Whatcom Watch Online
December 1999
Volume 8, Issue 12

Cover Story

Who's Afraid of Stormwater Politics?

by Marian Beddill
Marian Beddill is a retired civil engineer and meteorologist. She has served in technical advisory positions for water and land management and rehabilitation projects, and as an irrigation and drainage research engineer. She was one of the sponsors of the 1999 Bellingham drinking water initiative.

There are two things I want you each to do—pollute our water less and help us get the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County on their best behavior to do the same and to do a good job of cleaning up what's already polluted. Ok, so how?

Stormwater 101: Water Flow

Rain falls on the land and the roofs of buildings. Some of it soaks into the soil. Some of it evaporates into the air. Any volume that is more than those two can manage, runs off. This usually is during a storm. The roofs and the land slope down and that water collects into larger and larger flows as it runs downhill into gutters, rivulets, culverts, gullies, creeks, lakes and rivers. That water may be dirty and you should not drink it. OK, you knew that when you were three years old. Or, did you really understand it all? And did you act like you knew you should? Do our government agencies act like they know they should?

Stormwater 102: Water Quality

Pour clean water on something dirty, and it gets dirty itself. Patently obvious. Roofs, pavements, houseplants, crops, lawns, piles of rubbish, buried garbage—all are “dirty.” And they are “contaminated,” when considering the health of critters and people, and the contaminants should not be used for drinking or for living in.

Would you lick up water from the gutter of a city street? I don't think so! Would you put that water into your tropical fish aquarium? Hardly likely. But the contaminants are always there, and even though we have a choice by using the technology of treatment for drinking water (“potable water”), the critters don't. As stewards responsible for our whole living-space, we should act to protect them as well as ourselves.

Stormwater 103: Water Treatment Economics

Water treatment technology comes with a price, and it's proper that we make decisions to keep that price low, by both minimizing the need for treatment, and using low-cost treatment methods which are also effective. In fact, the better decisions will reduce the joint sum of the causes of pollution which we can-in-fact diminish, and the costs of the eventually necessary treatment. Around the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, we have done very little of either—but that's changing.

Which is the best civic decision:

A. pollute more and pay more for cleanup? or...
B. pollute less and pay less for cleanup? or...
C. stop polluting and pay little for cleanup?

I reckon you'd all say you'll go for option C., until you realize that it may hit your fun-and-recreation time, or your pocketbook, or challenge your prestige. I hope to bring you, each and all, to believe that it isn't that hard, and it is the right thing to do. I also see that it's reasonable to step through option B. on the way to C.—doing small things in a sequence.

Other publications tell you how to run and manage your own home, yard, farm, and even businesses in the least-polluting way. I won't repeat the details here; see the adjacent column for websites. But little has been put out, except among technicians, about fixing up the mess after it has been created—treating dirty water in our streams and creeks. It can be done. How well, and at what cost, are the big questions. Since you will pay for all of it at one place or another, get smart so you can insist on paying less!

How does runoff relate to pollution? Runoff's the major way that contaminants get into streams and into the lake. Also contributing are things in the air and direct discharges, such as dumping from boats and other activities, but this article will deal with stormwater runoff.

Look at the diagram (below) of surface water flow on an urban (city) area houselot . Almost all houselots can be separated into three sections: building roofs, pavements, and “lawns-and-gardens.” A key factor for each is “permeability.” How much rainfall can soak into the surface, and how much runs off? Roofs have zero permeability and 100 percent runoff.

Most pavements have near-zero permeability and close to 100 percent runoff. Gravel drives and roadways could have a much higher permeability (water stays and soaks into the soil below the gravel) and substantially less runoff.

Lawns have even better retention and infiltration, with little runoff until a lot of rain has fallen and saturated the shallow soil. But gardens (and native-plant and forested areas) are the best by far in keeping runoff to the minimum and keeping rainwater close to where it fell.

Urban roadways and parking-lot pavements, and industrial areas also have near-zero permeability and close to 100 percent runoff, plus being more public and often more polluted than a home's driveway. People dump junk into streams and along creek banks. Pollution happens. What can then be done?

Stormwater 104: Water Treatment Practicalities

There are several scales we can look at, between the smallest—a pond in a home-garden—and the largest—a sewerage treatment plant like we need for sanitary sewerage.

At home: Natural biological processes can clean some contaminants from water in a garden pond or low spot that's dry most of the time (a “bio-swale”). You build the pond, you pay for it, and you maintain it, at a low capital cost and moderate continuing time investment for upkeep.

Where the subsoil is permeable (not rock or clay) an “injection well” or sump can be dug or drilled, and your water sent into it and down to underground storage, where it seeps slowly through the layers, and lets some chemical and biological processes do removals.

