Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Elections Thoughts

For some time, I've felt a declining joyousness about our local elections process and the growing obstacles that threaten it, but today's local results have helped reverse that trend.

Even though about 5000 ballots remain to be counted and certification isn't until 1/26, I'm happy with the direction Whatcom County voters have taken, to wit:

• All four progressive candidates for County Council lead by substantial margins
     [Weimer, Mann, Browne, Buchanan]

• Both progressive candidates for Port of Bellingham Commission also lead
     [McAuley, Kowalczyk]

• Two first-time City Council candidates, both young women, have wide leads
     [Vargas, Murphy]

• Initiative 517, another Tim Eyman exercise, is failing statewide

Despite all that is right in our system, there are some glaring flaws that need to be fixed to ensure that principles of fairness, equity and openness are always evident.

Here are a few:

• The Citizens United SCOTUS decision that corporations are persons and money is speech needs reversing!

• PACs and other corporate gimmicks badly need the -timely- light of day

• The role of 'outside' money in local elections needs serious questioning

• Gerrymandering needs to be curtailed by redistricting to ensure no 'safe' seats

• Notwithstanding the 1st Amendment, political speech needs to be more accurate and truthful, especially in mass media and mass mailings

• Candidates should agree, in advance, to attend Forums and answer Questionnaires to demonstrate their comprehension and explain their positions on Issues

• PDC [Public Disclosure Commission] rules and guidelines need to be strengthened and enforced

• Wider voter awareness and participation

There are probably other flaws that need fixing, too.

Today's Gristle is a good read that weaves some political contemporary history into these latest election results.
Don't you agree that the incoming County Council ought to address the egregious current Planning Commission very soon?
I believe new appointments such be undertaken as a first order of business, in the interest of decent planning in compliance with the Growth Management Act!
That would give reasonable certainty for all citizens, plus reduce the unnecessary costs of continuing to deny that GMA guidelines need to be followed.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Sad Day For America

George Washington's Farewell Address *[see below] warned against certain dangers to our Constitution by political factions;

While Washington accepts the fact that it is natural for people to organize and operate within groups like political parties, he also argues that every government has recognized political parties as an enemy and has sought to repress them because of their tendency to seek more power than other groups and take revenge on political opponents.
Washington goes on to acknowledge the fact that parties are sometimes beneficial in promoting liberty in monarchies but argues that political parties must be restrained in a popularly elected government because of their tendency to distract the government from their duties, create unfounded jealousies among groups and regions, raise false alarms amongst the people, promote riots and insurrection, and provide foreign nations and interests access to the government where they can impose their will upon the country.
Our governmental shutdown is inexcusable and hurts everyone.
That a few political ideologues have conspired to inflict this calamity on our -and their- country is incredibly stupid. There is no other word to describe it.

House Speaker John Boehner has shown such a lack of leadership and courage that he has literally become a parody of a power broker, worthy of disdain. 
Small wonder Congress's 'approval' rating is 10% or less.
Care to guess who is included in that 10%?
Mr Boehner, why won't you even allow a simple vote on the budget?
Be honest now and try not to engage in self-serving spin; is holding onto your job title more important than having the courage to buck those radicals who covet it?

But, what goes around, comes around. 
Republicans have made their nest and now must live in it.
Maybe, these self-styled Tories will come to see the error of their ways, do their job and let our government return to normalcy, but don't count on it!
The 'my way or the highway' attitude exhibited against nearly every goal or achievement advocated by President Obama since his election, has no useful place in a representative democracy.
It is a juvenile, divisive and ultimately self-defeating strategy that should not be rewarded, but instead discouraged.

Hopefully, the current impasse will soon be over, but how can anyone claim victory?
George Washington would likely shed a tear.

* Reading in Congress

In January 1862, during the American Civil War, thousands of Philadelphia residents signed a petition requesting the Congress to commemorate the 130th anniversary of Washington's birth by reading his Farewell Address "in one or the other of the Houses of Congress.” First read in the United States House of Representatives in February 1862, the reading of Washington's address became a tradition in both houses by 1899.
In 1984, however, the House of Representatives abandoned the practice. The Senate continues this tradition into modern times, observing Washington's Birthday by selecting a member of the Senate, alternating between political parties each year, to read the address aloud on the Senate floor.

Monday, September 30, 2013

When Right Is Wrong

What's in a word?
Multiple meanings, spellings, pronunciations, nuances.
Right or Wrong, Right or Left, etc.

