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South Fork Nooksack River Watershed Project Purpose

The South Fork Nooksack River Watershed Project brings together landowners, tribes, agencies and community members for open dialogue about how to conserve agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and recreation in the South Fork Nooksack watershed, while protecting and restoring our water resources in the face of climate change.

Our community is facing continued risks of high flows and flooding in the winter, reduced streamflows in the summer, increasing sediment and stream temperatures, and worsening drought conditions in the summer. We know that we need to be thinking and acting strategically about how to protect our local economy and environment.

Long Term Community Goals

Although we have a wide range of perspectives and interests in the South Fork Nooksack River Valley, we are looking for win-win solutions to protect our water resources for:

  • Our Families: Keep the rural way of life and protect it for our children.
  • Our Farms: Maintain and protect productive agricultural lands and promote long-term agricultural economic viability.
  • Our Forests: Maintain and protect the forestland base and promote a sustainable forest industry with a skilled and steady local workforce.
  • Our Fish: Improve the South Fork ecosystem to increase and support the salmon population.
  • Our Recreation: Ensure through public regulation, education, and community engagement that recreational activities in the Valley contribute positively to the health and safety of our Watershed and protect property rights and community values.

Planning Principles

In order for us to achieve our goals, we need:

  • Communication, transparency, and trust between landowners, residents, agencies, and other stakeholders in the Watershed.
  • Voluntary agreements between landowners and community partners, with incentives for landowner’s efforts to improve watershed conditions.
  • Shared understanding and open dialogue around data, science, resource management, and the changing climate conditions that affect our watershed.
  • Public education around how farmers, foresters, fishers, and other businesses are continually improving their practices to conserve water resources and protect and improve water quality.
  • Consideration of the knowledge of local residents relevant to wise management of land and water resources.

Stay Informed – Past Events, Links to Reports, and Resources


Community Forum – October 20, 2022

Understanding Water Resource Management in the Nooksack Watershed and Adjudication

In 2021, the Washington Department of Ecology started preparing for a water rights adjudication in the Nooksack watershed. Ecology plans to file an adjudication in 2023 that will involve water users throughout Whatcom County. This is an important time for our community to increase our understanding of water resources management. At this Community Forum on October 20th, we learned about the basics of water management in Whatcom County, what adjudication means, who is involved, what they are hoping to achieve, and how treaty rights and land use decisions will be considered, as we try to balance all water needs, and what this process will mean for all the residents in the South Fork.

Community Forum – August 25, 2022

Stewart Mountain Community Forest

Community Forum – April 21, 2022

Forests, Water, and Climate Change

Modeling the Effects of Forest Management on August Streamflow: South Fork Nooksack River Pilot Research Study (2022). The forest hydrology pilot research study report details the context, methods, and results of a Phase 1 modeling effort to quantify the effects of forest management on summer streamflow in the SF Nooksack River. This collaborative effort between Natural Systems Design, Western Washington University, and Nooksack Indian Tribe included application of two state-of-the-science hydrological models to characterize the direction and magnitude of influence on August streamflows from forest management actions including cutting gaps in the snow zone, changing harvest rotation frequencies, and reducing the areal extent of timber harvest in the watershed. A Phase 2 effort is planned and is anticipated to include refinement of forest management scenarios and expansion in spatial scope to more of the upper Nooksack River watershed. Video of the April 21st Community Forum:

Community Forum – October 14, 2021

Nooksack Indian Tribe’s Climate Adaptation Plan


Nooksack Indian Tribe Climate Change Adaptation Plan (2020)The Nooksack Indian Tribe Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Key Species and Habitats assesses climate change vulnerability of 19 species and 6 habitat types, and identifies ways to increase the climate resilience of priority natural and cultural resources in the Nooksack River watershed. All of western Washington is projected to warm rapidly throughout the 21st century. Increasing temperatures are projected across all seasons, with the greatest warming occurring during the summer, with heavy precipitation events are projected to increase in frequency and magnitude.

South Fork Nooksack River Temperature Total Maximum Daily Load – Water Quality Improvement Report and Implementation Plan (2020), The purpose of the TMDL Plan is to address temperature problems in the South Fork Nooksack River Watershed (SFNR) so that water quality is improved and designated uses are restored and protected. See also the presentation from the WA Dept of Ecology at the forum hosted in 2019 by the South Fork Watershed Education Committee was very informative.

South Fork Nooksack River Watershed Conservation Plan (2017). The Watershed Conservation Plan provides a well-researched and thoughtful contribution to the larger WRIA 1 Watershed Planning effort to protect and restore water quantity, water quality, instream flows, and fish habitat, with an emphasis on climate change resilience.  Led by the Nooksack Indian Tribe Natural Resources Department, and developed through extensive community outreach, education, and involvement, the plan recommends nine priorities for voluntary action, grounded in the experience and values of the people who live and work in this community.

Watershed Function and Forest Management Study (2017). Susan Dickerson-Lange Phd of Natural Systems Design has completed her study of the role of forests and forest change in the uplands on watershed function, which contributes to downstream water quantity and quality. As part of the study,  recommendations are offered for silvicultural and restoration actions that have potential to improve flows and lower temperatures. Here is a short powerpoint of her preliminary work, and her completed study and recommendations.

The South Fork Nooksack River Reach-Scale Plan (2017). The Reach-Scale Plan provides information for the protection and restoration of the riparian zone of the in agricultural areas. The plan contains 1) a description of the geographical setting of the SFNR watershed, 2) legacy impacts, 3) impacts of projected climate change on aquatic resources, 4) an inventory of riparian areas and their condition along the river, 5) opportunities for riparian protection and restoration, and 6) identification of land areas (while maintaining confidentiality) that may qualify for funding for protection and restoration activities on lands along the river and/or its tributaries.

The Nooksack Indian Tribe Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (2017): Climate change will have profound impacts on the watershed’s plants, animals, and ecosystems. Understanding which species and habitats are expected to be vulnerable to climate change is a critical first step toward identifying strategies and actions to ensure their survival in the 21st century. The University of Washington Climate Impacts Group worked collaboratively with the Nooksack Indian Tribe’s Natural & Cultural Resource Department and other community partners to evaluate the climate change vulnerability of priority species and habitats.

WRIA 1 Watershed Management Project.  The WRIA 1 Project is a County-wide coordinated effort to address water quality, instream flows, and fish habitat. Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIAs) are geographic regions established through the Washington State Watershed Management Act of 1998. There are 62 WRIAs in the State.  WRIA strategies integrate traditional resource-based culture, local ecosystem priorities, valued ecosystem goods and services, community economic vitality, and support regional Puget Sound recovery goals.