Some farmers unable to irrigate, want to move any remaining water use off of streams to protect fish and help crops as increasingly dry summers choke stream flow; but antiquated rules stand in the way


(LYNDEN, Wash.) – Terry Lenssen doesn’t want to use the Fishtrap Creek north of Lynden to irrigate a rented field where he grows feed for his nearby dairy herd.

He says he wants to leave as much water in the creek as possible for fish.

But this year, as the important salmon-bearing tributary of the Nooksack River virtually dries up, Lenssen knows farmers irrigating from the creek isn’t the problem. He hasn’t pumped out of the stream for months–and he couldn’t, even if he wanted to, because there’s simply not enough water flowing over the creek’s salmon spawning gravel beds.

“We’re all about what’s best for the ecosystem that we operate in,” Lenssen says in a new video released today. “The better it can thrive, the better we can do.”

Also, cumbersome and outdated state rules stand in the way of what he’d like to do: take his irrigation water from a groundwater well instead of the stream.

Unlike some other farming areas, Whatcom County’s groundwater storage is generally refilled to full capacity or beyond each winter, providing one type of reservoir to save water when we have too much, to be used in late summer when streams have too little.

Groundwater is a resource that can help better manage water supply and stream flows in a few different ways. Looking at those solutions, as well as others that can aid streams and fish immediately as well as long into the future, is imperative as we face a rapidly changing climate. 

This work can only happen with a strong community-wide collaborative approach.

The local farming community remains committed to working with any willing community partners to pursue holistic, collaborative solutions that can immediately address the impacts of climate change that threaten our streams, fish and farming community.