Right-wing politics -euphemistically called 'conservative- does not easily support change, especially so-called 'progressive' change. 
That is largely the case with the current threat of shutting down government unless 'ObamaCare' is repealed. 
Wishful thinking at best by those more interested in silly political posturing!

I hope Congress does the 'right' thing, and they probably will, eventually. 
However this exercise turns out, it is an example of putting selfish interest above the common good, at least in my view.
A representative democracy is generally accepted as a proven way -if not the best way- to insure that the will of the people is reflected in law and policy. 
But, this is not guaranteed; it depends upon those elected doing their best to the benefit of not only their 'constituents', but the entire population. 
Unfortunately, not every elected representative has received this memo, much less honored it both in spirit and deed. 
That is not a new problem and is likely to be unresolved unless we make known our expectations of those we chose to represent us. 
Freedom is not free, especially unrestricted freedom. Certain constraints are necessary in the name of fairness, equality and civility. 

Our founders were amazingly prescient about governance, especially practical and sustainable governance that continually seeks to reflect the will and best interests of people - all people. 
But, they weren't perfect in defining which people are to be included; which is why our Constitution has always been subject to change by adjustment to include non-property owners, blacks and people of color, women as well as those with diverse beliefs, religions and lifestyles. 

But, these changes have not come easily and remain subject to debate among those who prefer to keep those special privileges enjoyed by our 'prescient' founding fathers, mostly wealthy white male property owners. 
Are today's elected representatives much different? 
Yes, and no. 
While our current Congress is more diverse, there remains a large contingent who are very wealthy and many others who seek to become so in currying favor from the hordes of lobbyists and 'special interests' who crowd Washington, DC. In such an environment, the temptation must be strong to represent selfish interests above all others.

If government is to be of the people, for the people and by the people, then it is necessary to have every person's needs, aspirations and rights equitably addressed, not just a favored few among many. 
But, that has become increasingly problematic with the ideological stances being taken lately by those who seem to value their own election/reelection goals above those of the good of the entire population. 

The founders intended to have a 'virtuous' government and to encourage 'virtue' in its citizens. 
Is this happening? 
Will it likely happen without continuous effort? 
How will this effort be generated? 

If our government is intended to reflect us, the citizens, is this actually happening? 
If our current government does actually reflect its current citizenry, what does that say about us? 
Are we so occupied with distractions that we allow our representatives to act as they are, then play the blame game when things don't go to suit us? 

If that is the case, the founders might not be very happy with us, unless with subliminal thought, they expected a future return to their era, where only rich, white property owners controlled things for their own selfish interests. 
Doesn't it seem that the rich and powerful have much more clout than they deserve in our government?

Without the tyranny of a foreign monarch, the threat from foreign enemies, the fear from foreign terrorists, the competition from foreign economies, the inconvenient menaces of nature itself, we are left with the troubling dilemma of just dealing with ourselves. 
As Pogo said, 'the enemy is us.'

I hope that Americans, collectively, will reclaim our rightful role in determining what is in our best interests, then require those who represent us to seek reasonable, effective means to achieve it.
That includes providing the US Government the adequate means to maintain its essential services, despite any ideological obstacles that arise.

Our representatives need to be held responsible and accountable for their votes and non-votes!

Friday, August 2, 2013

GPT: Footsteps to Oblivion?

August has already provided welcome news to all who have experienced serious reservations about the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal to export coal.
Of course, consideration of that proposal must still go through due process, but now the playing field has been leveled considerably and a much more balanced weighing of pros and cons is likely.

Whether the current proposal fails won't determine what future proposals may come forward.
Even if the GPT site itself is eventually purchased and turned into a park or other restricted use, increased rail traffic to bring petroleum feedstocks to local refineries may become a reality.

Here are links to several articles that announce and explain recent developments:

• Crosscut Article by Floyd Mckay:

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

GPT & Growth Management

Here we are at the end of July and I haven't posted for 6 weeks.
I'd like to say I've been waiting for some good news, but mostly I've just been otherwise occupied and somewhat lazy, having read two heavy tomes by Jared Diamond; Guns, Germs & Steel and Collapse.
The former attempts to explain why some societies tend to have "more cargo" -meaning advanced civilizations- while the latter examines the causes of failure of various cultures.

These are not easy topics, but the author uses his extensive knowledge and communications skills to condense and simplify things enough for lay persons like me to comprehend, even though it does take a fair amount of time and dedication to the task to get through it!

