It was a full house in Lynden, Washington this week when hundreds of local residents gathered to learn how they can protect their water rights amid an upcoming state lawsuit.

What is the Whatcom Water Lawsuit?

The Washington State Department of Ecology is requiring all water users in the Nooksack basin, also known as Washington Resource Inventory Area 1 (WRIA 1), to file a claim in Whatcom County Superior Court outlining their water right and use. This is so that the court can inventory all users and then figure out who gets water, how much they get, and where they get it from. The lawsuit is expected to begin this spring.

What were the big takeaways from the meeting?

In the meeting at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds’ new Farm Pavilion on November 8, over 300 residents heard from water rights lawyers and experts on how to properly document and file a claim on their water use and rights. If they fail to document it, they could lose their water access. Whatcom Family Farmers and the Ag Water Board of Whatcom County, representing the basin’s six Watershed Improvement Districts, hosted the event to educate residents on the important issue.

WRIA 1 impacts over 20,000 individuals, so it's crucial for folks to get informed and involved.

 It’s encouraging to see more and more people getting involved and taking this situation seriously,” said Fred Likkel, Whatcom Family Farmers’ Executive Director.

While the information presented can be overwhelming, many attendees appreciated being educated on the issue and getting the tools to defend themselves.

Speakers covered various aspects of gathering and documenting the information required from each water user in the basin. Those who spoke included:

  • Water law expert and attorney Bill Clarke from Olympia
  • Engineers and hydrogeologist Jay Chennault with Associated Earth Sciences and Tyson Carlson with Aspect Consulting
  • Andrew Dunn with RH2 Engineering
  • Attorney Paul Simmons from California shared lessons from the Klamath River Basin’s ongoing water challenges.

When can Nooksack basin water users expect a court summons?

Locals should expect to see a court summons in their mailboxes sometime after the case is filed this coming April. Ecology has not yet made the adjudication claims form that water users will have to submit public, so the above experts shared the kind of information they expect will be required.

You can see the slides that were presented at the meeting here.

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