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Protect the Lake Whatcom Drinking Water Reservoir

The Watershed Is Not Being Preserved!     The Consequences in Health and Cost!
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Recent History of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir and it's pollution
From the 1800's Lake Whatcom was not the main drinking-water reservoir until the mid-20th century - the City originally used Lake Padden as the drinking-water source. Lake Whatcom was the transportation route for timber, harvested on the slopes, and floated in "log-booms" towed to the mills at both the south and the north ends of the lake. Pollution was seemingly of almost no concern to the people doing those operations.
In the 1960's It was realized that the volume of water in Lake Padden was too small to serve the needs of the future city of Bellingham - for drinking and for industry.

By a joint agreement, the City and the major pulp and paper mill on the waterfront constructed a diversion, tunnel and pipeline, to bring water from the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River to the Lake.

The mill - most recently known as "Georgia-Pacific" (G-P) - repaid the construction cost over several decades. They also had a single-purpose water delivery pipe installed from the lake to the mill. At that time, the Reservoir was already surrounded by city and county urban development. It was "large", and the supplemental water from the Nooksack River was presumed clean. We have found little significant records from that time demonstrating major concerns with pollution of the lake -- with one exception: A Professor at WWU, Dr. Charles J. "Jerry" Flora, raised questions about pollution, and initiated some studies of the water quality and water circulation.

(archived video footage description at:
Inside Lake Whatcom: (with Dr.Charles Flora) - 1963 November 21

Bellingham Mayor and Chairman of the Water Board John E Westford introduces the subject of Lake Whatcom, and the city funded 1963 study of its water quality. Professor Charles Flora, who co-conducted the study, then gives an informative lecture about the lake, using a large scale model (1 to 2400 feet) of the lake in the science building at Western Washington State College (later Western Washington University). He describes the physiogeography of the lake, which serves as a reservoir for the City of Bellingham. Flora places the volume of the lake, which is fed by the Nooksack River, at 778,000 acre feet of water. Issues such as drinking water pollution are raised, but in less detail than in part 2 (S-23). The balance of the reel consists of footage of experiments being conducted on the lake.

The first seven minutes of the (second) reel contains footage of experiments being conducted out on Lake Whatcom. From 7 to 13 minutes, Dr. Kraft discusses the importance of temperature readings, and explains a chart illustrating a thermocline. At 14:50 minutes he returns to describe measurements taken of oxygen and bacteria levels. He describes the varying amounts of choliform bacteria in the lake, which is indicative of fecal pollution. He closes with a warning about the adverse impact of development, contaminants, and pollutants on the drinking water supply.
This was in 1963 - over FORTY YEARS AGO! - but little happened.
In the 1980's During the decade of the 1980's, we are aware of another concern over the protection of the water of Lake Whatcom. Major storms caused washouts and debris flow into the lake in many streambeds. Even houses were carried away. But in the three jurisdictions, little happened, and building continued.
1991-1997 The three responsible local jurisdictions came together to begin planning for the protection of the Lake. These were the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, and Water District #10. In a ground-breaking advance, they joined forces and ideas, and crafted a statement of goals for the protection of the water quality of the Lake.

In December 1992, the Joint Agreement was signed, becoming the underlying policy of each of the jurisdictions. The Agreement contained 21 specific Goals, and required the use of the term "the Lake Whatcom Reservoir" when discussing "the lake". But after the effort of making the statement, little happened, and building continued.
1998-1999 Concerned citizens began meeting to determine how to implement practices which would protect Lake Whatcom. Of the 21 Goals contained in the Joint Resolution, it was seen that the definitive goal was Goal #2 - to hold the watershed lands in forestry, the land-use which has the least water pollution if done properly.

Since requests to the City Council to implement a land-purchase program had been made, but without any action, the choice was made to bring the question to the voters, using a Citizen Initiative Petition. Over a period of several months, a small group met regularly and crafted the Initiative, then collected signatures and qualified the proposal for the ballot. It was voted as "Proposition #1" in November, 1999, but narrowly failed.

Since the City had argued throughout the process that creation of such an ordinance was reserved to the Council (not subject to Initiative) we continued to press the Council to pass it. A year later, they did pass a slimmed-down, half-sized Land Acquisition Ordinance, and in 2001 began collecting funds through a surcharge on the water bills.

However, on the other 20 Goals, little was being done, and building continued.
2000-2004 In September 2000, the City passed "The Silver Beach Ordinance", a change in building rules which restricted activities in most of the Silver Beach neighborhood - i.e.: the lands within the Reservoir watershed.

The allowable impervious area was reduced (leaving more pervious surface available for infiltration). Land clearing and grading was restricted to the (drier) summer months, and other restrictions were imposed.

Rains in December 2001 caused sewage spills in the Sudden Valley area, from the collector system of the Water District #10. In fact, these occurred three days in rapid succession, and brought the State Dept of Ecology inspectors to the site. The Water District was order to immediately cease such spills, and they brought equipment to the sites, including pumps and tanker-trucks to collect and haul the flow which exceeded the capacity of the interceptor pipeline.

Following these incidents, the County passed a moratorium on some land and building activities in the watershed.

Again in February, there were more spills from their system. , but little else was being done, and building continued.
Current: What Ecology asks for...

The Dept of Ecology ("DoE") requires a submittal called a "SEPA Environmental Checklist" for certain projects, including those in the LW Reservoir watershed. Download a copy of the application (PDF 12 pages).

"The environmental checklist consists of a series of questions that ask for information about a proposal such as a subdivision, a commercial building, a public building, etc. It is usually completed by the applicant and submitted to the "lead agency" (usually the county or city where the proposal is located). The lead agency will use the information in the checklist to decide whether the proposal is likely to cause a significant adverse impact to the environment. (The form is in WAC 197-11-960. Information on how to use the checklist is contained in WAC 197-11-315 and -330.)"
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