That begs a comparison with some of our current candidates for Whatcom County council, both incumbents and challengers, who seem to have problems understanding what their role should be regarding Growth Management as well as why citizens and organizations - such as RE-Sources and FutureWise- have important roles to play in the planning for our common future.

It seems all four 'Republican' candidates for these 'non-partisan' seats have attitudes that they allow to prejudice them against even  a public forums that focus on growth planning and the ecology!
What is that about? Silly me, thinking such forums are important for the public to see and hear BEFORE voting!

Two incumbents - Bill Knudzen and Kathy Kershner - have supported the poor growth planning policies that invited lawsuits and Growth Management Hearings Board actions on behalf of the public, yet they are unwilling to learn any constructive lessons from that! Instead, they choose to continue spending scarce public dollars on silly appeals.

The two R challengers - Michele Luke and Ben Elenbaas- are also part of the problem since they serve on the inept County Planning Commission that is responsible for some very stupid recommendations to the County Council!
Because of this childish behavior, in fairness, the growth planning and the ecology forum has now been cancelled.
Take that voters!

But, as sorry as our County Electeds have been regarding Growth Management planning, there is at least one County that is worse, at least according author Jared Diamond.
That would be Ravalli County, in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, which has NO planning or consistent zoning despite the crying need that exists in a place with great natural beauty, poor conditions for agricultural enterprises, a declining local economy and wide differences between 'Haves' and 'Have Nots'.

Rather than try to paraphrase Mr Diamond's descriptive words, I suggest reading Chapter One in Collapse for those interested.

Regarding GPT, another 'issue' our erstwhile County Council must eventually face - without benefit of much knowledge and understanding - today's news carried an article that indicates the MAP Team has decided to incorporate many of the hundreds of legitimate concerns expressed by citizens by considering impacts from rail traffic and other factors!

This latest MAP Team decision is truly good news.
Now, maybe our County Electeds won't be winging their 'fact-free' decision as much as they might been so inclined?
Let's hope so!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Coal: A Perfect Storm Ingredient?

From Wikipedia: A "perfect storm" is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically. The term is also used to describe an actual phenomenon that happens to occur in such a confluence, resulting in an event of unusual magnitude.
An inedible recipe: Skagit River bridge collapse. Coal trains for export. Normal events: commuting, business, EMS, school buses, bike rides, Tulip Festival. Public expense. Private exemption. 
The past 10 days has seen me travel I-5 to Seattle twice for medical purposes, during which I also experienced the traffic delays caused by the Skagit River bridge's collapse. That little boo-boo was simply caused by an over sized truck colliding with the bridge structure. Of course, the public will pay for rebuilding the bridge, both in terms of government funding and its own inconvenience - including cumulative loss of business and personal time. That is to be expected. But, the unintended consequences of this accidental event caused me to think about how sensitive we are to compounded problems which radiate from such catastrophes.

For example, the detours required to bypass the I-5 bridge travel through adjacent areas that are unaccustomed and unequipped for the volume of traffic, making these alternatives more dangerous as well as slower. Also, the main detour to the west must cross the Skagit River downstream, in constricted Mt Vernon streets, before having to cross the BNSF mainline -at grade- to return to I-5. That creates other problems that also depend on train traffic. See how things can snowball and escalate to larger proportions? 

Now, let's turn back to the proposed GPT proposal that carries with it the prospect of up to 18 additional 1.5 -mile long coal trains per day. Many of the EIS comments submitted cited the inconvenience, danger, and major capital funding necessary to alleviate these problems. Guess what, unexpected events like the Skagit River bridge collapse would/will greatly compound the problem of dealing with many more trains! It is this compounding effect that must be anticipated and dealt with effectively and up-front.

Similar thinking was involved with restarting the Olympic Pipe Line after the disaster that occurred back in 1999.
The concept of applied 'Process Safety Management' was required of the owner/operator before permission was granted to rebuild/restart the pipeline. That took 18 months to satisfy, but the result was a much safer operation that takes into account most of the events -or sequence of events- that could lead to another leak and explosion. I believe the wait was well-worth the additional safety and public confidence.

Because we are an integrated society, it is fitting that public infrastructure be the responsibility of government, which in turn gains its authority and funding through the public - including private enterprise. However, if private enterprise demands higher privileges regarding infrastructure than it is willing to pay for, then additional considerations must be extracted from it. In the case of coal trains, that should include the costs of grade-separated crossings wherever feasible. Why not include these costs as part of the cost of shipping? 
You know, those who benefit, pay.

