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.