In new comments, farmers criticize state regulators’ proposal to exempt residential irrigation in upcoming Whatcom water court case, saying move amounts to illegal change of state law

(LYNDEN, Wash.) New proposed claim forms that Whatcom water users would have to submit in court to try to keep their water rights are revealing the WA Department of Ecology’s flawed, unfair approach to its massive upcoming water lawsuit that will encourage urban sprawl.

Ecology is prioritizing rural residential water use over agriculture by exempting tens of thousands of people each watering up to a half-acre of lawn and garden from the legal burden of proof that farmers and other water users will face.

“Given that there are several thousand undeveloped lots in rural Whatcom County, what this proposal will do in reality is create a rush to fill these lots and sign up for the “easy” process, thereby driving further sprawl in rural Whatcom County,” Fred Likkel, Whatcom Family Farmers’ Executive Director wrote in a new letter to Ecology.

Whatcom Family Farmers is submitting official comments to voice concern about the newly-public documents that are part of Ecology’s plan to sue all water users in the Nooksack River Basin in a court case known as a water rights adjudication.

By providing a broad exemption for a significant portion of local water use–outdoor watering by residential users–the state agency is flouting the democratic legislative process and essentially changing state law. Not only is the change likely illegal, it flies in the face of Ecology’s stated intention of their water rights adjudication case.

The proposed forms also present significant problems with how they classify water use by livestock farmers, including Whatcom County’s important dairy farming community.

When Ecology files the adjudication lawsuit later this year, water users across the basin will receive court summons, and must fill out the claim forms with their water rights information to be able to try to protect their water access via court proceedings.

“It is no surprise, given the blind eye Ecology turned during the process of determining Whatcom for a water rights adjudication, that these forms would have so many issues. Sadly, we are just seeing the beginning of how badly dysfunctional this process is,” Likkel wrote.

You can read Whatcom Family Farmers’ full letter to the Washington State Department of Ecology and learn more here.