Floyd McKay has contributed two more articles on Crosscut, called the Tale of Two Cities. The first deals with the City of Ferndale, which seems to see the proposed GPT Coal Terminal through mostly rose-colored glasses; the second deals with the City of Burlington, which sees some real problems with GPT, without rose glasses.

The Skagit River bridge collapse provides a lens through which we can see real life scenarios that are with us now. It doesn't take much imagination to see how much 18 additional coal trains per day would grossly compound such problems, does it? Let's cut out the wishful thinking on GPT and get on with anticipating real problems and their solutions instead.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Water Supply: Searching For Certainty In Uncertain Times

This two-day Symposium [May 30&31] was timely and pretty well attended - at least by those folks who believe the topic is important enough to pay attention.
Here is the link to the announcement, agenda and speakers.
And, here is John Stark's article that appeared afterward in the Bellingham Herald

The discussions covered primary uses, including Agricultural; Industrial; Rural; Urban; and the big unknown, the In-Stream Flows, necessary to ensure fish can live and propagate.
It was on this last 'unknown' that the most interesting development was again revealed, in no uncertain terms; both the Lummi and Nooksack tribes have appealed -two years ago- to the Federal Government to clarify and quantify their most senior water rights. Who can blame them?

As today's Gristle pointed out, only the Feds have jurisdiction over such tribal matters, not the State of Washington; but it is critically important that WRIA-1 water rights be apportioned fairly, not only to ensure adequate In-Stream Flows, but to quantify those rights under jurisdiction of the WA State Dept of Ecology. Largely left out is the groundwater existing in aquifers, which are technically connected by hydraulic continuity, but difficult to completely quantify with the data currently available.

In mathematical terms; X - Y = Z, where X is the total amount of water available, Y is the total necessary In-Stream Flow, and Z is the amount of water available for all other uses. No one seems to know these quantities with any accuracy, or at least are not willing to share that information. But, a large amount of data have already been collected over the 7 years that the $4.5 million WRIA-1 program was fully underway, that could approximate at least the overall range of total water available -by season- in this large drainage.

Much of the uncertainty in the Symposium's title relates directly to this question of quantity, and the various sub-divisions of this quantity necessary to describe the various uses listed above. It is in the divvying up process that major conflicts will come to light, some to the detriment of those who have become accustomed to claiming water rights that either don't belong to them, or don't exist at all.
But, regardless of winners and losers, it is important to resolve this water rights problem sooner rather than later, because it will just get worse as time passes, thus creating more conflict and uncertainty.

One point deserves emphasis, while water law seems complicated, the concept of usufruct applies;  that means folks have the right to use the water, not own it. There is a finite amount of water that exists on this planet, and way less than 1% is potable. Our government consists of duly elected officials, whose duty is to face difficult problems like water rights - and resolve them in a fair, transparent public process!
So, be careful of who you support for elected office. It does matter that they be held accountable!

An earlier blog is worth revisiting, at this URL.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Washington State Water Law

Last Wednesday, May 22, the Bellingham City Club speaker was Tom McDonald, an experienced expert, who spoke on the subject of Washington State Water Law: Whose Water Is It Anyway? And Who Decides? And When? And Will It Be There When I Turn On The Tap? 

This was a timely presentation since water law will impact upcoming decisions on who has rights to water in the 14 river-sheds in Western Washington. Water is essential for human life and is becoming more scarce and polluted as our population grows. Water will limit growth before our land supply will.
(The presentation outline is reproduced below) 

Coming up next Thursday & Friday at the Hampton Inn: Water Supply: Searching for Certainty in Uncertain Times will discuss What is at risk if water issues are not resolved? 
This two day symposium will focus on water supply issues including the factors influencing availability for in-stream and out-of-stream uses as well as the current status of the water supply in Whatcom County.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

GPT: A Response to April 13 Bellingham Herald Article

As promised yesterday, here is my response to the following article, published in the April 13, 2013 Bellingham Herald: Terminal's family-wage jobs, taxes would aid Whatcom County(Authors: Brent Goodrich - Ferndale City Council and Bonnie Onyon - Blaine City Council)
Article 1 of our Constitution ensures every citizen's right to free speech, including all manner of political or commercial speech that does not unduly malign either the public or other individuals.
Since both Mr Goodrich and Ms Onyon are not only citizens, but elected governmental representatives, what they have written doesn't appear to break any laws, except maybe those of good judgement and balanced accuracy. No, they are likely just expressing their opinions [wishes] while using their public status to influence others to support GPT, despite any drawbacks that plan may be found to have. 

