TIG Logo  Precious Water in a Glass, (c)1999 by Alice Clark logo: clark Lake Whatcom Reservoir
Your Bellingham Drinking Water
Story of Lake Whatcom
speak to us: tig@lakewhatcom.org
see also:
The Whatcom Watch Logo
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Key points in the history of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir and watershed as related to:
* it's use as a potable water supply;
* and it's misuse while the health of the public is at risk.
....see also the Sudden Valley Sewer-Line timeline articles in The Whatcom Watch; issues of February and March, 2000.
most-recent at top
Time period
Brief description of highlights of the period.
February 25rd, 2002 (date this page was last edited)

February 23rd, 2002 Pumping and hauling by WD10 from the detention tank into trucks, taken to Bellingham's trunk-line, with no undesirable discharges reported.

February 2nd, 2002
tank car and pump at the detention Tank area.
Car and Pump at Detention Tank

Portable Tank and Pump at Detention Tank Several tanks and pumps like this have been brought into the Sudden Valley area, and set in readiness for the next threat of a sewerage overflow.

These are interesting, and will surely help.

Will there still be discharges into the drinking-water reservoir?

What had been done (or NOT done over the past years, to remove the real problem, too much water from RAINFALL, that has been running into the SANITARY sewerage system, evidently since it was first built in the 1960's - 1970's?

January 18, 2002 - mid-day MEETING REPORT

Public Meeting on Sewage Discharge Health Issues
in downtown Bellingham.

A presentation by Clean Water Alliance members was made to visually review the events before, during and after the sewerage discharge of mid-December, 2001; an open discussion followed.

Representatives from the Washington State Health Department, one City and two County Councilmembers and at least one County Health Department official (*) attended to help explain what happened and what they are doing to prevent this from happening again.

Some points from the meeting:
  • The raw, contaminated, stinky sewage flowed over a major pathway in Sudden Valley used by children going to and from school on Friday and to the store for the rest of the weekend. How many kids' class rooms, homes, buses, etc were contaminated?
  • County Dept of Health never did make it out to take a look on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, no samples taken either.
  • County Dept of Health apparently does not consider it a major problem since the drinking water in your tap is chlorinated.
  • There were no signs or warnings posted in the raw sewage.
  • The people who draw water directly from the lake are apparently out of luck. Boil it.
  • Water District 10 people clarified that they had made 28 truck runs on Thursday night / Friday morning before halting the trucks and opening the valve to dump the tons of raw sewage into the reservoir for the next 4 days.
  • Water District 10 made clear that they don't want this to happen again and are willing to meet with CWA members.
  • It was pointed out the CWA had to sue WD10 to keep them from dumping sewage in the lake in the first place.
  • Washington Fish and Wildlife is beginning criminal investigations regarding the hydraulics code violation(s).
  • A Western Front Reporter and a WWU Planet reporter attended the meeting.
  • The Bellingham Herald sent their excellent reporter: Ericka Pizzillo to cover the meeting.
  • Department of Ecology declined to attend this public, open meeting despite invitations e-mailed and in the newspaper. DOE apparently has their own timeline of their version of what happened.
  • The "I&I" Inflow-and-Infiltration problem in Water District 10's system was discussed. Even Region 10 EPA director knows of this major problem.
  • Some discussion of the concentration of the sewage was made. 50,000/1ml = 5,000,000/100ml. Probably it was NOT sewage contaminated storm runoff. More likely, stormwater-contaminated sewage.
  • Several brief 5 second videos were shown, including one of kids walking in the raw sewage. Some photos of the sewage detention tank and manholes overflowing were shown. A veritable river of sewage was evident in the photos and video.
Clean Water Alliance members did an excellent job of making a reasonably coherent summary of the situation in a nice color power point presentation. Thanks to Ken Wilcox for the great video projection system.

Allie and Ryan Cummings asked great questions and took a video of the meeting which will be available for anyone who could not make it.

One person stated that kids walking in the sewage was their own fault for walking on private property (golf course).

Some discussion of the Lake Louise level causing the problem was held. Not very convincing. The valve was still opened manually.

Tip Johnson questioned the City's role of reducing infiltation and how that is affected when the City takes in Sudden Valley's sewage which has about 50% infiltration already. John Watts will look into it, he said.

Many people stayed around past the 1:30pm end of meeting to discuss ideas.

Many questions were asked all around; hopefully productive dialogue will lead to some solutions regarding the health aspects of preventing rather than allowing discharges of tons of raw sewage into our drinking water reservoir.

Many thanks to Doug Tolchin and RiverOak Properties for use of the building!

For more information : Please call Tim Paxton; 671-0417
    Clean Water Alliance

(*) Regina Delahunt, John Watts, Dan McShane, Laurie Caskey-Schreiber; (State DoH names not immediately available.)
December 18, 2001:
Washington State Department of Ecology issues Administrative Order to WD-10:
"Comply immediately!"

"....describes actions which must be taken immediately by WD10 to halt all sewage and wastewater overflows....[and]...submit to the DoE a revised plan for special operating procedures to eliminate any and all sewage and wastewater overflows...."

