Department of Ecology News Release - February 5, 2019

Ecology begins planning for future water use in Nooksack watershed

Rulemaking phase will build upon previous local efforts

BELLINGHAM  –  The Department of Ecology has begun a new phase of streamflow restoration efforts in the Nooksack watershed to offset new domestic well use and improve watershed health. This effort is tied to the 2018 state law that was adopted in response to the Washington State Supreme Court’s “Hirst” decision. 

The 2016 Hirst ruling changed how counties review and approve permit applications for homes and other buildings that would rely on domestic water wells. To accommodate rural growth and protect water needs for fish, the legislature adopted the streamflow restoration law last year. It requires local watershed planning groups to approve plans for offsetting future water consumption by new permit-exempt wells in their watersheds. 

The law identified different schedules for 15 watersheds to develop plans. If local planning groups cannot submit a plan by their deadline, Ecology is required to develop the plan under the state’s public rulemaking process.

The Nisqually and Nooksack watershed plans were due by Feb. 1, 2019. The Nisqually plan has been submitted and approved by Ecology. Despite the diligent work of its local planning group, the plan for the Nooksack watershed – which includes most of western Whatcom County and a small portion of Skagit County – was not completed in time. 

“There has been a tremendous amount of local engagement and effort to meet the requirements of developing a watershed management plan update for this area in a very compressed timeframe,” said Mary Verner, manager of Ecology’s Water Resources program. “We appreciate all the work accomplished and will build upon those efforts as we move through the rulemaking process.”

The agency must determine how to offset 20 years of future domestic permit-exempt well use. The rulemaking process is to be completed by Aug. 1, 2020, and will include several opportunities for public engagement and comment.
For more information, visit Ecology’s website on the Nooksack watershed plan rulemaking.

Related links

Learn more about streamflow restoration law

Contact information

Ty Keltner
Twitter: EcyNorth