Local residents packed a meeting this past week featuring experts outlining how they can protect their water access, as a state lawsuit on water rights in Whatcom County is expected to begin this coming spring.

Over 300 people heard from prominent water rights lawyers and technical experts who led the crowd through the process of properly documenting water use and rights Wednesday, Nov. 8. 

Local water users are learning the process in order to correctly file legal claims in the state Department of Ecology’s upcoming water rights adjudication, a lawsuit against all water users in the Nooksack River Basin. This lawsuit determines the legality and seniority of all water users in WRIA 1, over 20,000 individuals and entities are expected to be served.  

“It’s encouraging to see more and more people getting involved and taking this situation seriously,” said Fred Likkel, Whatcom Family Farmers’ Executive Director. “The materials presented can be overwhelming, but attendees said they appreciated getting specific information and tools to tackle the daunting task of defending their water access in the upcoming lawsuit.   

Whatcom Family Farmers partnered with the Ag Water Board of Whatcom County, representing the basin’s six Watershed Improvement Districts, to host the event at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds’ new Farm Pavilion.

If local residents don’t file a court claim to defend their water access in Ecology’s water lawsuit, they will lose it, explained water law expert and attorney Bill Clarke from Olympia. Engineers and hydrogeologists Jay Chennault with Associated Earth Sciences, Tyson Carlson with Aspect Consulting, and Andrew Dunn with RH2 Engineering also spoke, each covering various aspects of gathering and documenting the information the state’s lawsuit will require from each water user in the basin. Attorney Paul Simmons from California shared lessons from the Klamath River Basin’s ongoing water challenges.

Local water users can expect to receive court summons by mail sometime after Ecology’s case is filed in Whatcom County Superior Court, likely this coming April, the experts told the crowd. While Ecology has not yet made public the adjudication claims form that water users will have to submit to the court, the experts shared the kinds of information they expect will be required.

The experts’ presentation slides are available here.