March 29, 2010

Clare Fogelsong
City of Bellingham
210 Lottie Street
Bellingham WA 98225

Subject: Work Plan Comments

Dear Clare Fogelsong:

Thank you for the opportunity to review the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program, 2010-2014 Work Plan, Draft. I would like to offer the following fifteen comments, based on my years of managing a successful, award-winning, multifaceted lake restoration project.

1.) I found the new format easy to read. To complement the Plan I would suggest preparing a Public Comment Tracker, where citizen comments can be addressed by section, with an area for staff consideration of the public comments. Consequently, the electeds and citizens will benefit from reading the wider range of comments and ideas.

Plan Introduction: "Lake Whatcom Management Program staff have used information from the TMDL study and other reports to develop tasks for this work plan that will improve water quality of the lake."

2.) You stated during the Joint Meeting that the Introduction discusses the TMDL and how the Work Plan will address it. I’ve been unable to locate any specific details of how the issues raised in the TMDL will be addressed. I believe either a separate section needs to be created to highlight the proposed TMDL work, or if the entire Work Plan is the initial TMDL response, then each of the Programs should reference that portion of the TMDL being addressed. Otherwise, there will be no measurable accountability at the end of the five year Plan.

Program Area 1. Land Preservation, "Goal, to pursue public ownership and protection of the watershed......"

3.) This section does not list scientific studies to support the planned task to purchase random properties, or to justify the large expenditure of public resources for Program Area 1. In fact, scientist Richard Horner, PhD, Environmental Engineering Research, UW, while addressing a similar joint City, County, District meeting in 2006, advised that buying land would stop a problem that has not yet occurred; and it would be far less expensive to institute and enforce restrictive permit guidelines that limit impervious surfaces, and do not allow for stormwater runoff from any new development. I believe Program Area 3. Urbanization and Land Development, would address this task more efficiently, and effectively.

Notable Accomplishments: "The City has purchased approximately 1,312.88 acres of land at a cost of $20.5 million; protected an additional 164 acres for a total protected acreage of 1,476 acres."

4.) Even if it was possible to have the watershed of 30,000 acres under public ownership, spending $20.5 million to control 1500 acres (one-half of one percent of the watershed) will take hundreds of years, and could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. I believe money and time would be better spent to invest in a comprehensive watershed restoration project now.

Map of City Protected Watershed Lands, Streams, Lake Whatcom, Lake Whatcom Watershed (page 12)

5.) With the purchased land comprising only a small fraction of the watershed area, I believe this map, using enlargements for land purchases indicating vast amounts of the watershed are now protected, may be misinterpreted.

Program Area 2. Stormwater Management, Goal, and Notable Accomplishments: ".. capital projects, and construction, maintenance and retrofit of stormwater facilities...Over the years, the City and County have continued to increase their investments in capital projects designed to slow the amount of phosphorus entering the lake....In 2010 the City plans to complete the last of a series of capital projects to provide a first line of defense to the lake from major stormwater inputs from City public stormwater systems......"

6.) There are no scientific studies listed to support the planned tasks for constructing, maintaining and retrofitting mechanical stormwater systems, or for justifying the large expenditures of public resources in this program.

As a matter of fact, ‘best available science’ actually does not support this kind of work. On October 26, 2006, a letter was written to the Puget Sound Partnership by the following scientists and experts on stormwater management, discrediting ‘end-of-pipe’ treatment and detention. Puget Sound and Lake Whatcom are similar water systems, except in size and salinity. Portions of their letter are quoted below. Please see Attachment 1. for a full copy of the letter.

"We, the undersigned members of Washington State’s scientific community, have been studying the impacts of urbanization on habitat and aquatic life for decades. There is a large body of literature regarding the relationship of urban runoff and the health of waterbodies. We have had the privilege of contributing papers describing the status and trends in Northwest rivers, wetlands, and coastal environments, the impacts of urban runoff ( and other effects of human activities on Puget Sound waters), the effectiveness of mitigation measures, and original and effective methods of monitoring waterbody health.

All undersigned have credentials to comment on effective approaches for urban runoff management."

  • Douglas Beyerlein, Professional Hydrologist and Professional Engineer (PE),
  • Susan Bolton, PhD, Professional Engineer,
  • Derek B. Booth, PhD. Professional Engineer and Professional Geologist,
  • Thomas W. Holz, Professional Engineer, Thom Hooper, Fisheries Biologist,
  • Thom Hooper, Fisheries Biologist
  • Richard R. Horner, PhD, Environmental Engineering Research,
  • James R. Karr, PhD, Ecologist,
  • DeeAnn Kirkpatrick, Fisheries Biologist,
  • John Lombard, Planner and Environmental Policy Analyst,
  • Christopher W. May, PhD,
  • Gary Minton, Phd, Professional Engineer,
  • David R. Montgomery, PhD, Professor of Geomorphology,
  • David Somers, Fisheries Biologist,
  • Cleve Steward, Fisheries Biologist.

