Dr. Robin Matthews and her team of researchers have issued the annual Lake Whatcom Monitoring Project report for 2010, and the results are not encouraging.
“I don’t think that we’re stabilizing yet,” Matthews said. “I was hoping that we might have been.”
Water quality analysis for the previous two years offered some small evidence that the quality of lake water might at least be stabilizing, although at a less-than desirable level. But the data collected in 2010 is mostly bad: dissolved oxygen levels in lake water are down, and phosphorus and algae levels are increasing.
Until 2009, those measurements didn’t seem to have any real-world impact. But in summer 2009, the algae levels got high enough to reduce capacity at the city water filtration plant, resulting in drastic steps to reduce city water consumption.
We’ll have a full story on Dr. Matthews’ report in print and online for Thursday, March 17. (Green water for St. Patrick’s Day?)
Senate Bill 5194, sponsored by State Sen. Kevin Ranker and 13 other state senators, would impose new restrictions on sale and use of phosphorus fertilizer if passed by the Legislature and signed into law.
Among other things, the law would require immediate cleanup if anyone accidentally applies phosphorus-laden fertilizer to impervious surface, such as pavement.
The bill was scheduled for a Senate committee hearing this morning, Jan. 28.
Phosphorus-laden runoff is the biggest pollution problem facing Lake Whatcom, the source of drinking water for Bellingham and its outskirts.
The Lake Whatcom Watershed Advisory Board is asking the Bellingham City Council to move quickly on a $7-a-month hike in city water bills to provide millions in new money for acquisition of development land in the Lake Whatcom watershed.
Advisory board member Bill McCourt reminded the council’s four-member lake committee that this is a city election year–as if they needed reminding–and recommended that they get the difficult vote out of the way now, before it can become a campaign issue.
Mayor Dan Pike, in the final year of his own four-year term, has said he prefers to wait until the 2012 budget process late this year before contemplating an increase in the fee. Pike said the city needs to make sure that land acquisition is the most cost-effective way to protect the lake. Clare Fogelsong, the city’s environmental resources manager, told council members that a study to measure the cost effectiveness of a wide array of lake protection measures will soon be under way and could be complete by midsummer 2011.
City water bills now include $5 a month to generate money for land purchase in the lake watershed, but this morning, Jan. 24, McCourt told the council that the existing revenue is now fully committed to paying off the debt on earlier land acquisitions.
The $5 fee has been on city water bills since 2001. Since then the city has spent about $21.3 million on about 1,508 acres in the watershed. That removed the potential for about 711 homes to be built, according to the most recent city statistics.
The four members of the council’s lake committee said they were not ready to make a recommendation on the higher fee to the full council.
Committee Chairman Seth Fleetwood said such a big boost in water bills will be a tough sell amid the recession.
“Getting fingers on additional public dollars is going to be a difficult task,” Fleetwood said.
*NOTE* – As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1, this post has been updated to include information on impacts to Bellingham water customers and to note that no information is available on reasons for the break or estimated costs for repairs.
A boil water advisory has been issued for residents in the Eagle Ridge area outside of Bellingham after a city water main broke Wednesday, Dec. 1.
City water customers were not impacted by the boil water notice issued by the Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District, which contracts with the city to provide some water service to about 65 residents in the area on the northeast side of the lake.
District Manager Patrick Sorensen said it’s likely the boil notice will be lifted Thursday, but the district must disinfect its pipes before they come back online. It’s sort of a better-safe-than-sorry approach and no reports of threats or illness have been made at this time, he said.
City customers did lose water Wednesday afternoon during the break but regained it within a few hours, said city spokeswoman Heather Higgins-Aanes. No reasons were given for cause nor estimated cost for repairs.
Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District Commissioner Blair Ford, who served for more than a decade, died Monday, Nov. 1.
He was 78.
Ford served for 13 years on the board, and was part of a commission that dealt with building a controversial new facility, battled Bellingham on a potential merger and argued against the city’s attempts to create a land acquisition program for watershed land.
The rumble with the City of Subdued Excitement occured when Mayor Dan Pike’s administration sort of put its boot to the throat of a little district that oversees water and sewer service around the drinking water source for half of the county, including all of Bellingham, with the threat of lawsuits and changing agreements between the two entities.
And, in the end, when Bellingham’s
demandrequest that the district look at merging penciled out as a cost savings for the public, but wouldn’t allow the city to further regulate development in the watershed – they went away.
The moratorium is designed to allow the county to work toward different regulations in the watershed to protect that drinking water source, but they’ve been very, very, very slow in coming.
The moratorium, which was supposed to be temporary, has been extended numerous times, to the chagrin of nearly all interested parties, whether it be those who don’t want the ban or those who would like a set of regulations to protect the lake through, say, downzones.
Last night, in a surprise move, the council voted to reject a permanent ban. One such council person who voted for it, another shocker, was County Councilman Ken Mann, considered to be on the losing end these days of many votes due to a conservative majority on the council.
But in a 6-1 vote, Mann helped reject the permanent ban.
*UPDATE* – Here’s Jared’s full story on the meeting last night.
It clearly was a shocking vote to some of his supporters, too, because on his blog this evening, Mann has decided to defend his actions (noting the anger from some) and says he wants to work toward a transfer of development rights program because he doesn’t want to use the “blunt instrument of a downzone.”
The problem with a TDR program? They don’t appear to be working very well. Or, rather, at all.
The Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District has been recognized by the state for the long-term, exceptionally-high quality of its drinking water.
The state Office of Drinking Water, a division of the Department of Health, awarded the district a silver certificate of achievement for high-quality between five and 10 years. The district had eight years of good results, according to a letter sent by Denise Clifford, director of the state office.