I do find it interesting that the authors have admittedly reached their decision of unqualified support in advance - a priori - of completing the EIS evaluation; but maybe they think they know more than the rest of us, scientists and all? Maybe they do, but that seems highly unlikely.

As a retired Chemical Engineer and former elected member of the Bellingham City Council, I also have reviewed the GPT proposal in detail, and found enough insufficiently addressed or unanswered questions to cause major concerns for me as well as many others in Whatcom County and elsewhere.  A summary of 32 of these identified concerns can be found on the GPT EIS website listed under my name, for those interested.

The authors' un-equivocated acceptance of the most optimistic projections of job and revenue generation, happening immediately, also deserve much closer scrutiny! Perhaps, this factor alone explains their enthusiastic support for GPT, since no heavy lifting on their part is required for their respective municipalities to inherit large windfalls of heretofore unanticipated revenues.

Of course, these most optimistic projections are all predicated upon GPT being permitted, built and actually operated for decades; each of these steps are problematic at best. Even more important are the time delays implicit in the GPT timeline; the best projections will require 20 or more years before they might even be approached! Until that time, significantly less revenues would accrue to the Ferndale and Blaine entities expected (by the authors) to benefit the most from GPT. 

But, the other troubling aspect - entirely dismissed by the authors - is the lack of benefits accruing to other municipalities and entities that would be impacted by GPT and its related formidable array of supply trains and delivery vessels. That part, alone, is shocking, but don't forget yet another major omission, externalizing (ignoring) the costs of impacts on all municipalities and citizens as well as the local -and global- environment! 

In any business evaluation, a thorough cost/benefit analysis is a prudent, even essential, early step.
It's difficult to understand why the authors -and the proponents- would want to truncate this analysis and accept the additional risks to the public and environment that introduces, unless they consider their anticipated gains dwarf all other considerations. 

It appears the cost/benefit analysis these people propose applies only to the more limited local -and only positive- economics side of the equation, conveniently ignoring the equally important social and ecological considerations. For a truly sustainable venture to succeed, full-cost accounting (triple bottom line) is a necessity. That approach would provide a net benefit to everyone in the long-term, not just a few seeking quick, windfall profits and revenues at the expense of others.

Although the authors claim they've 'done their homework', they have miserably failed both the exam and the course! Did they not know that former WA Governor John Spellman, vetoed an earlier Cherry Point Terminal proposal over 30 years ago, stating that gaining a few jobs while badly degrading the environment was a bad trade-off that simply wasn't acceptable? In a Channel 9 interview on April 16, Spellman said he'd made the right decision then, and even though it did not benefit him politically, he'd make the same decision again - 'because it was the right thing to do'.

As the late Senator Patrick Moynihan once said, 'everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts'. Let's be more careful of mixing up opinions with facts, because that practice can lead to very poor decision-making that will adversely impact us for many years to come. We citizens deserve consistently good decisions from our elected officials, based upon as thorough an understanding of facts  as possible, before personal opinions are expressed, and certainly before any permits are granted and potentially harmful applications are approved. 

If Mr Goodrich and Ms Onyon aren't up to this standard, why are they in office? Thank goodness they will not be the final decision-makers!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


An unusually eventful day, this April 16;

• Scott Walker announced he will step away from being a Port of Bellingham Commissioner at the end of this year, his 22nd. This presents an opportunity to support candidates able and willing to step up to this task, something that has become a perennial wish for the last several years.
Know anyone?

• Ken Oplinger announced his resignation as Executive Director of the Bellingham/Whatcom County Chamber of Commerce and member of the Blaine City Council. He has accepted another CofC position in Santa Barbara, CA. Another opportunity to advocate for qualified people who are willing and able. Wonder if Santa Barbara will support a large Coal Export Terminal?

• The day after yet another tragic, terrorist-like event, this one at the Boston Marathon yesterday which killed at least 3 and injured over 170. The details are now emerging, but let's hope the perpetrators are found and punished to the full extent of the law.

• An interesting KCTS TV program with Enrique Cerna, who interviewed 4 former WA Governors; Dan Evans, John Spellman, Mike Lowry and Christine Gregoire. Spellman recalled his decisions to veto both the Northern Tier Pipeline and an earlier version of the CBI Cherry Point Terminal, saying he would do that all over again, because trading a few jobs for major environmental degradation was -and is- a bad idea. How's that for guts? BTW, Spellman is a Republican.

