Questions about Nooksack adjudication?

Ecology online presentation will provide answers

The Nooksack River in Whatcom County is under pressure. Growing communities, threatened species, and other increasing demands on the limited water available mean that preserving the Nooksack for all of these uses requires a delicate balancing act.

Addressing all of those demands, all at once, is the goal of a process called adjudication. A water right adjudication is a legal process for resolving conflict and competition on a water source, legally determining water rights, deciding how much water can be used — and determining which uses have priority during shortages.

Since we announced plans for adjudication in the Nooksack Watershed two years ago, stakeholders, legislators, and others have expressed concerns and come to us with a lot of questions.

To answer those questions, we’re planning a quarterly series of live events over the next year to talk about adjudication and to answer your questions.

The first event “What is adjudication and why is it happening in the Nooksack?” is scheduled to take place at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 27 via Zoom. Ecology staff, including Adjudication Manager Robin McPherson, Rulemaking and Policy Lead Kasey Cykler, and Northwest Regional Water Resources Manager Ria Berns will deliver a brief presentation to explain the adjudication process and why we think it’s necessary for the Nooksack. Following the presentation, they will take questions.

Future Zoom topics will include “What is adjudication and why is it happening: Roosevelt,” “Understanding your water rights,” “Nooksack watershed and Roosevelt, mapping,” and “Permit exempt wells.”

Why we need adjudication

River flowing over dark rocks and grass

The Nooksack River system provides critical habitat for endangered and threatened species, but it faces growing pressure from water users. Climate change models predict conditions will worsen in the years to come, even as water demands will increase.

Recent water disputes have involved rulemaking, unresolved tribal water rights, county growth management planning, and enforcement on non-permitted water use. Local collaborative management and settlement efforts, begun in the 1990s, have failed to resolve these conflicts.

Many interested parties — Tribes, fisheries, land development, a small municipal water district, environmental groups, along with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife — support an immediate Ecology-led adjudication.

Others have asked us to continue supporting collaborative efforts instead of initiating court proceedings at this time. Some oppose adjudication outright and argue for maintaining the status quo of their current water use.

Adjudication will make it easier for farmers and others to buy, sell, or trade water through water banks. Once there is a court decree determining all the legal rights to use water, negotiating changes or mitigation will be easier.

Adjudication would protect streamflows by clarifying legal stream protections and quantifying the legal quantity, place, and season of uses of valid water rights and vested claims. This information is currently unavailable. Adjudication would create the first definitive inventory of Nooksack water rights.

Ultimately, adjudication will enable reliable water management and provide predictability and consistency that will serve the local economy.

Join us on Zoom

To learn more, ask a question, or simply make yourself heard, join us for our live discussion on Jan. 27. You can pre-register for the event. Pre-registration is not required, but doing so will help us prepare to answer your specific questions. In the meantime, you can read more about the Nooksack adjudication.