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Contents:
quick-links

Overview

The Report

Background
Findings
Recommendations
Roads
Riparian & Slopes
Oversight
Revenue/Funding
LEGISLATIVE QUESTION
RCW 90.48.080
RCW 90.48.420

Report of the Lake Whatcom Advisory Committee

to DNR
Overview
Concerns about the potential impacts to drinking water quality from proposed timber harvest practices by DNR resulted in the establishment of the Lake Whatcom Watershed DNR Advisory Committee (LWAC) on May 10, 1999 under SSSB 5536. The LWAC had representatives from the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, the Whatcom County Water District #10, the Department of Ecology, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Health and three general citizen members. The LWAC began meeting in September 1999 and during the course of several all-day meetings received briefings from a variety of technical experts. Following the briefings and committee discussion, the LWAC prepared a report to DNR.

The findings of the LWAC include:

  • Road deficiencies, particularly the Lookout Mountain Road, need to be addressed as soon as possible, independent of timber harvest. In part, increasing the percentage of the gross revenue retained by DNR for management can finance this.
  • All streams, including Type 5 streams, need to have a no-harvest buffer.
  • An Inter-jurisdictional committee should be established to advise DNR on proposed timber harvest practices in the Lake Whatcom Watershed. It should include state agency and tribal representatives plus representatives of Whatcom County, City of Bellingham and two general citizen members.
The Committee paid particular attention to the trust mandate, fiduciary responsibilities, and the long-term need to benefit all generations. In this regard, the DNR Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is a forward thinking interpretation of the mandate. While most of the Committee's report provides technical recommendations to strengthen the HCP and reduce direct water quality impacts, the group discussed the broader aspects of current forest management, potential effects on water quality, and economics. Two fundamental questions emerged: how can the current needs of the trusts be met or exceeded through diversification of revenue sources from trust lands, and how can hydrologic integrity and biodiversity be protected in the long-term.

In the spirit of a pilot project, the Committee recommends that DNR expand the scope of its Landscape Planning to explore how it could generate revenue in Lake Whatcom watershed while increasing harvest rotation age. DNR should assess the costs and values of extending rotations to between 120 and 200 years, including the long-term benefits associated with mature hydrology and soil health. DNR should explore sustainable forestry ("green") certification, alternative and non-timber forest products, and market possibilities for wood products derived from older forests. At a minimum DNR should investigate opportunities to add value to standing timber by contracting for services and creating wood products as opposed to selling stumpage. We understand that DNR is already considering some of these options for the trusts.

The Lake Whatcom watershed, with its involved local community, is an excellent place to explore the opportunities that could help define the evolution of commercial forestry in municipal watersheds.


Report of the Lake Whatcom Advisory Committee

to the Commissioner of Public Lands, State of Washington
December 13, 1999
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Background:
Concerns about the potential impacts to drinking water quality from proposed timber harvest practices resulted in the establishment of the Lake Whatcom DNR Advisory Committee (LWAC) on May 10, 1999 under SSSB 5536. Lake Whatcom is the source of drinking water for the City of Bellingham, for customers of Whatcom County Water District #10, and for approximately 250 households that draw water directly from the lake. Just under 50% of the Lake Whatcom watershed is owned by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and managed for timber production.

The Advisory committee had a representative from the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, the Whatcom County Water District #10, the Department of Ecology, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Health and three general citizen members.

The Committee was asked to:

  1. examine issues affecting water quality in Lake Whatcom,
  2. identify which factors are related to timber and associated practices on state trust lands,
  3. identify standards above those required under RCW 90.48.420 and 90.48.425 that may be desirable to the community,
  4. identify additional management actions that could be taken on state trust lands that would contribute to higher water quality standards, and
  5. identify methods for compensating the trust if DNR is requested to alter management actions to produce water quality standards that exceed those required in RCW Chapter 90.48.
The Lake Whatcom DNR Advisory Committee began meeting in September 1999 and during the course of several all-day meetings received briefings from a variety of technical experts. Topics covered included: details on DNR's HCP and how it is being implemented currently, fish stock status in the Lake Whatcom watershed, water quality, road maintenance/abandonment, and how timber harvest is being conducted, and forests being protected/restored, in other municipal watersheds in Washington State.
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Findings:
  • Protecting Type 5 stream riparian zones is key to protecting healthy stream networks .
  • Some existing Forest roads (active and orphaned) in the watershed pose a serious threat to water quality, stream habitat and public safety concerns.
  • A lower acceptable level of risk should be applied to timber harvest practices in watersheds providing municipal drinking water supplies relative to other watersheds in Washington.
  • The first step in providing safe drinking water is to protect, maintain, and improve the quality of the source water. Subsequent steps can include filtration, treatment and disinfection of the treated water through the distribution system.
  • Forested lands provide the best land cover for long term protection of water quality in Lake Whatcom. Commercial forestry can occur within the watershed and still protect Lake Whatcom water quality.
  • Given the importance of municipal water supplies, and the State Department of Health emphasis on source protection, actions that encourage forests as a land use and minimize risks associated with forest practices are important.
  • In taking steps to minimize impacts on water quality, care should be given to ensure that forest management remains a feasible land use. Actions that may result in pressures to convert forestlands to other more intensive land uses should be avoided.
  • DNR is a valued partner in protecting and enhancing water quality in the Lake Whatcom watershed. Increasing state ownership of forestland in the Lake Whatcom watershed would benefit the long-term, sustainable management of the watershed.
  • Locally adopted goals and policies promote low impact forest practices over residential development. The goals further recommend that zoning and development incentives be pursued to retain lands in long-term forestry, and that a comprehensive forest management plan be developed that minimizes cumulative impacts on drinking water.
  • A legacy of past forest practices such as logging in sensitive areas and poorly constructed roads has contributed to degraded water quality in many of the waterbodies in Washington, although it is not possible to determine the extent to water quality impacts are caused by forest practices relative to other land uses/factors.
  • The lack of site specific monitoring data results in an inability to determine compliance with state water quality standards.
  • Recent changes in forest practices including legislative and internal policy direction, have reduced the likelihood of future adverse effects to water quality through changes to previously practices. However, a variety of factors make it difficult to determine if current practices alone will adequately meet water quality standards and minimize risk to water quality. This is because the current practices have either not been implemented or have not been in place very long and there are few results of evaluation monitoring available.
  • The use of pesticides and fertilizers by DNR was not reviewed by the LWAC due to a lack of time.
  • Large woody debris is key to healthy streams.
  • Other land practices (urban development) within the watershed should be equally protective of water quality as forest practices.

