Tag: Lake Whatcom
By Ralph Schwartz
This spring, Bellingham and Whatcom County are working in concert (you heard me right) to establish a new inspection program around Lake Whatcom, and a fee for most boaters on the lake.
The effort is aimed at keeping nasty quagga and zebra mussels out of the lake. They are encroaching on the western U.S., and once they take hold they take over. The rapidly spreading shellfish would threaten the water intakes for Bellingham’s water supply and generally make a mess of everything else they touch.
The problem is not just Whatcom County’s. No jurisdiction wants these things in their lake. So the state Legislature has proposed that boats entering the state have the proper papers, documenting they are invasive-species free.
This is a summary of the bill from Washington Votes:
Senate Bill 5702: Concerning aquatic invasive species
Passed 46 to 0 in the Senate on March 11, 2013, modifies current law to require a person who enters Washington by road and is transporting a watercraft used outside of the state to have documentation that the watercraft is free of aquatic invasive species (AIS). This makes the documentation requirement apply to watercraft used in any area outside of Washington, not just those areas specifically identified by Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) rule. DFW must adopt rules to implement the documentation requirement, including identifying the types of allowable documentation. Language relating to DFW’s AIS check station authority is modified consistent with the changes to the documentation requirement. A new infraction is created for transporting watercraft into Washington by road without meeting the AIS documentation requirement. In addition to the changes to AIS documentation requirements, the Aquatic Nuisance Species Committee is abolished.
See Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No.”
Go to the state Legislature’s bill information page here.
Whatcom County Council member Barbara Brenner is still a solid “no” vote against the proposed transfer of Lake Whatcom watershed forest lands from the Washington Department of Natural Resources to county control.
Brenner called to share her views Thursday, Sept. 13, –two days after the council agreed to postpone a vote on the matter until Oct. 9 at the earliest.
The postponement is partly due to some council members’ desire to give some thought to Sam Crawford’s proposal to remove 1,755 acres from the transfer, keeping those acres under state control where they would be available for logging. Crawford says he hopes that change makes the rest of the deal more palatable to the timber industry.
But it doesn’t make it more palatable to Brenner.
“That was breadcrumbs,” she said.
As Brenner sees it, Whatcom County’s current financial condition makes it irresponsible to take on such a big undertaking now.
“The people who support this don’t give a rip about our budget woes,” Brenner said.
She argues that logging restrictions already in place under the state-approved “Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan” will already prevent any significant impact on lake water quality, and a county takeover won’t add any new level of protection.
“I would support this if I thought it would do anything for the lake,” Brenner said. “That’s my job, my first job, to protect public health.”
Brenner said too much recreational use of a new park envisioned for the property would do more harm to the lake than small amounts of regulated logging could.
At a May 2012 preliminary vote on the land transfer, Brenner and Bill Knutzen cast the “no” votes.
After the Tuesday, Sept. 11 public hearing, Council Chairwoman Kathy Kershner said opponents had raised some issues that deserve clarification, but she gave little or no indication that she is ready to change course and vote against the transfer. Instead, she called for a recreation plan that would spell out how the land would be used when and if the county takes control.
UPDATE: Whatcom County Council member Sam Crawford is proposing modifications to the proposed reconveyance of Lake Whatcom watershed forest lands from the Washington Department of Natural Resources to Whatcom County.
Crawford’s proposal would subtract 1,755 acres from the 8,844 acres of state forest lands that have been proposed for transfer to the county–a transfer that has been touted as a lake protection measure that will also create a potential new park. But opponents site a potential loss of both timber revenues to governments and timber-related jobs. As they see it, existing environmental regulations on logging in the watershed are already highly protective of the lake’s water, which provides drinking water to Bellingham and some other areas.
Crawford says the 1,755 acres he proposes to keep under state control are “areas that are still harvestable with little impact.”
He also said he wants the council to take some time to study his proposal, and not vote tonight.
The Lake Whatcom reconveyance is on the Whatcom County Council agenda tonight (Tuesday, Sept. 11) for a public hearing and possible vote.
Both opponents and supporters are mobilizing for a big turnout on the question of whether 8,844 acres of state forest lands should be turned over to Whatcom County for park use.
