Farmers urge all parties to come to the table and begin collaborative work to safeguard both endangered salmon and local farming, as drought underscores risks of inaction

As drought conditions worsen and stream flows plummet in the wake of an historic heatwave, Whatcom County farmers are calling for all parties involved in local water issues to come together to collaborate on urgently-needed solutions to the Nooksack River basin’s water management problems to help fish and local food production.

“As our climate continues to change, there are projects that we can work on together as a community to protect fish and farming by better managing our local water supply,” said seed potato grower and Whatcom County Ag Water Board member Greg Ebe.

“If our community waits decades for the state’s proposed adjudication lawsuit–and the ensuing legal deadlock–to play out before coming together to work on collaborative solutions, it will be too late for both endangered salmon and local farming,” said Ebe.

Improved water storage management, stream augmentation, water use efficiency improvements, a saltwater hatchery modeled after successful Alaskan hatcheries, and many other projects could help restore salmon runs and preserve local farming in a matter of just a few years.

But, antiquated state laws and court rulings stand in the way of much of that positive work, and the state’s proposed water rights adjudication would effectively press pause for decades on any significant progress, with the acrimonious court case blocking meaningful collaboration.

“In his drought declaration press conference just last week, Gov. Inslee was right: as the climate continues to change, our state cannot continue to ‘push snooze’ anymore,” said Fred Likkel, Whatcom Family Farmers’ Executive Director.

“The water rights adjudication that the state Department of Ecology is pursuing would basically push ‘snooze’ on solving the real water management problems and protecting fish and farming in the Nooksack Basin, for as long as 30 or 40 years or more” said Likkel.

Department of Ecology Director Laura Watson, in last week’s press conference, emphasized the need for the state to focus on drought resiliency and develop more water storage.

Many of the Nooksack Basin’s water management problems are connected to the system’s lack of water storage options to balance between times of too much water and too little and help maintain stream flows during dry seasons.