The water moves slowly through the subsoil layers, and eventually comes out at a spring or a lake or riverbed. This is especially suitable for roof-water in a downspout. It will not have the dangerous, toxic content that water from a lawn will. You build the sump, you pay for it, and you maintain it, at a moderate capital cost but no continuing time investment for upkeep. If it silts up and quits working, dig another one far enough away to find a porous spot.

When building a subdivision: The same methods of swales, ponds and sumps can be used on a larger scale, and some are now required for grading permits on new construction. They could be voluntarily chosen by the developer whether required by law or not. Home-buyers could boycott new developments which did not do a good enough job of stormwater treatment (if they could find that out beforehand). The developer builds the sump or bio-swale, pays for it and adds the charge to the selling price—a moderate capital cost increase. You, the group of residents, maintain it, with some continuing investment for upkeep in time or money.

That can work two ways (and fail in yet another way). A home-owners' association or the city can be responsible. Or nobody is, and it fails. If it silts up or otherwise quits working, I'm sure that residents will expect the city to come fix it. That's what we have now at the Park Place Drain pond in Silver Beach neighborhood, built by the city and not being effective.

In the gutter of your street: Do not dump anything into the gutter or the catch-basins. That's prevention. Shovel up trash and leaves you do find there and put them into your garbage bin. That's treatment. You buy a shovel and you do the work, at a low capital cost and moderate continuing time investment. We might ask someone to do a training workshop on doing it right and safely. Saves taxpayer money for the crews, also.

Under the catch-basin grill: Hidden from view, is there a possibility of catching dirty water under the street and holding the “dirt” while passing the cleaner water? Yes, sorta'. Among the methods are baskets, screens or sieves which somewhat filter polluted runoff when it drops through the grating.

Another style is for removal of floating oils or fats. The water flows along a side-discharge weir for skimming of what floats. It falls over the weir while the rest of the water flows by below the lip of the weir. Effectiveness varies widely. They only do a fair job on silt, oils and plant trash, and do very little for the dissolved chemicals which are the toxic hazards.

There has to be a big enough chamber to hold and manage the gadget. There's regular maintenance to be done, which should be by professional crews, not even by your neighborhood handypeople. At least twice a year and maybe after each major storm, a crew opens the cover and takes out the collected, polluted stuff that got caught. It goes to a landfill or treatment facility, at additional cost for transportation and treatment.

The city invests in the capital cost for the equipment and the installation, and the city hires, trains and keeps the professional maintenance crews, at your taxpayer expense. How good are these catch-basin screens? Not very good, according to my experience and the studies and reports I have read. It will take a lot to convince me this is the right solution for protection of Bellingham's drinking water reservoir. Catch-basin screens can be adequate in less-critical places.

Along a storm-sewer pipeline: There is a neat variation of the filter-screen which costs much more to put in but needs less maintenance. It uses the swirling action of water in a vortex. Water enters from a pipe into a chamber that's shaped like a barrel. Its outside wall is a perforated sieve with tiny holes. Trash stays inside the tube. Water goes through the walls and continues down the pipeline without large trash. The large trash drops to the bottom, and can be taken out in a variety of ways, all of them requiring inspection and maintenance.

The city invests in the capital cost for the equipment and the installation, and the city hires, trains and keeps the professional maintenance crews, at your taxpayer expense. How good are these vortex screens? The effectiveness varies widely. They do a better job on silt and plant trash than a plain basket, yet also do very little for the dissolved chemicals which are the toxic hazards. Jury's out.

Where a sewer pipeline discharges into a creek: An even larger civil-engineered facility can be built, using combinations of the above pieces.

The simplest is a bio-swale or pond. Its major limitation is the capacity to handle a larger-than-planned storm. It overflows and does no good, maybe even doing harm by carrying concentrated pollution from the pond out to the creek or lake. Park Place Drain is the example of how not to do it.

The size needed to capture and store water from a large storm makes it expensive (in land purchase and earthwork) and unsightly. There have to be high banks in the dry period so there's space (volume) to hold the stormwater. That messes up the plant-life which gets submerged and exposed with each storm. Biological decomposition takes time, and the pond might have to hold more than one storm to really do a natural process—more space and more cost.

More complex might be a combination skimmer, vortex-whirl, basket-screen, siltation-sump, bio-pond and other components. That's getting awfully close to a full-fledged sewerage treatment plant. Add some chemical sterilization application like chlorination or copper-sulfate and you're essentially there, with management staff and laboratory and maintenance crews. Not my cup of tea, but what else can we do?

Stormwater 105: Post-Graduate Treatment Politics

A major problem we face is benefit-verus-cost and the ability to judge that. Jurisdictions like the city have three vested interests which may not coincide with citizens' and taxpayers' interests.

