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Whatcom small city mayors appeal to state agencies “to shift your focus to the crisis at hand”

Looking north toward Main Street from Cherry Street while the Nooksack River was flowing at just below 21 feet (February 2, 2020). Photo: Whatcom News

WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. — Some small city mayors in Whatcom County sent the following letter the heads of 4 state agencies asking them to implement water management solutions addressing floods, drought and other problems that they say have damaged their communities in the past year.

January 28, 2022

To: Director Laura Watson
Washington State Department of Ecology

Commissioner Hilary Franz
Washington State Department of Natural Resources

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Director Kelly Susewind
Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife

Director Derek Sandison
Washington State Department of Agriculture

Re: Water Management concerns in the Nooksack Basin

Dear Agency Leaders:

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We represent many of the citizens in Whatcom County most affected by the recent disasters related to the Nooksack River.

We are writing because we are concerned that the attention of your agencies is focused on other
priorities and issues of concern to you, while the crisis we face with water management in the
Nooksack River basin goes virtually unnoticed.

Weather extremes over the past year have brought triple devastation to our local communities here in Whatcom County. First, the summer of 2021 brought record breaking heat that withered our farms. Berry crops were lost or damaged, and our dairy cows barely survived the brutal heat. In September our salmon were the next to be harmed, this time by low flow levels in our rivers and streams. Over 2,500 much needed salmon died in the South Fork of the Nooksack River alone, and many other streams ran dry as well. Fishtrap Creek in Lynden was nothing more than a few ponds connected by a mere trickle of water.

And finally, the devastation of twin floods in November hit. The communities of Everson, Nooksack, Sumas, Lynden, Birch Bay and Ferndale as well as the Lummi Tribe all suffered significant damage and loss. Hundreds of homes had water flowing through them which caused substantial destruction. Over 50 animals were lost in the flooding, with thousands more forced to stand in floodwaters for days without rest. Salmon were flushed from streams and left to die in farm fields. Sadly, a precious human life was lost. These losses were magnified significantly for our Canadian friends north of us. The devastation was much worse for them, and sadly it was water from our state that wreaked havoc on their farms, communities, animals and lives. The emotional toll on a great many in our community is obvious to us as we meet with our constituents.

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Instead of focusing on the entirely predictable twin problems of too much water in the river and streams at one time of the year, and too little at other times, your agencies have focused on issues that will do little to nothing to protect our salmon runs, protect water for our farms and citizens and protect our communities against these recurring low instream flows and devastating floods. Your attention is all the more urgent because we are informed by experts that climate change is virtually certain to make these twin problems even worse.

We must ask you: Does focusing on questions on who has the right to the water make sense in responding to this crisis? Does spending potentially decades and multiple millions of dollars on litigation regarding water rights make sense in the light of these twin problems and the growing crisis? Does taking away thousands of acres of productive farmland and the lives and livelihoods of our farm families, employees and suppliers make sense, especially when state scientists themselves show that massive, inflexible stream buffers are not the issue when it comes to salmon recovery?

We fully understand that there are many voices across the state, mostly in our larger cities, that demand your attention. But we call on you to hear us, meet with us, listen to our concerns and reconsider your priorities. It is clear to us that solutions, such as the storage used effectively on other river systems like the Skagit and the Yakima, are needed to resolve the problem of too much and too little water. But it will not be possible for any potential solutions to be implemented without your involvement and help.

We urge you to shift your focus to the crisis at hand and help those of us who are committed to protecting the environment, fish, farms and the families who depend on us.


  1. Karl Duscher February 2, 2022

    Not sure if our Mayors are calling for reservoirs to be constructed, which would seem a logical solution, but this is an impressive, extremely well-written letter.

  2. Cyndy Wilson February 2, 2022

    Very impressive letter….
    Power to the people….our neighbors.

  3. Joe Smith February 3, 2022

    Human life is NOT more precious than things that have less carbon footprints, no consumerism, no human greed, animals deserve so much more than we give them. Especially for causing their eventual extinction. Since we can’t stop the extinction event. Life will continue, hopefully with beings that get it right next time. Animals and nature two things humans truly disconnected from. Something we lost, a deep rooted connection that connects us to the planet and how it feels. I know this is a real thing, I’ve felt the planet dying since I was a kid. 1990 was the last time the planet could sustain all life. So as we sit in 2022 watching videos on YouTube of our boomer parents arguing about climate chaos in the 80s. You can really feel who to blame for “not my problem” mentality.

  4. Janaki February 3, 2022

    Water reservoirs are not the only solution. Healthy soils are high in organic matter and loaded with microorganisms that surround the roots of plants. These living systems work together to stabilize soils and hold water and nutrients for the benefit of plants. “Each 1 percent increase in soil organic matter helps soil hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre.”

    We are developing a farm on the edge of a creek that flows into the Nooksack. Over 200 acres of land on Stewart Mountain form the watershed that narrows to about 500 ft, the width of our property. On four acres of former cattle pasture I am planting fruiting trees and shrubs between rows of annual crops. We plant native plants on the edges and in the low spots where rain can spread out and soak in slowly. Green infrastructure improves it’s functionality over time and costs very little.

    Every property owner at any level of the watershed can contribute by following Nature’s example. We cannot control the forces of Nature but we can learn from observing the remnants of functioning forest ecosystems that still exist. Protect these legacy forests and plant trees for our future!

  5. Richard February 3, 2022

    The very fertility these mayors propose to protect are the result of thousands of years of recurrent flooding. Storing the river’s waters would rely on dams and permanent flooding elsewhere: Which communities on the Nooksack River system do they suggest we sacrifice to save Sumas, Everson, etc? Acme? Van Zandt? Glacier? Maple Falls? Resiliency requires many small solutions and the positive actions of our public lands and natural resource agencies to implement long term measures should not be under-appreciated. There is no one easy and immediate solution to change the actions of the river. There are some hard choices to be made…

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