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  Flushing the Reservoir with Nooksack River water, as proposed by some, is not the answer!

We have repeatedly heard and recently read the idea to "solve" the pollution of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir by flushing it with water diverted from the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River.

Sorry, that is not a solution.

Such an action does not eliminate pollution, it simply moves the pollution that's in the water from one place to another. Transfer of more pollution from the Reservoir to Whatcom Creek and the Puget Sound is not good public policy. Sorry, that is not a solution.

Furthermore, it would not really be that effective. It would take about 50 years to replace the entire volume, adding each year a volume equal to 2% of the total water volume in the Reservoir. I use 2%, based on the volume of the Reservoir (250,900 million gallons), the average annual flow while the GP plant (and predecessors) were using that water (10,040 MG/yr) and the recent average annual flow (5,000 MG/yr). The flow while the the plant was using it was 4%, and now is 2% of the Reservoir volume. Such a small increment of dilution will have only a small effect. Sorry, that is not a solution.

See the flow-chart, in Excel. Thus, even if no new pollution entered, and the "flushing" were perfect, it would take 50 years to replace the water.

Another problem with that proposed action has to do with water rights and interbasin transfers of water by users, an action that can have serious side-effects and is restricted by the State. The State of Washington issues (and can deny) water rights certificates to applicants. State water rights law holds that who is "First in Time, is First in Rights" to water resources, a policy that prevents a newcomer from grabbing water already needed by and being used by an existing user, thus negatively impacting that existing user.

While it is true that the City of Bellingham holds a paper right (issued by the State) to a substantial annual flow of water from the Nooksack River, there is another recognized water user who has a senior right - the Lummi Nation. Nobody can dispute that the Lummi Nation was using the river and the water in it, before the City of Bellingham was doing so. So the First Nations tribe holds a big hammer, in that it has a legal basis to restrict (prohibit?) withdrawal of water from the River by anybody else, in order to maintain water in the main Nooksack River. The City cannot depend on being able to forever divert that water from the River to the Reservoir. Sorry, that is not a solution.

Another reason that such a diversion as a solution is a bad idea, is the risk of damage to the tunnel and pipe that convey the water. There is only a single existing path for that flow, a path about 12 miles long that has a tunnel about 6 miles long and a 50-year-old pipe that actually runs underneath the South Fork of the River. There are many spots on that path that are highly subject to failures, blockages and major leaks. An earthquake or any other geological disaster can shut the flow - if that happens there will be no "dilution", thus no benefit. Sorry, that is not a solution.

One more factor, if you are still thinking that dilution is the solution. Who can guarantee that there will not also be pollution of the water in the Middle Fork basin that would be brought down? Bringing already-polluted water into the drinking-water Reservoir is obviously not a solution to pollution.

And here is a hydraulic/technical slant on the situation, which occurs to me since I am a hydraulic flow engineer. You can appreciate this if you consider what you've surely seen in streams and any body of flowing water - the eddies that happen along the banks while the main volume is streaming down the middle. The water in those whorls tends to mostly just stay there, even while a large flow is running down the center. And that water, while not stagnant, will remain much more within-itself and be little diluted by the mainstream. Also, it is the water most in contact with the shorelines, thus is the first to receive pollution from the lands, and will thus generally be the heaviest-polluted sections. That condition makes it the prime areas to be the generator of one of the most undesirable products of the phosphorus pollution in the water -- the growth of the yucky blue-green algae. So, what properties will be the first to experience that intolerable trashing of their recreation areas by the lush green fertilized lawns and floating boat-docks? They are the elegant homes built on the LakeShore - those same ones whose owners are often the loudest to object to restrictions on the way they manage their land parcels and fun-stuff.

And finally, here is a little family-story that will illustrate the Reservoir pollution situation in a way I think everybody can understand. The family has teenagers. There is that continuing hassle between the kids and the parents, over keeping their room clean. The kids keep on trashing their room, because they just don't do what they sorta' know is right, and the parents keep on trying to get them to clean it up and keep it clean by not bringing unhealthy stuff there and letting it accumulate. Finally, the parents give up, and in order to have a clean room for the kids, they just build a new room on the house and let the kids use that new one, leaving the polluted room, polluted. Does that sound like a solution to the problem of people not caring for their own environment? Sorry, in my book that is not a solution. Walking away from the efforts to keep your place clean and just going to a different place, is no solution.

The best solutions to Reservoir pollution are:
  • Do not let pollution even get on the ground or in your runoff water in the first place.
  • If it does get on the ground or in your water, keep it on your property parcel.
  • If it flows off your parcel, it must be treated (at public expense and little effectiveness.)

Finally, the flushing idea is one more example of allowing harmful actions to continue, and trying to ignore them here by trashing your neighbors "there".

Flushing? No Sale!

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