"Urban runoff scours streams, destroys aquatic life characteristic of a healthy ecosystem, and carries enormous loads of contaminates to Puget Sound. Stormwater is most likely a primary source of destructive flows and contaminants leading to the precipitous decline in the health of the Puget Sound ecosystem.

‘End-of-pipe’ management of stormwater refers to the practice of treating and detaining runoff from urban land uses before discharging it to surface water. Underlying the employment of ‘end-of-pipe’ management is the assumption that forested watersheds can be converted to any type of land use (including 100% impervious) and that the impacts of these changes on receiving waters can be negated through the use of engineered stormwater-management hardware.

‘End-of-pipe’ stormwater management has been and continues to be a failure at adequately protecting streams, wetlands, and Puget Sound. The literature in the past 30 years documents the negative effects of stormwater discharges on receiving waters.

Since 1996, the correlation between urbanization (and concomitant decline in forest cover, loss of stream buffers, new impervious area) and the stream health has been documented in detail. It is now possible to predict, with considerable confidence, the ill-effect of continuing urbanization on the last vestiges of healthy streams in the basin if such development follows the same formula employed in the past."

" Practices that must be implemented if Puget Sound is to be saved:

3. Halt Runoff From New Impervious Area in the Puget Sound Basin. Methods for eliminating runoff include (but are not limited to) using pervious paving materials, associating impervious area with bioretention facilities, reducing such areas to functional minimums, and so on. The Partnership should recommend code changes requiring that most new paving and roofing be constructed using materials and practices to prevent them from generating runoff to surface water."

4. Preserve Existing and Restore Destroyed Buffer Areas Adjacent to Streams. Destroyed buffers are often found in private ownership. The Partnership should recommend that these be purchased, or otherwise protected, and that soil and riparian vegetation be restored. The protection of Puget Sound as a public good requires creative approaches to these activities. The Partnership should recommend that jurisdictions adopt a system of prioritization of stream buffers to be restored and a timetable for restoration. Obviously, restoration of existing problem-buffers may take decades; even so, the Partnership should set reasonable targets for buffer restoration for year 2020 and other milestone dates."

5. Reduce the Amount of Runoff From Existing Impervious Area. Much existing impervious area is unnecessary and should be removed.( For example, two-way streets could be converted to one-way and a lane eliminated.) Existing impervious area could be disconnected from surface water by repaving using pervious materials or bordering with bioretention facilities or both. The Partnership should recommend a program of prescriptions and incentives to reduce existing total and effective impervious area."

Program Area 3. Urbanization and Land Development. Goal: "Prevent water quality degradation associated with urban development through zoning changes, development standards and density limits."

7.) This Program should be used in place of Program Area 1. Land Preservation, to protect the lake from the effects of new development. I believe Program Area 3. is exactly what scientist Richard Horner, PhD advised, when addressing the Joint Meeting of the Councils in 2006.

8.) Unfortunately, only $73,000 has been allocated for this essential Program. Until these tasks have more funding and staff, I believe a construction moratorium should be re-instituted by the City.

Program Area 5. Data Management & Information, Goal: "Maintain and enhance databases sufficient for detection of water quality and quantity trends, evaluation and selection of management actions, and monitoring of action effectiveness."

9.) I believe at least a paragraph should be devoted to honoring the twenty-five years of invaluable scientific effort by Western Washington University’s Institute for Watershed Studies. Without the comprehensive body of scientific work, established over the years through the Institute’s annual monitoring reports using ‘best available science’, and developing conclusions based on scientific expertise, staff would not have data to ‘maintain or enhance’.

Program Area 7. Forestry/Fish/Wildlife, Reference Documents.

10.) Whatcom County’s Shoreline Master Program, and the City of Bellingham’s Shoreline Master Program Update Draft, are not listed as Reference Documents.

Program Area 8. Transportation, Goal: "......ensure treatment of runoff before entering the lake...."

11.) I believe The Lake Whatcom Watershed Management Plan, Prepared for Whatcom County by the Institute of Watershed Studies, Western Washington University, December 1986, Revised July 1981, has invaluable information and recommendations to inform present and future activities on the watershed:

Page 13. "The water quality of Lake Whatcom is currently very good......The goal of the management plan is to maintain the present high water quality, and to preserve other beneficial uses."