It started as a cluster of policy questions, and reasonable people could disagree: What is the best way to protect Lake Whatcom? Is logging of state lands in the watershed a real threat to the lake? What about the public logging revenues that would be lost to local governments? What would it cost the c9unty to manage the property for recreation, and what impact would recreation activities have on the lake?
But now, the whole issue seems to have become another symbolic battleground for some people–part of the struggle against big government, liberal environmentalism and perhaps something even more sinister.
Here’s part of an email that County Council member Ken Mann shared on Facebook:
“”We urge you to vote against the reconveyance proposition. It is an iniquity about to be perpetrated on Whatcom residents with not one iota of benefit, only additional cost and deprivation. You are being a party to the machinations of Agenda 21. One can only wish you had the Whatcom residents interests at heart instead of the progressive/communist world government ruthlessness. I urge to take action to refute the Growth Management Act, take a stand for the people instead – the people whom you are representing.”
Agenda 21–not to be confused with Area 51– is a United Nations environmental plan that is viewed in some quarters as part of a plan to subvert property rights.
In the Lake Whatcom reconveyance, land would be transferred from state government to county government, so it’s hard to see what private property rights are at stake.
In another recent development, the Whatcom Excavator anonymous blog has uncorked some email records obtained via a public records request, in which backers of the reconveyance discuss the public revenue that could be derived from cell tower leases or wind power turbines on the property. As the Excavator sees it, the local timber industry and related businesses lose revenue so that the county can gain some.
It’s shaping up to be a busy day on the boats and trains beat.
At 1:25 p.m., the City Council’s Lake Whatcom committee will get a staff report on the impact of closing the Bloedel-Donovan Park boat launch until a system of inspecting and decontaminating boats can be set up. In past meetings, council members have expressed serious concerns about the risk that boats will introduce zebra and quagga mussels into the lake, which would be a bad thing.
The staff report doesn’t appear to provide much support for a closure. It notes that 300 to 500 boats may use the launch on a busy summer day, but it also observes that “most of those boaters will seek and use other points of access to launch into the lake.”
The report also notes that extra police officers would likely need to be assigned to the park to enforce the closure, and that would be expensive.
At 1:55 p.m., the council will discuss Communitywise Bellingham’s report on potentially disruptive effects from rail capacity improvements that might be required to accommodate the flow of Powder River Basin coal trains to a proposed Cherry Point terminal.
On Sunday, we reported on some of the complexities of railroad freight operations. BNSF officials say they can get the trains through town without constructing a massive siding that would cut off Boulevard Park, among other things. But to me at least, the situation is murky.
I did turn up a little-noticed rail capacity study completed in late 2011 for a coalition of Washington state ports that did not include Bellingham. That study, like previous state studies about rail capacity in this region, anticipates the need for additional sidings between Everett and the border to meet demand.
Both committee meetings are in council chambers at City Hall, 210 Lottie St.
Speaking of ports, the nice people at our own Port of Bellingham have decided that this would be a good week for commissioners to meet on Monday instead of Tuesday. But let’s save that for the next post.
Breaking: the Bellingham City Council appears ready to shut down the Bloedel-Donovan Park boat launch until an inspection and decontamination system can be set up to prevent introduction of zebra and quagga mussels.
No such shutdown proposal appeared on the council’s Monday, April 24 agenda, but after getting another report on the nasty side effects that could result from introduction of the Eurasian mussels, the council voted 6-1 to move to shut down the boat launch to prevent infestations. a majority of council members seemed ready to vote for the boat launch shutdown, at least temporarily.
But at that point, according to an email from council member Cathy Lehman, Mayor Kelli Linville weighed in, and council members backed off a bit. Instead of calling for an immediate shutdown of the popular launch, they directed city staffers to report back to them on the ramifications of such a move, as well as recommended strategies for getting public input first.
I’m contacting Linville this morning for more information.
Update: Linville said she wants to consult with both Whatcom County and Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District before making any dramatic moves. She said she is committed to treating the county and the district as partners in efforts to protect the lake. During her mayoral campaign, she criticized incumbent Dan Pike for taking a more adversarial approach.
Linville also argued for more public input before taking such a decision, even if the council has the legal authority to take swift action.
“We already know that (a boat launch shutdown) will probably be very controversial,” Linville said. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, but it does mean we should have a public process.”