• I've been asked to write a Letter-To-Editor in response to a recent Bellingham Herald editorial authored by Brent Goodrich who serves on the Ferndale City Council and Bonnie Onyon who serves on the Blaine City Council. This will be submitted shortly, so stay tuned.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Coal: GPT Summary Scoping Report

Last Friday, March 29, the GPT MAP Team issued online, its Summary Scoping Report which incorporates the public Scoping Comments submitted during the 4-month period ending January 22, 2013.
This new141-page pdf document is available at this URL:

Earlier, Floyd Mackay published a 3-part series of articles on Crosscut, as shown following.
As usual, he nails what the key issues are and the likely process to occur looking forward.

Part 1.  Coal Wars: Export backers push jobs, try to limit environmental review

Part 2Coal Wars: Port opponents make big use of access to information

Part 3.  Coal Wars: How voters are shaping their leaders' decisions

An additional Crosscut Article by Lisa Stiffler addresses the Puget Sound Herring decline issue.

Stay tuned for future developments during review of the Summary Scoping Report.
Decision-making could occur around this November according to a reliable source.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Water: White Smoke Over Whatcom County?

Having just watched the joyful ceremonies that confirmed the election of Pope Francis I in Rome, it seems we have also experienced our own 'white smoke' event here in Bellingham.
By all early indications, the election of Pope Francis I is being viewed as a very popular choice that emphasizes humility and the communication of true caring for all humanity.
A very worthy and timely choice, indeed!

Today's Gristle carried this story about the likely Reconveyance vote - before actual results were known.
Last night's County Council meeting was also live-blogged by Riley Sweeney, but, again, terminated before the actual decision was made.
But, this morning The Herald finished the story complete with the final vote.

Who knew that our Whatcom County Council would also tangibly demonstrate its commitment to a higher cause than the politics of division?
Like many others I had faith that the Council would eventually come to the right decision after several years of careful deliberation, but faith is always renewed by good acts that actually come to pass.
And so it was that the long-debated DNR Reconveyance of over 8 thousand acres of forestland around the Lake Whatcom Reservoir came to pass late last night by a recorded final vote of 5 to 2.
Thank goodness for that outcome!

Now, we have added assurance that we are on the right track in preserving a precious natural resource.
And, that future policy is more likely to follow and augment this example of forward-looking leadership, greatly aided and abetted by strong follower-ship by thousands of concerned citizens.
Next, comes a focus on more enlightened land use policies and storm water regulations that support the implicit policy of preservation that underlies last night's Reconveyance decision.

More very difficult decisions will be required to address the severe water degradation challenges identified by DOE's recent TMDL Report.
That means the Lake Whatcom Watershed must be viewed and treated differently than before; no longer to be considered as either an area for affordable housing or luxury mega-home sites for the wealthy, but a place to be respected for its critical importance as our long-term drinking water source.

Fortunately, de-emphasizing development of all sorts fits the idea of allowing this watershed to more closely mimic nature, which is known to be both the most effective and least expensive way to control harmful run-off into the Reservoir. An added benefit could be that additional properties will be made reasonably available for conservation purposes, thereby achieving a further desirable 'tipping point' in public opinion and perception.

I am thankful that the Reconveyance decision has been made, because it helps guide those additional right-minded decisions that must be made in the future.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


During a recent visit to San Francisco, I had the pleasure of taking an ALL course about California's 'Water Wars', a fascinating subject that also has applicability to our situation here in Whatcom County. 
With long awaited County Council vote on the 8400-acre reconveyance of DNR forest lands around the Lake Whatcom Reservoir about to happen, perhaps a little humor tinged with reality is in order. Anyway, below is reprinted a copyrighted article by Hugh Holub that can also be accessed at this website

