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Well owners across Whatcom County to be required to prove their water rights in court

WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. — Officials with the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) say they are preparing to file a water adjudication in Whatcom County Superior Court that will require everyone in the Nooksack Watershed declaring to hold water rights whether for groundwater, such as a household well, or for surface water, such as from a stream river or lake, to prove the legality of those water rights.

In the months after the case begins, water users will need to file a claim describing their water use, so the court can inventory all legal water rights in order. The adjudication will include all areas of WRIA 1, regardless of whether they are directly connected to the Nooksack River system. Washington State Department of Ecology

Source: Washington State Department of Ecology

In addition to establishing the legality of rights, the adjudication process is also expected to establish which holdings are the oldest, or senior, and which are junior. In the event of water shortages, those with junior water rights can be required to curtail their water usage before the same would be asked of more senior rights holders.

Ecology estimates it will take approximately 10 to 20 years before the court can be expected to issue a final decree. They estimate there are about 5,400 water rights holders that would be adjudicated.

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Click for more information

A similarly large water adjudication case in Washington State (PDF) took 42 years to get to the final decree (PDF). The case was originally filed by Ecology in 1977 and adjudicated about 4,000 water rights claims across the Yakima basin.

A local farming advocacy groups, Whatcom Family Farmers and Save Family Farming, have protested Ecology’s plans to file the court case. They have been proposing an alternative process which referred to as a “collaboration process.”

Water rights issues need to be settled in the Nooksack basin. No one disagrees with that. But there is a very large gap between those who say a collaborative approach is the best avenue to achieve that versus those who insist that only litigation will provide the results they seek. Save Family Farming (March 2021)

The groups argue that the parties involved will be prevented from pursuing collaborative settlements since they will be involved in the litigation and not allowed to communicate directly.

An event coordinated by the Whatcom Watersheds Information Network is planned to introduce the adjudication process to water rights holders and to explain how to prepare for the upcoming water adjudication case. This event is scheduled to be held Wednesday, September 13th, from 4:30pm to 6:30pm at the Pioneer Pavilion Community Center in Ferndale. While not required to attend, organizers provided the following link and are asking people to use it to register so they may better anticipate how many will be attending.

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