One is regulatory compliance. When the state or the feds get after you, an administrator may create paperwork to show compliance, but it might be a far cry from having real effects in the creeks. Not in the best interests of taxpayers and critters.

Another is look-good politics, headed for the next election with gold stars for “action.” No help for frogs in a stinky pond.

Yet another is the cozy relationship between elected officials and the contractors. I know, I was one for 30-some-odd years. Hiring contractors and producing reports—and even building things which then appear on the lists of achievements and project deliverables—meets both those first needs regardless of whether the real-world needs are even remotely touched.

The Feds back off because the locals are “doing something.” The voters back off because the politician is a whiz at saying how much is being done. The contractors are happy because there's workflow and legitimate profits being had, and of course some of those profits loop back into campaign donations.

The city and county staff are thrilled because there's work-opportunity, and sub-chiefs are on track for promotion. Even some taxpayers who are employed doing all this are reluctant to speak out, to not jeopardize the job. The politician is set for advancement or retirement. Ho-hum.

Who speaks for the critters and makes them happy?

Some of us try. Will you join us?

Web Resources:



Cover Story

In Hot Water: A Snapshot of the Northwest's Changing Climate

by Patrick Mazza
Editor's Note: Over the next several issues, Whatcom Watch will be reprinting, with permission, a report on global warming published by Climate Solutions in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, the Washington State University Energy Program, and the Northwest Council on Climate Change with support from the United States Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation.

Part One

Global warming can seem such a vast, diffuse issue. It's global, after all. But when the prospective impacts of climate change are brought closer to home, its grave import becomes clear, because what we stand to lose comes into sharper focus. Between now and the middle of the coming century, climate change could impose harsh consequences on the Pacific Northwest. Scientifically credible scenarios show:

“We are really taking our climate to a new place,” University of Washington climate scientist Nathan Mantua says. “The rapid changes laid out by the scenario have not been experienced in this region probably for thousands of years.”1

This paper details how global warming threatens the Pacific Northwest's economy, environment and quality of life. It explains regional climate change scenarios and scientific advances on which they are grounded.2

Distilling Danger from the Data

During the 19th century humanity learned how to generate electricity and to power vehicles with fossil fuels. These now dominant technologies may lead to huge climate impacts in the 21st century. Fortunately a set of newer technologies is sharpening our understanding of the climate. Satellites and high-resolution instruments now generate an unprecedented stream of data on planetary warming and its consequences.

But for understanding where the climate is heading, the most important new tool is the computer. The data processing revolution allows scientists to build increasingly realistic climate models. They are a form of virtual reality, an “Earth in a computer” that mimics the real one outside.

Scientists test their models against the real world by building records of the past climate, either from instrumental readings or nature's record book written in tree rings, corals, sediments and ice layers. They run their models through the past to see if the computer climate roughly tracks with the real climate.

Thus models can mimic the buildup of human-caused greenhouse gases that has already taken place and the way the climate has responded, then project how the climate might act under expected increases in greenhouse gases.3 (For more about emerging global climate change science, see Climate Solutions' paper, “Global Warming Is Here: The Scientific Evidence.”)

Computer climate models, dealing with a hugely complex system, represent broad sketches of global conditions. But scientists are bringing models into sharper focus so they can project plausible impacts on specific regions.

In Seattle, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington have created the Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Oceans. JISAO is developing detailed scenarios of Northwest climate change impacts.

In Richland, Wash., scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are building Northwest models that paint some of the most finely grained regional climate change pictures available anywhere. The Environmental Change Research Group at the University of Oregon Geography Department is also examining the regional dimensions of climate change.

Likely, Not Inevitable

This report is grounded on scenarios regarded by leading scientists and major scientific institutions as plausible. Often, a global warming outcome will be described as “likely.” That does not mean inevitable. Partly this is because there are several sources of scientific uncertainty. First, we are still building our knowledge of the climate system. Second, much that we know still cannot be computer modeled. Third, the climate has natural variabilities that we only partly understand. Beyond the scientific aspects, there is a human factor—How the story comes out partly depends on us, on whether we take reasonable precautions to avert undesirable consequences.

The scenarios described in this paper envision the Northwest fallout in a world where carbon dioxide (CO2), the major greenhouse gas, has doubled over present day levels. We are on course to that point sometime around 2050-2080.4 Unless we very quickly move away from a fossil fuel-powered economy, we will not be able to moderate global warming's disastrous impacts here or anywhere.

In our paper, “Solutions to Global Warming: How the Northwest Can Lead a Clean Energy Revolution,” Climate Solutions has demonstrated that such a dramatic shift in energy technology is realistic, paralleling and fed by current revolutions in information, electronics and materials science. In this paper, we detail some of the likely outcomes of inaction, in the hope that a sharper focus on the perils will motivate the Northwest to take the lead and become a model for global warming solutions.

