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September 16, 2019 | 3:51am
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Updated: Ecology hosted open house in Ferndale regarding draft Hirst Decision fix

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People reported waiting in line for as long as 20 minutes to get into the meeting room at the Ferndale Public Library to meet with 3 4representatives from the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) who were there to discuss and answer questions regarding an amendment to Chapter 173-501 of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC). This change has been referred to as the legislative fix to the Hirst Decision (pdf).

The Hirst Decision is an October 6, 2016 Supreme Court decision that specifically put Whatcom County on notice claiming it had failed to protect water resources.

WAC 173-501 is designed “to retain perennial rivers, streams, and lakes in the Nooksack water resource inventory area with instream flows and levels necessary to provide for preservation of wildlife, fish, scenic, aesthetic, and other environmental values, and navigational values, as well as recreation and water quality.”

Ecology representatives at the open house event this afternoon said 2018 state legislation required they make the update and add to existing water management regulations in order to “meet the requirements in RCW 90.94.020.” According to some at the meeting, not everyone was in agreement over how to interpret the legislative language.

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Of primary concern to many in the room was draft language that would reduce the amount water allowed to be drawn from permit exempt wells installed after January 19, 2018 the rule is finalized (deadline is August 1, 2020)from 3,000 gallons per day to 500 gallons. In addition, metering of wells is mentioned as a means of future enforcement, something many appeared just as adamantly against.

In a Letter to the Editor on My Ferndale News, local real estate professional Allison Trimble said, “This is NOT what we were expecting/intending and would be devastating for rural housing and lifestyle.”

Ecology provided the following drafts on their website ahead of the meeting.

A handout was provided by the Ecology staff at the open house. Due to the large crowd Ferndale real estate professional Dave Hiller offered to make more copies at his office across the street. Click here to view the handout (pdf).

According to the Ecology website, “The feedback we receive on the preliminary draft documents will be used as we develop a rule amendment proposal.” The public open houses (others in Lynden and Mount Vernon were scheduled) provide “an opportunity for informal conversations about the preliminary draft.” Public comments were not being recorded.

Ecology has provided an online information page where the public can monitor the progress and provide input. Comments will be accepted until May 10, 2019. Questions and comments can also be mailed to:

Annie Sawabini
Department of Ecology
Water Resources Program
PO Box 47600
Olympia WA  98504-7600

This story was updated 8am 4/23/19 to correct the number of Ecology staff in attendance. According to an email from Annie Sawabini, they were

  • Annie Sawabini, rulemaking lead
  • John Covert, hydrogeologist
  • Jim Pacheco, fish biologist
  • Rebecca Inman, rulemaking support

4/24/19 11:40am Correction: This story was corrected to indicate new water limits would affect wells construction after the rule is finalized. According to Annie Sawabini, “Wells constructed between January 19, 2018 and when the rule is finalized would have the current limits.”

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