List of Recommendations

SPECIFIC STRATEGIES BASED ON EXISTING PROCEDURES:
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Roads
  • Lookout Mountain Road must be brought into compliance with forest practice standards as soon as possible, independent of timber harvest plans.
  • DNR should develop a comprehensive road construction, maintenance and abandonment plan, to include all existing and orphaned roads.
  • By the year 2006, have all the roads, including orphan roads, within the LWW either decommissioned or brought up to forest practice standards.
  • No new road construction should occur across unstable slopes without consensus of the Inter-jurisdictional committee proposed in Oversight/Management section.
  • Allow flexibility in road construction standards to minimize water quality impacts, e.g., decreased width & curve radius; possible vehicle restriction.
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Management of Riparian Zones and Unstable Slopes
  • Type 5 streams should have a designated riparian management zone with a minimum horizontal width (each side) of 10 meters. Buffers should be windfirm.
  • No timber harvests should occur in riparian management zones . Trees cut for yarding corridors through riparian zones should be retained as down wood.
  • Should DNR identify the need to build roads, conduct yarding activities, stream rehabilitation or other potential major ground disturbing activities within riparian management zones, consultation should occur with the Inter-jurisdictional committee proposed in Oversight/ Management recommendation.
  • Edges of unstable slopes should be reviewed. DNR should leave windthrow buffers on unstable slopes.
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Oversight / Management
  • Develop a Sustainable Yield Model that is specific to the Lake Whatcom watershed.
  • A DNR hosted Inter-jurisdictional committee should be established to address LWW site-specific implementation issues. The inter-jurisdictional committee should consist of appropriate state agency and tribal representatives plus invited technical representatives from Whatcom County; City of Bellingham; and two members of the general public. Recommendations of this group shall be directed to DNR as the landowner, and will be consensus-based.
  • Concurrently DNR should communicate with the Lake Whatcom Management Committee for overall programmatic coordination and education.
  • DNR should continue to minimize or eliminate use of pesticides and fertilizers in the Lake Whatcom watershed.
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Revenue/Funding
  • Increasing the percentage of the gross revenue retained by DNR for management can finance much of the remedial actions necessary to correct legacies of past timber harvest practices statewide.
  • Establish at the earliest possible time a revolving fund with sources not tied to timber harvests to address remedial actions correcting legacies of past timber harvest practices statewide. Repayment to the revolving fund would be apportioned from all trusts as revenue is generated.
  • Expand the Jobs for the Environment criteria to allow resources to be allocated for restoration of watersheds that are a municipal water supply in addition to watersheds that have listed or critical anadromous stocks.

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LEGISLATIVE QUESTION:
"What factors need to be considered to achieve water quality standards beyond those required under chapter 90.48 RCW?

The committee is not recommending water quality standards beyond those required under chapter 90.48 RCW.

At the core of 90.48 RCW is RCW 90.48.080 "Discharge of polluting matter in waters prohibited". The section appears to set a zero tolerance standard.

However RCW 90.48.420: "Water quality standards affected by forest practices" - Department of Ecology solely responsible for water quality standards - Forest practices regulations - Promulgation - Examination - Enforcement procedures makes it clear that the intent of the legislature is to allow "reasonable transient and short-term effects resulting from forest practices." The intent is to allow degradation under subsection WAC 173-201A-070 (4). There are three provisions that must be met for the degradation to be allowed.

  • Provision (a) is a public process demonstrating overriding interest.
  • Provision (b) requires the use of "all known, available, and reasonable best management practices" for nonpoint sources.
  • Provision (c) prevents degradation that would interfere with existing beneficial uses.

As an example of how to determine all known, available, and reasonable best management practices, consider the committee's recommendations regarding buffers on type 5 streams. Stream side buffers are known and available best management practices that have been determined to be reasonable on Type 1, 2 and 3 waters state wide.

As a result of the adoption of the DNR HCP, buffers on Type 4 streams are also deemed reasonable.

The May 1999 publication "Effectiveness of Forest Road and Timber Harvest Best Management Practices with Respect to Sediment-Related Water Quality Impacts" published by the Cooperative Monitoring Effectiveness Research group (CMER--part of the Forest Practice Board's Timber Fish & Wildlife process) recommends buffers on all streams. Because of the lower level of acceptable risk we conclude that no cut buffers on type 5 streams are now reasonable.



Report of the Lake Whatcom Advisory Committee to DNR December 13, 1999
presented as a courtesy to that committee by TIG

The Initiative Group -- Whatcom
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