The Big Picture:
Temperature and Precipitation

We cannot say for certain what global warming will do to the Pacific Northwest. But with temperatures globally expected to increase faster over the next 100 years than any time in the past 10,000, there are bound to be effects here at home.5 Some may come as nasty surprises.

Over the past century, regional temperatures have already increased. The Northwest has warmed 0.5 deg F over the past century. Models show acceleration, with average regional temperatures galloping upwards nearly 1 deg F each decade over the next 50 years. JISAO's Climate Impacts Group applied seven global climate models to the Northwest. Averaged, they show an increase (including that which has already taken place) of three deg F by 2020 and five deg F by 2050.6 And those averages imply an increase in the number of very hot days. Even if greenhouse emissions are stabilized by 2050, the climate is like a train that takes a long time to stop. Temperatures would climb even higher in subsequent decades.

L. Ruby Leung of PNNL has developed the most sharply focused regional climate model. The coarse-grained models usually used to simulate global climate do not have fine enough resolution to include key topographical features like the Cascades. The PNNL model, built on a detailed topographical map, gives climate projections for particular Northwest landscapes.7 In general, it shows temperatures increasing fastest in mountain areas, which has serious implications for snowpack. That is covered in a following section.

Scenarios for future precipitation changes vary more widely than temperature projections. The general tendency of the seven global models used by JISAO is toward wetter winters and drier summers. At the extreme ends, models show winters with 22 percent more precipitation and summers with 26 percent less by 2050. Philip Mote of JISAO Climate Impacts Group says models overall suggest a nine percent increase in winter precipitation and a five percent decrease in the summer by sometime in mid-century.8 Under any scenario, more heat brings more evaporation, which will make for drier summer conditions.

Critical Thresholds—Last Straws

While a few extra degrees might seem a pleasant prospect, especially on cold winter days, they threaten the region with more frequent, extreme weather events such as droughts, fires, floods and mudslides. For example, during El Nino, which is associated with sometimes severe dry spells in the Northwest, average winter temperatures go up by only 0.5 deg F.9

“It's easy to think of a 1 degree increase in temperature or a 5 percent increase in rainfall as inconsequential, but our studies of the past show that such changes have had astonishingly large impacts,” notes Philip Mote of the JISAO Climate Impacts Group.10

The effect of the extra energy in a seemingly small warming can become the “last straw” that brings on an extreme event. In science, the moment the “camel's back breaks” is known as a critical threshold. A threshold event is the heavy rainstorm that sets a mudslide rolling, the river warming during a hot summer that kills salmon by the score, the dry spell that turns a forest into a tinderbox. Thresholds speed up and amplify changes. “Thresholds are important because they function as shortcuts to effects,” notes JISAO Climate Impacts Group head Ed Miles. 11

Climate change comes as an added stress on an already straining environment. Clearcutting, dams and development test the resiliency of forests, fisheries and other Northwest ecosystems. Global warming might push ecosystems across critical thresholds that amount to last straws for a number of species.

Coming in January, Part Two:
The Greatest Danger: A Disrupted Water Cycle

1. personal communication
2. For purposes of this paper, Pacific Northwest generally refers to Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.
3. Trenberth, Kevin E., The use and abuse of climate models, Nature, Vol. 386, March 11, 1997, p131-3
4. Leung, L. Ruby, Regional climate model results, Washington State Senate workshop on climate change, March 26, 1999, http://tao.atmos. washington.edu/PNWimpacts
5. Climate Change State of Knowledge, Office of Science and Technology Policy, October 1997, p9
6. Mote, Philip, Climate model scenarios for the Northwest, Washington State Senate workshop on climate change, March 26, 1999, http://tao.atmos.washington.edu/PNWimpacts
7. Leung, L.R. and Ghan, S.J., Pacific Northwest Climate Sensitivity Simulated by a Regional Climate Model Driven by a GCM. Part II: 2xCO2 Simulations, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Wash., Fig14c
8. Mote, Climate model scenarios
9. Mote, Climate model scenarios
10. personal communication
11. Miles, Edward L.; Hamlet, Alan; Snover, Amy, Summarizing the Integrated Assessment: Approach and Findings, July 20, 1998, Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington, p15


A Mirror Into the Past: Where I Am From

by Nils Knudsen
Nils Knudsen wrote this essay when he was a student at Whatcom Community College. This article is reprinted with permission from the Spring, 1999, Whatcom Community College anthology “A Gathering of Voices.” Thank you to faculty members Barbara Hudson and Jennifer Bullis, Ph.D., for submitting this essay to Whatcom Watch.

