all kinds of different reasons,” Stuhlmiller said.

Treaty rights — water rights for tribes — are being interpreted differently now, he added. 

“And, how does it all stack up when you have exempt well use, which is simply small uses or unlimited for stock water, or when you’re relying on groundwater and you did not need that permit,” Stuhlmiller says. 

In 1967 the claims for water rights changed with a registration system. 

“It was very confusing,” Stuhmiller said. “Ecology actually gave advice on the Nooksack and other areas. And they said, ‘don’t worry about it, you’ll be just fine, you don’t need to do that.’ And, so a lot of people didn’t file. Well, then comes an adjudication and you didn’t file, that means potentially you have an invalid right.” 

Stuhlmiller explains that if someone in Whatcom County that doesn’t have a registered water right from that “deal” it will be seen as an invalid water right during adjudication. 

“Unfortunately, as time goes by, people die, move away, whatever, and so that record, when a high ranking Ecology official comes out and says ‘don’t sweat it, we got your back on this,’ and then no longer exists, it’s kind of like a hand shake deal — there’s no proof of that.” 

Listen to the whole interview here: