Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lake Whatcom

Yesterday, the Department of Ecology denied Bellingham's petition to close the Lake Whatcom Watershed to new groundwater withdrawals. According to Ecology's letter (here's the link), Ecology takes the goal of protecting the lake from "further degradation" very seriously. So the petition was denied because Ecology "provide[d] an alternative means to address the concerns raised in the petition."

What aggressive measures will Ecology take to make sure that our drinking water source is protected? It will "develop a strategy." What will this strategy do? "Prevent additional loadings of phosphorus to the lake from new development."

This perhaps is intended to herald the fact that new development right on Lake Whatcom is what the County has in mind for us, and soon.

The County Council is about to adopt a plan that will allow new development on one-acre lots right along the shore of Lake Whatcom. Executive Kremen has said that he will veto some parts of the new Comprehensive Plan, but not the part that will allow new one-acre lots along the shore of Lake Whatcom.

New one-acre lots on the waterfront are certainly a significant shift in development regulations. But that can't be what Ecology had in mind when it said "Resolving the lake’s water quality issues requires a dramatic reduction in pollution from new and existing development, which requires a significant and immediate shift in development regulations." (That's from one of those "tell-the-public-that-everything-is-dandy" colored brochures (here's the link).)

But you might be thinking -- why would new lakefront development matter in light of the Executive's "commitment" that no more phosphorus -- not one bit of phosphorus -- will get into our lake?

Well, one problem is that the County Executive hasn't actually made that commitment. Here's the link to the County Executive's "Commitment Letter."

The letter says: "I understand Ecology's position that changes to the County's code should ensure that new development will result in no additional contributions of phophorus to the lake. That said, my staff remains concerned about how Ecology has defined the standard for those changes. They will continue to work with your staff during the next two weeks to further refine and clarify that standard."

Looks like Ecology accepted a "commitment" to meet a standard that doesn't even exist yet. And even if the amount of phosphorus going into our lake is reduced, I wonder if our problems will be solved. Will our drinking water be tastier with more oil, tire shreds, and fecal coliform?

The firm commitments that the County has made are to (1) propose new development regulations for the Planning Commission to consider in July, and (2) tell Ecology how many building permit applications are filed for the watershed.

Although there isn't any commitment to actually adopt or implement anything, the Executive did commit to "ask[ing] his staff to pay close attention" to the "goal" of achieving development regulations.

Nor is there a commitment to do anything about the number of building permits coming in. But we sure will be counting them.

Time to take two aspirin, washed down with some stormwater runoff.


  1. Jean -- see what you can do to get more people to sign the petition regarding the coal shipping terminal at Cherry Point. We are being bamboozled. Just back from a TOWN HALL MEETING in Lynden where Ericksen, Buys, and Overstreet (not the sharpest knives in the drawer) all said they are in favor of the facility. (No surprise.) They were expecting a cakewalk, but the crowd was not all favorable to them. They want to "reform" collective bargaining." Wisconsin?

    Anyway...send the link to the petition to anyone you know who might sign it! Thanks.

  2. Please circulate the link below to your contacts. This Care2 site allows us to collect signatures which we can later send on to elected officials in the area to demonstrate the level and breadth of our concerns over this project.

  3. If Kremen is serious about protecting the watershed, why did his recent letter advising Council he would veto certain proposed changes to the rural element update to the County Comp. Plan fail to include Lake Whatcom?

    The new draft language in the County Comp. Plan would weaken the conclusions of the TMDL Water Quality Study findings by DOE, making development a possible source of phosphorus loading, rather than the established cause. It would encourage development of undefined "public facilities" (not to be confused with "essential public facilities") in the watershed, which could later be defined as gas stations, mini-mart's, etc. And the zoning reflected in the draft Comp. Plan is not as protective as the current interim moratorium on subdivision on lots smaller than 5 acres. As Jean noted, a new density overlay zone would actually allow for new lots to be subdivided into lots as small as one acre.

    And the County is not the entire cause of blame. How many years is DOE going to wait for the County and City to get their act in gear? The clean-up plan proposed last year by both entities was a joke... no funding, no time-frames, no quantifiable standards and no public accountability. The public needs to put pressure on the City and County to fund and implement a water quality restoration plan because it is clear we can not rely on DOE.

  4. Thanks for drawing attention to this Jean.
    I am not sure this is a LAMIRD issue directly but is tied into the LAMIRD issue at this point in time. The simple solution is for the County Council to change the zoning to no more than one home per 5 acres throughout the watershed. Yes, it will create non conforming lots, but the compelling problem of any new lots smaller than 5 acres can be taken care of immediately under the ordinance the Council is considering. I hope they will follow the easy path and that the Executive will encourage them to do so. It would be consistent with the majority's position of having extended the moratorium and consistent with the Executive's position of supporting the moratorium.
    I hope that if the County can make this simple change that the City would do the same within the City portion of the watershed and rezone the city portions so that no news will be created in the City as well.

  5. Thanks, Dan. I agree that it's not a LAMIRD issue -- but it's a Rural Element issue, and the County is changing zoning throughout the "Rural" area.

    The new draft proposes 2-acre lots along Northshore and a "density overlay" that would allow development on 1-acre lots along substantial areas of the shoreline. Some of this area has already been built out, but the "density overlay" is only being applied in areas where the County has determined that new lots could be created.

    This isn't consistent with the Executive's commitment and I hope that the Council will change it tomorrow.