In the summer of 1998 I left home for some fun and relaxation on the sunny beaches of the Dominican Republic. There my days started with a swim, fresh pineapple, and mangoes, followed by windsurfing, wake-boarding, and snorkeling, and ended with dancing, socializing and drinking. All of the day to day pressures of home seemed to have been washed away by the lukewarm surf and nightly tropical rains.

As I sat one hot and humid evening nursing a Presidente and trying some of my rudimentary Spanish with some locals, the question of the ages arose. “Where are you from?” A simple question when taken at face value, my answer could be one of many. I was born in Portland, Oregon; raised in Mount Vernon, Washington; and presently live in Bellingham, Washington. When asked the same question in the states, I answer, “Bellingham, about ninety miles north of Seattle.” For the sake of the locals, who will probably never see my homeland, I explain the location of Washington State and leave it at that.

“Where are you from?” is not such a simple question, however, especially when asked thousands of miles from home with a couple of Presidentes in my stomach and the damp Caribbean air softening reality. I began to realize that I am not from a particular town, state or even country. I am “from” the events and interactions with the people and geography of my homeland. My homeland has rather ambiguous boarders, but I will do my best to roughly outline them. North and south are the Nooksack and Stilliguamish Rivers, and east and west are the Cascade Crest and the Olympic Mountains, accordingly.

I spent the majority of my childhood growing up on the outskirts of the small town of Mount Vernon. Here my fascination with the lay of the land and the life that thrived there began at an early age. While my peers found contentment in video games or their favorite television programs, I found mine in exploring the forest that surrounded my neighborhood. What adventure! To a small boy the woods seemed endlessly full of mystery and even danger. At this young age I felt it was my responsibility, my duty, to roam the forest, to know its every corner. The knowledge I sought was “intimate rather than encyclopedic, human but not necessarily scholarly” to use the words of Barry Lopez in “The American Geographies.” I wanted to hold every salamander, frog and snake. I wanted to know the names of all the trees, and the birds that nested in their branches. Finally, when the forest was cut down and the houses went up, and all of the frogs, snakes, birds and trees were gone, I wanted to know, why?

When I asked my father why the forest had been cut down, he did his best to help me understand. He explained that before our house was built a forest had grown there as well, and that many years before that our entire town had been covered with forest. He went on to say that every day there were more people in the world, each one of them needing a place to live, preferably in an area as beautiful as ours. At a young age I realized that the natural wealth of my homeland was in danger of being covered by the expansion of humanity.

As the years went by my love for the land did not die, and with the trapping ofa driver's license my stomping ground was greatly increased. Now my accessible geography was not limited to my small backyard forest, but was spread over three counties, and beyond. Now I could explore the ice caves of the Darrington wilderness, the endless logging roads of the Cultus Mountains, Fishtown on the estuary of the Skagit River, the bat caves on Blanchard Mountain, and the upper Sauk River wilderness.

One of my favorite spots, Split Rock, is the result of a prehistoric landslide. It is a sort of natural monolith that sits on the southern flank of Cultus Mountain at about twenty-seven hundred feet. Scattered around its base are many jagged, dump truck-sized boulders under which clusters of fruit bats dwell until sunset when they emerge, appearing as blotchy clouds against the twilight. Split Rock itself towers over the alpine meadow at over eighty feet in height. It is fractured in the manner of a cross, two ways down the middle. If one chooses to walk the precarious trail to the top of the rock and peer over the edge of a crack, a subterranean pond can be seen, beckoning to those willing to explore the spaces between boulders.

Atop Split Rock an old hemlock barely clings, its roots pushing wider the crack that once cradled its infant seed. Its branches are gnarled and stunted from the lack of soil and constantly pushing back rain, wind and snow. It has stood at the perfect viewpoint from which to view the place we share, the place we are from. This old weary tree has been overlooking my homeland since the first loggers and miners accessed the natural wealth of the region; it has watched as its unfortunate pines of the same cone have been hacked down and carried away to build houses for the newest residents of the land.

The old hemlock is symbolic in nature to me. There it clings to not so hospitable a host like a stubborn houseguest. This tree represents all the surviving natural wealth of my homeland. When I was a child, the land lived and breathed with me, I could never imagine that my own little corner of forest would reach such quick demise. But still, when I drive by the house I grew up in, I always point out my favorite climbing tree, no longer surrounded by its brethren, but solitary, between two houses. These trees, all of the survivors, are a direct link to where I am from. They are reminders of what makes my homeland important to me.

For simple conversation, when asked where I am from, I will continue to answer with the name of a town. If I were truly to say where I am from, it would not be such a simple matter. I am the product and result of my interaction with the natural setting of my homeland and the people who live there. I hold a personal account in the riverbank; I walk on the forest floor. I am from old hemlock on Split Rock, dandelions, and campfire conversation; I am from sunrise over the Cascades and sunset over the Sound. I am from tomato vine and homemade wine. I am from gurgling creek and river raging. I am from dew on spider web, frost in my beard, and sweat on the brow. I am from Douglas Fir, Red Cedar, Birch, Poplar, andViney Maple. I am from Stellar Jay, Heron, Robin, Warbler and Eagle.