Introduction: It does not take a law degree to understand water law and policy in the western United States. Ten basic legal and historical principles govern the rights to and uses of water in the West. By understanding these ten Water Laws of the West anyone can then understand the current issues of water and its relationship to the future of the West.
I. The Law of Gravity: The First Water Law of the West is the Law of Gravity. Water runs down hill. The initial uses of water in the West involved the use of gravity to tap rivers and divert their flows into canals for delivery to farms and mines. This is also known as Newton's Law.
II. The Law of Los Angeles: The Second Water Law of the West is the original law of Los Angeles. This L.A. Law states that "water runs uphill to money". The development of energy technologies to lift water against the pull of gravity is the basis for modern Western civilization. Los Angeles pioneered the effort to defy gravity with money in the early 1900's with its Owens Valley Aqueduct. Southern California is now served with a network of pipelines and canals such as the Metropolitan Water District's Colorado River Aqueduct. Phoenix, San Francisco and Denver also utilize massive pumping and diversion systems to transport water from great distances in defiance of gravity to serve their growing urban populations.
III. The Law of Supply Creating Demand: The Third Water Law of the West, also invented by Los Angeles, is that "if you don't have the water, you won't need it." This is sometimes stated as "he who brings the water brings the people". Both are attributed to William Mulholland, a pioneer director of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP). Los Angeles and other Western cities operate on the premise that in order to assure growth of their cities, water supplies for the future must be developed well in advance of that growth. This is in contrast to the general approach in Western cities of developing freeways and other public infrastructure long after the growth has actually happened.
IV. The Law of I Got It First: The Fourth Water Law of the West, embodied in the West's surface water laws, is the doctrine of "prior appropriation" translated into "first in time is first in right". First in time for most water uses in the West were farms and mines. Instead of "first in time is first in right", we have seen the evolution of "we've got more votes than you in the state legislature" to decide who gets water.
V. The Law of Beneficial Use: The Fifth Water law of the West is that to have a right to water it must be "beneficially" or "reasonably" used on that appurtenant land. This is only understood in the context that water left flowing in a river maintaining the survival of fish in that river and vegetation growing along side that river was not originally defined as a "beneficial" use in Western water law, whereas drowning gophers or growing rice in deserts were deemed "beneficial" uses. In recent years, environmentalists have succeeded in gaining recognition of "in-stream" beneficial uses of water and a new category of water rights is beginning to emerge to preserve flows in rivers. However this process is emerging only after most rivers and streams in the West have been dammed and dried up by diversions of the flows to the previously established beneficial uses. To fully appreciate why this happened, it must be remembered that the fish in these streams only recently were able to obtain the services of water lawyers via various environmental and conservation organizations.
VI. The Law of Worthless Land: The Sixth Water Law of the West is that without a water right or access to water, land is worthless. There is not enough water available to use all available land for all the potential beneficial uses. Thus lands with water rights or access to water have value for use, whereas land without water rights is known as the desert, with zero value except when being subjected to state and local property taxation. It is also a historic fact that farmers, ranchers and miners figured all this out about a hundred years before the average city council or environmental group, thus most Western water laws are heavily weighted in favor of using water for farming, ranching and mining. This law is also known as the "appurtenancy" rule meaning the rights to the use of water are tied to specific parcels of land, which are usually owned by farmers, ranchers or miners.
VII. The Law of Expropriation: The Seventh Water Law of the West focuses on how water (and other natural resources) are obtained for Western civilization. This Law depends on finding some fairly impoverished and unsophisticated water right holder (usually Indians, farmers, or rural communities) on the other side of the mountain a city can steal water rights from. Los Angeles pioneered this approach by buying up the Owens Valley on the east slope of the Sierra Nevada for water rights nearly 90 years ago. What we are now experiencing is not so much a water shortage, but a shortage of people on the other sides of the mountains who are willing to let their water resources be stolen from them by cities.
VIII. The Law of the Price is Right: The Eighth Water Law of the West is that there is no water shortage if the price is right. It is widely believed in city halls that the farmers will sell their water rights if the price is high enough so the farmers can go raise martinis in La Jolla instead of cotton in the Salt River Valley of Arizona, or the Imperial Valley in California. Thus when someone asks "is there enough water for Los Angeles or Phoenix to grow?" the answer is probably yes--if you don't care about how much the water will cost.
IX. The Law of Water Monopoly: The Ninth Water Law of the West is that water management in an arid environment almost always results in the creation of a water monopoly. Thus (along with the discovery of fire and religion) the first steps towards civilization included the construction of irrigation ditches and the immediate creation of some sort of bureaucracy to run the system. Not surprisingly where irrigation water monopoly civilizations rose, they lasted for thousands of years. The Westlands Irrigation District in the Central Valley of California and the Salt River Project in Arizona are merely the modern counterparts of one of humankind's most ancient of institutions--the water monopoly. Many western urban areas figured out the value of water monopoly and created enormously powerful regional agencies such as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District in Arizona, to do essentially the same thing--building vast networks of canals to bring water to their constituents.
X. The Law of Vanishing Civilizations: The Tenth (or Last) Water Law of the West should be called the Hohokam Law of Water and Gravity. Under this law, if there is no rain, there is no water to flow down hill. What went up--the buildings and the civilization--may crumble to dust if Mother Nature decides to hold a long drought. Lying beneath the streets of Phoenix are the ruins of the ancient Hohokam Indian metropolis that vanished prior to 1400 AD. Phoenix is the second city to be built on the same site in reliance on the erratic flows of the Salt River. Californians prayed for rain for the last six years (apparently successfully) because they didn't have enough water to flush their toilets. Many Southern Californians had been heard to ask "what do you mean this used to be a desert?"
Conclusion: The principles that govern Western water law and policy have a long and somewhat distinguished history. It should also be noted that similar arid environment ditch-dependent civilizations ultimately collapsed under extreme environmental stresses, internal political conflict, and invasion by barbarian hordes. This is worth contemplating after a six year drought with various water interests fighting over who will get water in times of future shortages while the streets of Santa Monica or Scottsdale are filled with RVs with New Jersey license plates.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

