Washington State House Democrats


Shewmake and Timmons bills to add support for Whatcom County Superior Court

OLYMPIA—Water rights adjudication is a legal process to resolve water rights conflicts and create opportunities for water to be used more efficiently. Adjudication also creates opportunities for conservation, essential for salmon restoration. Whatcom County is preparing for an adjudication case in the Nooksack watershed and will need additional resources. That’s why Sen. Sharon Shewmake (D-Bellingham) and Rep. Joe Timmons (D-Bellingham) introduced bills to support Whatcom County Superior Court in advance of this year’s short, 60-day legislative session.  

“Our superior court handles a variety of civil and criminal matters, and the court’s backlog was exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Timmons. “We currently have four judges on this court, and we desperately need another judge on the bench to work through cases and efficiently process the Department of Ecology’s impending water rights adjudication.” 

“I want to ensure that the adjudication process is as smooth as possible and that will require an adequately staffed judiciary. We are expecting to have between 5,000-25,000 filings. For context, in 2022 there were only about 6,000 cases total,” Shewmake said. “This extra judge will be an essential resource for the court and help people get resolution on their water rights in a timely fashion.” 

Whatcom County Superior Court covers felony and other criminal matters, civil matters, domestic relations matters, guardianship and probate matters, juvenile matters, and child dependency cases. 

Shewmake and Timmons introduced companion bills in both the Senate and House. Senate Bill 5827/House Bill 1992 would increase the number of judges on the Whatcom County Superior Court from four to five. Senate Bill 5828/House Bill 1993 would further increase the court’s judicial resources by adding new water adjudication commissioners, who would have many of the same powers as a superior court judge and a wealth of water adjudication experience, and water adjudication referees, who would assist with smaller issues of fact. 

SB 5828 passed unanimously earlier today and is now under consideration in the House. HB 1992 passed off the House floor on Feb. 9 with a vote of 96-1 and is now under consideration in the Senate. 

The legislature is the determining body if another judge is added to the bench. If passed in both chambers, the governor will appoint the additional judge, and the Whatcom County Superior Court will hire the new commissioners and referees.