Community Addresses Lake Whatcom Concerns at Public Meeting

by Zesira Barnes
Zesira Barnes is a student at Western Washington University majoring in English.

You are thirsty and dehydrated. You look in the refrigerator and all you see is a bottle of mustard and outdated milk. The faucet looks tempting. You open the freezer and pull out the ice cube tray. Clink! Clink! You drop the ice cubes into your favorite glass. The water looks perfectly clear as it makes its way into the glass from the faucet. The rim of the glass meets your chapped lips. The water slithers down your dry, cracking throat and refreshes your thirst.

You don't think about dissolved oxygen, fecal coliform, phosphorus, mercury and PCB's. You are not even sure what they mean. You would look them up, but you use the dictionary as a coaster for what you think is pure, clean drinking water. This is how it should be, but today nobody can take a drink of water without wondering about the kinds of toxins that might find their way into our drinking water.

Fortunately, there is a plan to improve the water quality in Lake Whatcom. The Lake Whatcom Management Program 2000, led by Sue Blake and Erika Stroebel of the Whatcom County Water Resources Division, has come up with a goal and policy. A meeting on November 8 held at the Courthouse Annex, 1000 N. Forest, outlined the policy and gave Whatcom community members an opportunity to express their views on ways in which Lake Whatcom can become a clean source for drinking water.

Some Solutions Discussed

Tax Revenues

One of the policies that the Lake Whatcom Management Program addressed was the property tax. The plan drafted is to “evaluate the effect of public ownership and reduced densities on tax revenues.” It also states, “identify, assess, and evaluate property purchases.” Community members brought up this proposal and would like to see that people be penalized with a high property tax if they own a significantly large amount of land on the watershed. One of the more creative solutions was to put a deed in the contract of a homeowner on how to take care of their property if they live on the watershed.

Density Reduction

Land development was another item discussed with the overlay zone being the main topic. The draft states that “the city will actively pursue density reduction through zoning, overlay element, and/or ordinance revisions for the portion of the watershed under city jurisdiction.” Sue Blake added at the meeting, “The overlay zone only applies to the county; there is no overlay zone for the city.” The overlay zone is intended to recognize vital areas of the watershed that need protection, and to lay out specific new ordinances. The new ordinances would overlay existing laws and address activities that are detrimental to waterqualityy. The majority of the community members at the meeting agreed that the zoning plan laid out would be a good solution.


Developers was a topic that struck a nerve with the community. Community members felt that developers on the watershed violate state and county regulations and that the county is wasting time developing regulations unless they enforce them. The community felt that the county should take another look at the penalty system in place because, as of now, most developers do not get the penalty they deserve.

Community Education

The overwhelming majority of the community members at the meeting would like to see more of an educational program about how to take care of the watershed. They felt that a pesticide ban could be implemented, but they would like to be educated about pesticides and reasonable ways to take care of their lawn, without certain pesticides and chemicals.

Part of the Lake Whatcom Management Program includes a draft of a community outreach plan with such educational programs as developing signs in the watershed and establishing a water quality education program in schools within the watershed. Although the community members felt that this was one of the biggest solutions, the improvement of an educational program is considered medium on the list of priorities in the draft.

Proposition One

With the recent election, the failure of Proposition One was a brief topic of discussion. Mainly, the community talked about why the proposition was not a success. The initiative called for reducing pollution of drinking water by acquiring land in the watershed, preservation of land as a forested open space for trails, and distribution of cost to users of Bellingham water within the city and in adjacent county water districts. Community members said that they were confused about the twelve dollars per month surcharge on their water bill and that the initiative should have been more specific. They felt that this is where the educational program fails.

The Bellingham City Council was brought up in the meeting. The community members in attendance felt that the City Council has very little knowledge about the Lake Whatcom watershed and that council members should perhaps be taken on a tour of the watershed.

The most disturbing aspect about the meeting was the fact that only about sixteen members from the community showed up. With a problem as big as clean drinking water, this was rather disappointing. It is hard to believe that people just do not care about the quality of their drinking water. With the Lake Whatcom Management Program 2000 meetings such as these, they have the opportunity express their concerns.

For further information call 676-6876 or visit the website: www.lakewhatcom.wsu.edu.


Managing Urban Development:
Growing Better, Not Bigger

by Eben Fodor
Eben Fodor is a community planning consultant in Eugene, Oregon, and is a writer and researcher on urban growth issues.

