(ACME, Wash.) Local farming advocacy organization Whatcom Family Farmers will represent farmers in the Nooksack River’s South Fork Basin in anticipated water settlement and drainage management talks.

While six Watershed Improvement Districts (WIDs) united under the Ag Water Board of Whatcom County represent farmers in the main stem of the Nooksack River basin, farmers along the South Fork do not have a similar organization to advocate for their interests in cooperative watershed management actions.

“With a looming state proposal to adjudicate water resources in the Nooksack Basin threatening the future of the family farms on the South Fork, we felt that it was important to make sure our voices are heard in this crucial community discussion,” said Acme-area family dairy farmer Jeff Rainey.

Rainey’s family farm, Coldstream Farms, stewards hundreds of acres along the South Fork of the Nooksack, and is deeply involved in watershed management issues. Coldstream recently invested heavily in pioneering technology to filter water used on the dairy and return it to the river to bolster instream flows.

The Washington State Department of Ecology is requesting the state legislature spend $1M to begin a water rights adjudication case in the Nooksack Basin, plunging an already unclear future for local family farms into deeper uncertainty. The case would amount to an extensive lawsuit against all water users in the basin, forcing each to argue their case for water access in court.

“We want to continue our family farms here in the South Fork valley, but the state’s plan would make that very difficult, if not impossible,” Elvin Kalsbeek, Acme-area farmer, explained. “Without a WID in our area to give us a seat at the table, we knew we needed to partner with Whatcom Family Farmers to make sure our voices wouldn’t be locked out of this process.”

Whatcom Family Farmers, the Ag Water Board of Whatcom County, and many other individuals, groups and agencies in Whatcom County oppose Ecology’s adjudication plan, and urge the state to instead support a negotiated settlement process that brings the community together to collaborate on real solutions for the Nooksack Basin.