WRIA 1 (Nooksack) Adjudication

WRIA 1 (Nooksack) Adjudication

On May 1, we filed a general stream adjudication in Whatcom County Superior Court for Water Resources Inventory Area 1 (WRIA 1), the Nooksack River system and area of Whatcom County north to Canada.  In the months after the case begins, all water users will need to file a claim describing their water use, so the court can inventory all legal water rights in order.

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Where is the Nooksack watershed?

WRIA 1, often called the Nooksack area, includes land surrounding the Nooksack River system. The Nooksack River mainstem is fed by the North, Middle, and South forks of the Nooksack River. WRIA 1 includes various other streams such as the Lummi River and Dakota, Fishtrap, Bertrand, TenMile, and Whatcom creeks. 

This adjudication will include all areas of WRIA 1, regardless of whether they are directly connected to the Nooksack River system. Use our Watershed look-up tool to learn if your address is within WRIA 1.  


WRIA 1 Nooksack Watershed map (click to enlarge)

What is adjudication? [əˌjo͞odəˈkāSHən]

Adjudication is a legal process. The process does not involve any claims for damages or money, but instead affirms current water rights. It is the foundation for resolving conflicts and competition over water resources by establishing who has the right to use water, in what quantity, and in what order of seniority.

In adjudication, the local court will review all water uses in an area. The process begins by serving a summons to all property owners outside the service area of public water supply systems.

More about adjudication

Starting this summer, Ecology will send forms by certified mail to all property owners in Water Resources Inventory Area 1 (WRIA 1) who are within the area of a recorded water right or outside a public water system service area. This does not include people who only use water from a public water system like a city connection.

If you receive a form, our records show you may be a water rights holder or claimant. You’ll fill out the form about your water use and submit it to the court in person, by mail, or online within one year of receipt. This means claims will be due sometime in 2025.

In the following years, the Whatcom County Superior Court will review the forms and inventory all legal water rights. The adjudication process will determine whether each water right on a source is legal, how much water can be used, and its priority during water shortages. Then, Ecology will issue adjudicated certificates for all these uses.

Why do we need adjudication in WRIA 1?

Ecology is responsible for managing the water resources of the state. This includes issuing permits for the right to use water and protecting instream resources for the benefit of the public. WRIA 1 provides critical habitat for endangered and threatened species, but it faces growing pressure from water users and uncertainty about legal water use.

Due to the changing climate, our region is experiencing warmer temperatures and drier summer conditions compared to historical norms. Snow that used to regularly build our mountain snowpack for spring melts now falls as rain in the winter. Much of the area's streams and rivers are dependent on melting snow in the late spring and summer months when the water demand is the highest. Unfortunately, the snow that used to provide natural water storage is no longer reliable.

Over the years, state and local leaders have worked hard to resolve disputes over WRIA 1 water. This has involved rulemaking, county growth management planning, and enforcement. But years of work has failed to reach a full solution. In 2019, the Legislature funded an Ecology assessment of the statewide need for adjudication, and Ecology identified WRIA 1 as a top priority area.  As recommended in this report, the Legislature has since provided funding for the adjudication to be filed.

Over time, the adjudication will make it easier for farmers and others to identify legal water rights to buy, sell, or lease through water banks. Once there is a court decree determining all the legal rights to use water, negotiating changes or mitigation will be easier. Additionally, the adjudication is expected to protect streamflows by clarifying legal stream protections and quantifying the legal quantity, place, and season of uses of valid water rights and vested claims. Right now, this information is very limited. Adjudication will create the first definitive inventory of WRIA 1 water rights for the future.

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


Join our email list for updates about the WRIA 1 adjudication. 

Questions about water right documents?  The fastest and easiest way to get information about water right documents at your property is to call or email us. Leave a message at 360-255-4406 or email WRadjudications@ecy.wa.gov. Make sure to include your name, address of your water usage, and an email or phone number for us to contact you. You can also use the Water Rights Search database.

Want to hear more?  We understand this is a complex process. Contact us if you'd like us to speak to your group or association. 

For media inquiries, please contact Scarlet Tang, Water Resources Communications Manager at jimmy.norris@ecy.wa.gov or (360) 480-5722.