This article is adapted from his new book, “Better, Not Bigger: How To Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community,” available from New Society Publishers. Phone 800-567-6772 or visit them on the web at: www.newsociety.com.

Urban development in the United States has covered more land in the last 50 years than in all previous history. We are developing 160 acres of land every hour. Over the past l0 years, this area of newly urbanized land is equivalent to football fields placed end-to-end circling the earth nine times. Much of this urbanization occurs on our best farming soils. Nationally we lose almost half a million acres of farmland to development every year.

On Growth, Citizens and Urban Planners Often Disagree

While 73 percent of residents of the greater Seattle area rate the Puget Sound Region as a “very desirable” place to live, most believe it has become less desirable over the past five years according to a 1997 survey for the Front Porch Forum. When asked whether they expect future growth over the next 10 or 20 years to make the area more desirable or less desirable, 69 percent said “less desirable” (20 percent more; 9 percent same). To deal with this growth, a surprising 77 percent indicated support for limits on the amount of new housing that can be built in the community where they live.

A survey conducted by the City of Eugene, Oregon in January, 1999, found that 56 percent of respondents think the rate of growth in the city over the past ten years has been too fast. Similarly, a 1997 survey for Portland's Metro found that 54 percent of Portland-area residents want Metro and their local governments to slow growth down.

These strong survey responses are echoed in fast-growing communities around the country and may be a reaction to the obvious consequences of ever-expanding urban growth: more traffic congestion, crowded classrooms, higher housing costs, diminished sense of community, and more stress on the environment.

Inevitable Growth?

People are tired of watching their quality of life slip away and want somebody to do something. But the standard refrain of many public officials is that “growth is inevitable.” It's not a question of whether we'll grow, they say, but how. This sort of resignation that growth is inevitable is simplistic at best. At worst, it shows a callous attitude toward the legitimate concerns of citizens and a reckless disregard for the long-term consequences of endless urban growth.

Urban planners and policy-makers have been hesitant to acknowledge and respond to the widely-held sentiments favoring slower growth. Instead we hear more rhetorical statements like”you can't put a fence around our town” and “growth controls don't work.” Citizens who accept these answers are once again left with the same unpleasant choices: grow outward, or grow upward. And the planners go back to work figuring out how to accommodate more growth while minimizing its negative impacts on communities and rural lands.

Two Approaches to Growth Management

Is slowing urban growth a viable alternative? The fact is, we have much to learn about the potential for controlling growth. There is little published research on the effectiveness of urban growth controls and no nationwide study of growth controls has ever been performed. The handful of studies that exist are far from comprehensive. What's more, these studies reach differing conclusions. Some say that growth controls are effective while others say they are not. These few studies are clearly no basis for dismissing an important option for communities facing tough growth pressures: slowing or limiting growth.

We must begin to recognize that there are two distinctly different approaches to growth management that are completely compatible and even complementary. One is concerned with how growth should occur. The other is concerned with whether growth should occur. Both approaches should be part of a responsible, long-term growth management program.

Approach: Smart Growth

The approach that focuses on how growth occurs is sometimes referred to as planned growth or “smart” growth. Planned growth seeks to anticipate and accommodate growth through a comprehensive planning and policy framework. The general strategy here is to influence the character of growth using a variety of techniques to direct new development in ways that will reduce the impacts on resource lands, environmental quality, livability, taxes and other key qualities of our communities. Most of the growth management practiced today fits into this category. However, this approach fails to address the amount of growth that is desirable.

Complete reliance on planned growth strategies is based on the false premise that we can have our cake and develop it too. An assumption is being made that we can keep on growing, if we just do it right. But even the best-looking, best-planned growth can still have a predominantly negative impact on a community and long-term ecological consequences. With planned, or “smart” growth, farmland and open space may disappear a little slower and urban spread may be a little less ugly, chaotic, and costly. But the bottom line is that we will continue to grow until we overburden our environment.

Second Approach: Finite-World Planning

The second approach to growth management focuses on whether growth should occur, and, if so, how much and how fast. This approach might be referred to as “finite-world planning.” It recognizes physical and ecological limits to growth and makes the reasonable assumption that our communities cannot grow forever. It supposes that we may be able to identify an optimal size for each community, or at least a maximum size beyond which livability and other qualities will decline. This approach recognizes that some communities are growing too fast and need to slow their rate of growth. Other communities may have exceeded their optimal size and need to limit additional growth.

Communities concerned about growth impacts have dozens of effective tools at their disposal. They can begin by adopting “growth-neutral” policies and reducing or eliminating the many public subsidies that fuel growth. Communities can also enact growth standards, like those adopted in Lake Oswego, Oregon, that protect the local quality of life. Growth threshold standards can ensure that growth doesn't result in a continual erosion of environmental quality, housing affordability, open space, natural amenities, and livability. Standards can be set for air quality, traffic congestion, classroom sizes, or any other quality threatened by growth.