Page 44. "The quantity of surface runoff can be greatly decreased by avoiding the construction of impermeable surfaces. Porous asphalt has been found to be a cost effective, or more cost effective, than conventional asphalt (Whiting, 1983; Wisconsin DNR, 1977). Porous asphalt provides relief from sewer overflow, improves traffic safety, and allows infiltration of soluble pollutants. Other alternative paving materials include brick, gravel, and perforated concrete blocks. These methods not only decrease the amount of surface runoff, but also slow the movement of water from residential areas into the lake. The increased time of travel, and increased soil contact, can be helpful in removing or reducing some types of urban contaminants."

Had this Watershed Management Plan been heeded, the City and County would have restricted the use of new impervious surfaces along with instituting the recommended guidelines for development outlined in the Plan.

We know the water quality of the lake was ‘very good’ in 1986. Therefore, I believe impervious surfaces hold the key to reducing phosphorus input to the lake; if impervious surfaces are removed, and pervious pavement put in its place to 1986 levels, there should be a similar, measurable change in water quality levels in the lake to mirror 1986 levels of water quality.

12.) This section of the Work Plan does not even consider the immediate need to begin a long- term repaving program to eliminate impervious roadways in the watershed. The New Bedford, Massachusetts Public Works Dept. ripped out impervious roadways to successfully restore and reopen once polluted fisheries, (National Geographic Magazine, July 2006). To emphasize this point, I’ve again copied a portion of the letter from of October 26, 2006 from the experts to the Puget Sound Partnership, outlined in my comment 6.):

"5. Reduce the Amount of Runoff From Existing Impervious Area. Much existing impervious area is unnecessary and should be removed.( For example, two-way streets could be converted to one-way and a lane eliminated.) Existing impervious area could be disconnected from surface water by repaving using pervious materials or bordering with bioretention facilities or both. The Partnership should recommend a program of prescriptions and incentives to reduce existing total and effective impervious area."

Program Area 10. Utilities and Waste Management. Notable Accomplishments. The City’s water conservation program has been active since the early 1990's.....Reductions in indoor water usage have been encouraged through distribution of water conservation kits that contain..............a toilet displacement bag....."

13.) According to a pie chart produced by The Partnership for Water Conservation, toilet flushing and leaking is responsible for 34% of indoor water usage. Most older toilets were not designed to operate efficiently with lower water usage, often causing multiple flushes. A more effective way to attain reductions in indoor water usage would be to start an ultra-low-flow toilet replacement program, similar to the City of Olympia. That City provides top quality ultra-low-flow toilets to its customers at no cost, which the customer installs, or has a plumber install them. This project would help to lower water usage, as well as the amount of septic tank and drainfield discharge in the watershed or the sewer system. Additionally, providing incentives for customers to purchase high efficiency washing machines would also lower the 21% of indoor water use from washing clothes. ( Please see Attachment 2.)

Program Area 12. Enforcement. "Improve City and County enforcement of regulations aimed at protecting lake water quality. Notable Accomplishments: Both the City and County have enforcement staff patrolling the watershed on a daily basis. Enforcement staff are responsible for inspecting both permitted and non-permitted activities in the watershed and reporting any activities that are in violation of the City and County stormwater codes."

Task: 12.2 Improve enforcement capabilities.

14.) In my opinion this is a vital task that will protect the watershed and water quality, yet the Water and Sewer District is the only entity who funds this work in a meaningful way. The District budgets 0 .5 FTE and $50,000. per year. However, the City and County only budget 0.01 FTE and $1,000. per year.

The District provides an average of fours hour per day of coverage, but the staff and cost allotted is so low that I am unable to even calculate the actual time spent by City and County staff, which the Plan states are: ‘patrolling the watershed on a daily basis’. Without greatly increased levels of trained staff and adequate funding, such as the District provides, it is simply not possible for rigorous enforcement to take place.

15.) In conclusion, I would like to respectfully suggest that experienced scientists and consulting engineers, who restore lakes as a profession, need to be engaged by contract to prepare a comprehensive, scientific watershed restoration plan; as well as provide the expert oversight of the project for a successful outcome. Highly trained professionals will not only create a plan to address the myriad problems outlined in the TMDL, they will create the funding package to support the work.

I greatly appreciated having the opportunity of comment on the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program, 2010-2014 Work Plan, Draft.

 

Very truly yours,

Susan Kaun
613 Donovan Avenue
Bellingham WA 98225
360-527-9660
kauns@q.com

 

Attachment 1: October 26, 2006 letter to Puget Sound Partnership

Attachment 2: Domestic Water Usage, from Partnership for Water Conservation

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