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.