10 Books Worth Reading

'I cannot live without books' - Thos Jefferson
Among the millions of books, these 10 are what I've enjoyed during the past several weeks:

1. Who Stole the American Dream? - Hedrick Smith (analysis of the origins of current fiscal woes)

2. Einstein - Walter Isaacson (incorporates new information from family papers)

3. The Quest - Daniel Yergin (analysis of current energy use, plus related security & environmental issues)

4. The Racketeer - John Grisham (typical story of crime made right, happy ending for the hero)

5. Drift - Rachel Maddow (documentation of trend toward repeated undeclared wars & CIA actions)

6. Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel (Henry VIII's creation of Anglican Church to enable divorce from Queen Catherine and marriage to Anne Boleyn, seen through the eyes & wit of Thomas Cromwell, advisor)

7. Bring Up The Dead - Hilary Mantel (sequel to Wolf Hall wherein Anne Boleyn, et al are executed to enable Henry VIII's marriage to Jane Seymour, again through eyes & wit of Thomas Cromwell)
Note: another sequel to follow, completing a trilogy.

8. Thomas Jefferson; The Art of Power - Jon Meacham (an examination of Jefferson's method of asserting power through learning, persuasion, enlistment of allies and personal leadership)

9. The Yellow Birds - Kevin Powers (a novel depicting the trauma of war and its often disturbing effect on combat participants)

10. Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher - Timothy Egan (documentary of the work of Edward Curtis, photographer who captured historic native American culture on film)

Additionally, I'm reading King Lear - William Shakespeare, in preparation for seeing the play in Ashland, OR
These 10 books are varied in subject matter, but most of them deal with current or recurring human themes and issues.
All are interesting reads.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Coal: GPT EIS Comment No. 32

The ancient concept of USUFRUCT in civil law has been defined as "The right of enjoying a thing, the property of which is vested in another, and to draw from the same all the profit, utility and advantage which it may produce, provided it be without degrading or altering the substance of the thing."

This concept can be applied to the property currently owned by SSA-Marine and proposed for use as a large coal export terminal. As owner, SSA is certainly entitled to the beneficial use of this property. But, what about properties nearby and otherwise inextricably connected due to the necessity of transporting the coal to and from the proposed GPT facility?

These include the mining sites in Montana; the railroad routes likely to carry coal to GPT; the public & private rights of way which the trains must traverse; the water bodies which must be crossed to convey the coal to its intended Asian markets; the soil, water and air likely to be harmfully impacted by the mining, transport, handling and eventual burning of the coal, among others.

These connected soils -including coal- already have natural and useful purposes, including agriculture and vegetation, sites for human occupation and use, ancestral sacred history, and the like.

The connected waters also have highly beneficial uses, for irrigation, human consumption, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, transport of valuable cargo and humans, and ecological purposes we are only beginning to fully understand.

The air -essential to human life- will be tangibly degraded and global climate impacts will accelerate, with the greenhouse gases associated with every step in the mining to burning process.

These natural resources -air, water and soil- belong to everyone in common and should not be allowed to degrade solely because of commercial interests. We, the public owners, need to have a forceful voice in deciding whether the GPT coal export scheme really serves our collective interests well enough to allow it to proceed.

Each of these public resources contains significant usufructuary value and should not be arbitrarily degraded without the express consent of the public impacted.

Please see to it that the potentially harmful impacts to the soils, waters and air belonging to us all are carefully documented and evaluated thoroughly before any decision is made to approve any part of the GPT application.