Achieving the goal was the “mark of a highly dedicated and skilled water department staff,” Clifford wrote.
Some 14 agencies around the state received such an award this year. It’s the first year of the recognition program.
BELLINGHAM — Unusually high levels of algae in Lake Whatcom are clogging filters that bring residents their water supply, city officials say, and residents are being asked to stop watering as much.
If the situation doesn’t change, the city might order mandatory watering restrictions to ensure a reliable water supply. They’re asking that people adhere to a voluntary schedule instituted in June that runs through September.
Hot temperatures over the weekend have the city even more concerned, as they believe more people will be trying to water their lawns.
City Council members voted 5-2 last night to reject the 303-acre Dewey Valley annexation.
Council members Terry Bornemann and Louise Bjornson voted against it. I’m somewhat caught off guard by Bornemann’s vote, and I have a call into him to find out why he was opposed to rejecting the petition to annex.
Meanwhile, in a less shocking vote, the council approved a “first step” in the transfer of development rights/purchase of development rights program that will let builders purchase more density for projects in the urban growth area.
Developers are still skeptical of such programs and say that land they own in much of those areas can’t built more densely due to a variety of restrictions for wetlands, other critical areas ordinance issues and park lands. Thus, there’s no point to purchase more density they simply can’t use.
City officials believe the program is at least a starting point, and appeared to indicate last night that it will be years before developers will be able to take advantage of this program in a way that will boost the city’s watershed land acquisition fund.
You may recall that freshman state Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island, was successful in passing a law that created a working relationship between the Puget Sound Partnership and Bellingham and Whatcom County for the Silver Beach Creek project. Well, the bill is already starting to work here.
The project is designed a multi-pronged approach to preventing more polluted stormwater from entering Lake Whatcom, the drinking water source of 96,000 county residents, including all of Bellingham. It’s a project already being coordinated by the city and county, but the work by Ranker allows it to happen faster than it otherwise would have, according to Clare Folgelson, the city’s environmental resources manager.
Though Ranker’s bill included no specific funding source (one of the main reasons he said it was easy to pass through the Senate, because there was no fiscal note), Ranker had told me, as did officials from the Partnership, that they still did intend on providing cash, likely through a federal source.
Last night Bellingham City Council members approved accepting a $50,000 Puget Sound Partnership State of Washington grant. They’re tapping $38,206 of it and placing $11,794 in undesignated reserves.
It was an addendum item on the agenda, so there were no documents for me to peruse. I’ve got a call in to Fogelsong to find out what the thoughts are so far on how it will be used.
*UPDATE* – I was wrong above. The city staff placed the addendum online with the agenda bill documents, which you can check out, right here.
According to that document, which is pretty darn detailed, the money will be used for public outreach and education materials, which is one of those “prongs” I mentioned above. It appears that the cash being placed in reserve as of now will eventually be used for the same purpose, it’s just not time yet. This budget timeline for the grant runs through the end of June.
BELLINGHAM – City leaders praised a draft law aimed at ensuring new development doesn’t harm the water quality of Lake Whatcom, but the law needs some work before final approval, they said.
City Council members on Monday, May 4, voted 7-0 to hold a work session on the proposed new law, but no council members spoke directly against it, with a couple saying it’s only a small part of the solution to the lake’s water-quality problems.
Full story, over here.
In the category of “Bizarro World” former Bellingham City Councilman John Watts has come to the defense of Dan and Lisa McShane on his blog.
Watts, who has argued vehemently against the Lake Whatcom watershed land reconveyance that Dan McShane has definitely been passionately involved in, and even brought it up in the 2007 mayoral and County Executive elections, says this:
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not close friends with the McShanes, although I do happen to share many -probably most- of their core values, including preservation of the environment, our quality of life, and healthy and honest political campaigning in the greater public’s interest, and the like.
All those things seem pretty important to me, and I suspect the McShanes and I agree on most of them, even though I did choose to strongly support other candidates in the last Mayoral race.
The two things that bug me the most about the NWC pieces were these:
• They seemed more like personal attacks -’hit’ pieces – based past feelings and history than rational arguments rooted in current facts or issues that are in evidence.
• They followed a standard ‘victim’s’ formula of just criticizing the ‘status quo’, rather than offering reasonable alternatives or volunteering anything that could be useful.
This might be shocking (end sarcasm, we all know every Watts post is long), but Watts says a lot more over at his blog, right here.
Meanwhile, Elisabeth Britt has her 17,000th post up on this subject, right here.
Gov. Gregoire today signed Sen. Kevin Ranker’s SB 5944, which creates a relationship between the Puget Sound Partnership and local organizations for a project to work on preventing further pollution from entering the lake via Silver Beach Creek.
My previous story on this bill making it out of the Legislature, right here.
Here’s the full list of bills Gregoire signed into law today:
Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District officials will close this week on the former site of the Burger Me restaurant on Lakeway Drive, District Manager Jim Neher said.
The cost of purchasing the building, hiring an architect and renovation will cost a total of about $1.4 million, Neher said. About $1 million of that comes in the purchase price of the building, the district manager said.
The transaction comes nearly a year after the district’s commissioners decided not to go forward with a proposed $6.4 million administration and operations facilities at their current site in the watershed, 1010 Lakeview St, while looking at a potential merger with the city of Bellingham.
The district had already saved up about $1 million in funding for new facilities in previous budgets, Neher said, so customers will not see an increase in their rates. They already saw one at the beginning of the year in order to pay for a bond levy done to replace aging district infrastructure, like pump stations and a new telemetry system. That telemetry system will be at the new administration headquarters, Neher said.
Meanwhile, operations and maintenance workers will continue to work from the district’s old site.