She said she also wants to make sure the council has good information on whether a boat launch shutdown would be enforceable, as well as on other places that boaters could use for a launch if the city were to act.
If you are a Lake Whatcom boater, I would be interested in hearing your input on this situation. Give me a call at 715-2274 or use email@example.com
After the discovery of a different species–the Asian clam–in both Whatcom and Lake Padden, officials with the city, Whatcom County and Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District have been scrambling to head off any more trouble.
There have been several reported incidents of infected boats from Lake Mead being intercepted either in Washington state or on their way here. On the Columbia River, researchers are testing chemical solutions to see if they could be used to prevent the bivalved invaders from encrusting hydropower facilities, although they have yet to show up on the Columbia or anywhere else in the state.
At an afternoon committee discussion of the issue, council member Stan Snapp spoke up to ask how any inspection system could be foolproof.
“I don’t see how this can possibly be succesful,” Snapp said, suggesting that a moratorium on boat launches ought to be considered.
But there was no indication that a vote might be taken on such a measure. Instead, the members of the council’s Lake Whatcom committee agreed to move ahead with an inspection program and boat launch warning signs. They also agreed to direct staff to draft an ordinance making it illegal to launch an infected boat into the lake.
Here is a report that reviews what city officials know about an already-established population of Asian clams in Lake Whatcom. While the clams have far less potential for clogging water intakes and fouling boats, they have their own drawbacks. Among them: They can increase the amount of phosphorus and decrease the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. Lake Whatcom already suffers from too much phosphorus and not enough oxygen. Also, it is believed that they add calcium to the environment and help make lakes more receptive to mussel infestations.
The Vancouver Columbian reports that a Clark County sheriff’s deputy stopped a trucker hauling a “party barge” contaminated with invasive mussels from Lake Mead, Ariz., after that trucker appeared to be trying to elude inspection by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers.
Last week, we reported that the city of Bellingham is working to set up an inspection system that would cover all watercraft and float planes entering the lake, in hopes of preventing an invasion of zebra and quagga mussels that can wreak havoc on both boats and municipal water systems.
After this story appeared, I got a number of comments indicating some confusion about what the inspection system is designed to do.
It is NOT meant to do anything about the existing invasion of Asian clams that city officials reported in fall 2011. Those clams are already there, and have likely been there for several years. Inspections won’t impress them a bit at this point.
The clams, as a non-native species, are anything but welcome and may cause trouble in the future, but as of now they aren’t making a nuisance of themselves.
But the discovery of the non-native clams did alert city officials to the fact that Lake Whatcom is at risk from more serious invaders.
Zebra and quagga mussels don’t just sit in the mud. They attach themselves to anything and everything, including water system intakes, boat hulls and even boat engine components. They can also cover vast areas of lake bottom and decimate other species, including valuable fish.
Here’s some information from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Putting a boat–any boat–into Lake Whatcom is likely to involve a significant brush with bureaucracy in the not-too-distant future, as the city of Bellingham and Whatcom County develop a system to protect the lake from infestation by two Eurasian mussel species.
It remains to be seen how much push-back the governments will get from boaters. Their resentment of inspections and fees may be tempered a bit by the fact that boaters themselves will be among the biggest losers if the mussels get established here.
Here’s a report from the Department of Natural Resources in Wisconsin, where the mussels are already a fact of life. The report advises boaters to undertake regular (and costly) maintenance procedures on their vessels to avoid even more costly damage to hulls and even engines.
Idaho–not a state I usually associate with nanny government–has a robust statewide boat inspection system in place to keep the mussels from getting established there. Idaho inspection stations have been intercepting contaminated boats bound for Washingon. Here’s a recent report from the Spokane Spokesman-Review.
Officers from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife conduct boat inspections too, but this state has so far not funded anything as comprehensive as Idaho’s, WDFW’s Sgt. Carl Klein said in a telephone interview.
WDFW does set up frequent checkpoints at rest areas and truck scales, with electronic readerboards that direct boat haulers to stop for inspection. Boats with mussel contamination are intercepted on a regular basis. Klein says he has personally handled five such cases already this year.
The nightmare scenario for Washington state would be a mussel infestation in the Columbia. Klein says mussels could doom the river system’s struggling salmon runs, clogging the gravel beds where the fish spawn and sucking up all the microorganisms that support the natural food chain.