Other communities have addressed I/I very well. Look at this plain-language webpage about how stormwater gets into the sanitary sewer system: MMSD = Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
December 14th-17th, 2001
Dec 17th THIRD! Release

Dec 16th Second Release

Dec 14th Sewerage Release

On December 14th, 2001 there were people walking through RAW SEWERAGE running across areas accessible to the public and into the Lake.

Who put it there?

Water District 10, that's who!

More: The Water District made a management decision to release raw sewerage onto the public areas of Sudden Valley, and into Lake Whatcom!

not just ONCE!  or  TWICE!  but THREE-TIMES!

See the sewerage discharges; the "stinking-gun"!

See the sewerage actually flow - with a
5-second video (478KB; video player needed)

Is this hazardous to public health?
Is it illegal?
Shouldn't it be prohibited, by common sense even if not by law?
untreated raw sewerage on the golf course
Valve open releasing untreated raw sewerage.

December 11th, 2001 (night) We got a moratorium! And it started NOW! This is now history:

7:00 p.m. Tuesday, December 11, 2001
Council Chambers, 311 Grand Avenue

AGENDA {abstract}
5. Ordinance imposing a moratorium on the acceptance of new applications for subdivisions of land into parcels smaller than five acres within the Lake Whatcom watershed (AB2001-377A) (1.01MB)
December 11th, 2001 (daytime) Well, there's a flavor of progress around, even if not much real progress yet. The Whatcom County Council is considering an Ordinance to place a temporary halt on the acceptance of new applications for certain subdivisions within the lower watershed, pending the completion of certain studies and conditions. That sounds good.

But there are 'maybe's' tacked on to the proposal:
We think it's too little, and every day that passes is too late for that property parcel.

The Whatcom Watch December issue has a major article on the Lake. Pick up a copy at one of the drop-sites
December 9th & 10th, 2001 And the erstwhile Bellingham Herald just ran a two-day set of stories on the issue:

PLANNING: County ponders 6-month subdivision moratorium.

Owners of land rush for permits

Data's limited on how homes affect lake

Proposal calls for '110 percent' of pollution blocked at homes

Citizens, builders keep watch on Silver Beach restrictions

The Bellingham Herald OnLine, December 2001
November 2001 It was November 2001, and there was junk in the Lake
Who put it there?
a view of the garbage taken from the Lake
(click tn to see large-images)
auto tire was in the Lake
lots of beer cans in the Lake

What else do our jurisdictions agree is contaminating the Lake??

mercury +++ urbanization +++ fossil-fuel powered boats
October, 2001 What have we seen our three jurisdictions ("CC10") doing or NOT doing?

Read the Scorecard: 1998-2001
Year 2001
DoE 1998 -- Mercury Report
Executive Summary

The Washington State Department of Ecology's report on 1998 water sampling in Lake Whatcom and Whatcom Creek, which shows contamination by fecal coliforms, mercury and other toxins in the Lake and tributaries.
Federal 303(d) listing as an "Impaired DrinkingWater Source"

CWA Calls for a Moratorium.
Read the Letter:

Sign the LakeWhatcom

1999 and 2000 In 1999 and in 2000 we achieved somewhat of a success. The City of Bellingham passed a watershed protection ordinance, {cautious smile} which does about half of what our original TIG proposal asked. It will raise about a million dollars per year, to spend in relation to land around the Lake.
So; what is the City doing with this money?
Try asking them; then tell us what you hear:
e-mail to: tig@lakewhatcom.org

December 2000
What's up for years 2001 - 2002?
We're Wondering What'll Be Next??
Pathogens from the Nooksack River?
MiddleFork Diversion Dam

The Nooksack River Middle Fork Diversion Dam, which sends water to the Lake.
looking east, upriver

If water from the upper watershed continues to be diverted to the Lake, and pathogenically contaminated fish from the lower river are allowed to pass above the dam, this will bring their illnesses to the Lake! That's part of the story. The other part is the management of the diversion flow - it's reduction or elimination brings several positive results to the whole county's water management needs.
Other Activities for You

The Lake's watershed needs TLC in 2002 even more than in 1999 -- and will have a continuing and growing need every passing day.

We believe three things:
  1. The Bellingham City Council and Whatcom County Council MUST be more proactive in the elimination of pollution of the Lake Whatcom Drinking Water Reservoir, and
  2. if they are not, then The Initiative Group and The Clean Water Alliance will be, and
  3. we know that yet other groups and citizens will continue to speak out for the watershed, because.....
  • We can't afford to be wrong about our drinking water!

1975-2000 Sudden Valley Sewerage System History - 1975-2000 {courtesy: The Whatcom Watch)

The Initiative Group -- Whatcom
Our bottom-line principles are:
Protect the water supply in perpetuity -- maintain ecological viability of the lake for natural species -- distribute the financial burden fairly among those benefitting -- take immediate action if prudent -- take definitive action -- avoid actions which cut off future options.
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Bellingham, Washington 98226 --- The Fourth Corner of the USA
edited 2004-03-27 -- mgb