Lummi, Nooksack tribes awaiting federal action on water rights

Nooksack River water rights were discussed yesterday at a local water policy board meeting in Whatcom County.

The Bellingham Herald reports:

The tribes contend that their fishing rights, recognized by the federal courts based on the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, also contain a guarantee of Nooksack River water that is abundant enough and clean enough to support the salmon that spawn in the river and the shellfish in the tidelands that can be harmed by pollution.

Local governments don’t dispute that, but years of negotiations have failed to reach agreement on how much water must be left in the river and its many tributaries to maintain tribal fisheries.

In June of 2011, both the Lummis and the Nooksacks wrote letters to the U.S. Department of Interior asking that agency to file a lawsuit to seek a federal court determination of how much of the Nooksack River water supply is reserved for them.

It’s a vital question. The city of Bellingham gets its water supply from the river by an indirect route, through a diversion pipe that carries water from the middle fork to Lake Whatcom. Other communities along the river also use it for drinking water. Farmers pull water from tributary creeks to irrigate berry fields and other crops – often without an established legal right to do so.

The determination of the tribal share also will determine how much water is left over for everyone else.

Read the full story.