They would also be a costly headache in the plumbing of the hydroelectric system.
In North America, the mussels first made their presence felt in the Great Lakes, where it is believed they arrived in ballast water aboard Russian freighters that carried them from the Caspian and Black Sea region.
They have turned the ecosystem inside out in some areas.
The Great Lakes were already a sort of invasive species science project before the mussels arrived. First came the introduced lampreys, which decimated the native lake trout among other valuable species. Then came the little herring-like alewives. They thrived in the lake to the point that their dead carcasses littered beaches for several decades: This is how I remember Lake Michigan during my year at Northwestern University, 1972-73.
Then, natural resources agencies introduced Pacific salmon to the lakes. They fattened up on alewives and even began to spawn naturally in lake tributaries. They supported some tribal fisheries as well as a thriving sports fishery. And they got the alewife population down to bearable levels.
But then came the mussels., in the 1980s. Their population exploded, and they fed by siphoning up the alewives’ food supply. Not all Great Lakes have been affected similarly, but in Lake Huron the mussels have been blamed for decimating the alewives and then the salmon. Here’s a lengthy look at the situation from an online sports publication.
A much-discussed plan to transfer state land around Lake Whatcom to Whatcom County for management as park land is back on the agenda of the state’s Board of Natural Resources on Monday, Oct. 10 in Olympia.
Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest, says a busload of environmentalists will be heading to the capital for the 9 a.m. meeting.
The critical vote on this transfer will be cast by the Whatcom County Council, but before that can happen, the state board must approve a complex intra-state transfer of the land among various categories of state management, to lay the legal groundwork for the transfer of nearly 9,000 acres to the county.
The state board first addressed the matter at a June 7, 2011 meeting. At that time, the board voted unanimously to postpone the matter for further study, after representatives of timber companies joined Mount Baker school superintendent Richard Gantman in questioning the economic impact of the loss of timberlands. The state manages its timberlands to, among other things, provide revenue to school districts and a supply of logs for local mills.
Here are the minutes from that meeting.
Friedman said it makes more sense to set aside land that drains into the city’s drinking water supply.
“It’s one of the most cost-efficient things we can do to benefit the lake,” Friedman said.
This story by Jared Paben outlines the potential costs to the county, and also notes that both County Executive candidates take a dim view of the transfer.
Christina Maginnis, stormwater specialist and grants manager for the Washington Department of Ecology, has announced that she is a candidate for the Whatcom County Council District 2 seat held by Sam Crawford.
Crawford has already filed for reelection.
Here is the press release from Maginnis:
Christina Maginnis today announced her candidacy for Whatcom County’s District 2 Council seat. It is Maginnis’ commitment to protecting Whatcom’s rural legacy and local jobs that drove her to run for Council.
“I’ve spent 8 years making Whatcom County my home. I’ve seen how uncertainty about jobs, land use, water, and growth can devastate people. We need to do all that we can to protect farmland and farmers, ensure clean drinking water and grow local businesses,” said Maginnis. “Whatcom County’s agricultural community and existing local businesses are the foundation from which more good family wage jobs can be created.”
Maginnis is an 8 year county resident and works as a stormwater specialist and grants manager for the Washington State Department of Ecology. She has been an appointed member of the Lake Whatcom Watershed Advisory Board for the past 5 years. Maginnis’ experience gives her a deep understanding of how critical water and land issues are to the County.
Whatcom County continues to grow. With that growth, Maginnis sees the opportunity to be a leader in clean energy and job creation. At the same time, she sees possibilities for problems if we don’t grow in the right places.
“On the Council, we have the opportunity to create the conditions for people to live great lives, to create the kind of place people want to invest both time and money. Healthy families are a critical part of that. As a Council member, I will fight for clean drinking water, a fast response time if you have to call 911 and a friendly face for businesses looking to expand or start-up in Whatcom County.”
According to Maginnis, it is quality of life that matters and that means continuing to be able to combine our amazing outdoor recreation opportunities with great jobs, and our healthy environment.
Christina lives in Bellingham with her husband, 2-year old son, and Inari the family dog. They settled here because Whatcom County is a wonderful place to raise a family and be a part of an active outdoor community.
(End press release)
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.