Public Policies For Sustainability

Good planning can mitigate many of the problems of urban growth; however, planned growth is not the ultimate solution. We must learn to integrate the ecological principles of sustainability into public policies for managing growth. New and innovative approaches to slowing growth are emerging. As these growth controls evolve and we gain more experience with them, communities will be empowered to truly take charge of their future. Communities that successfully control their growth have the potential to do more than just hold onto what they have. The focus of the community's energies and resources can shift away from accommodating growth and toward becoming a better place to live.

Side Story

The Cost of Growth

From ”Better, Not Bigger: How To Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community,” by Eben Fodor (New Society Publishers,1998)


Restoration of Shellfish Harvest Targeted for Portage Bay and Drayton Harbor

by Christine Woodward
Christine Woodward is Project Manager for Wizards Consulting Service.
This is the first part of a two-part series on shellfish issues in Whatcom County.

What Is a Shellfish Protection District. Why Is It Important?

The creation of a Shellfish Protection District draws attention to point and non-point source pollution issues by getting citizens and agencies working cooperatively towards a common goal of reopening and reclassifying downgraded shellfish beds that have been closed to harvesting due to pollution. When necessary, it provides a funding source for water quality projects related to shellfish protection.

The districts are important because, by their creation and establishment, they not only prevent the contamination of commercial and recreational shellfish beds, but restore water quality in areas already affected by non-point pollution.

What Shellfish Districts Are Affected in Whatcom County?

The two commercial shellfish growing areas in Portage Bay and Drayton Harbor, have undergone administrative action required by the county in Chapter 90 90.72 RCW, to create districts within 180 days of growing area downgrades or closures caused by non-point source pollution.

Portage Bay

The Portage Bay Shellfish Protection District was established and adopted by the Whatcom County Council on March 24, 1998. It encompasses the entire Nooksack Watershed. This makes every activity in the basin that can affect water quality a potential pollution source.

The Washington State Department of Health identified four potential sources of fecal coliform pollution. These include:

The principal source of freshwater into the bay is the discharge of the Nooksack River. A Department of Ecology Water Quality Study done between 1993 and 1996 showed that bacteria counts increase in the river from Everson to the mouth. The most substantial increase occurs between Lynden and Ferndale.

What Is Being Done to Reopen the Shellfish Beds?

In March of 1999, a Citizens Advisory Group was formed. The group consists of agency representatives and concerned citizens working together to make the necessary changes in the district to decrease the amount of pollution loading into the Nooksack River. Some of these changes include:

Drayton Harbor

In January of 1995, The Washington State Department of Health downgraded the classification of commercial shellfish growing areas in Drayton Harbor. In July of 1995, the Whatcom County Council established a Shellfish Protection District, which in turn created the Citizens Advisory Committee.

The Drayton Harbor Shellfish Protection District encompasses the entire Drayton Harbor Watershed. There is no current active oyster growing operation in Drayton Harbor due to fecal coliform pollution problems. According to the Draft Sanitary Survey by the State Department of Health, June 1999, it is recommended that all of the currently approved areas in the harbor be downgraded to Prohibited.

Drayton Harbor Sources

The Washington State Department of Health identified several possible pollution sources:

Efforts to Reopen Shellfish Beds

The Shellfish Protection District Advisory Groups have made a commitment of working towards the goal of upgrading the shellfish beds in both districts. You can do your part by helping keep our waters of the state clean by controlling pollution in your neighborhood and watershed. Remember, everything that goes on the ground can enter the waterway either by surface runoff or groundwater pathways. Please do your part in the community and be a responsible citizen.

For more information please visit the Whatcom County Shellfish Protection District's web site at: whatcomshellfish.wsu.edu.

Coming in January: Part Two

What shape are these shellfish beds currently in? What is being done locally to work towards the goal of upgraded, harvestable shellfish in Whatcom County? How can local residents help?

Drinking Water

Proposed Development May Impact Lake Whatcom Water Quality

by Paul Olund
Paul Olund is a sophomore at Western Washington University.

Bellingham city planners and concerned property owners met in the evening of Thursday, November 4, 1999, at Silver Beach Elementary School to discuss future land development, and Springland Estates in particular, around Lake Whatcom. The meeting was held by the developer of the proposed Springland Estates, to inform Silver Beach residents of the development plan which would allocate 9.9 acres of land directly west of East Oregon Street for residential zoning.

The zoning plan utilizes the land parcel for the development of 43 detached, single-family residential lots. According to the the Silver Beach Neighborhood Plan, lot sizes could range from 5,002 square feet to 8,303 square feet, leaving 67,783 feet open for roads and other development.

Cluster Housing

To increase housing density, the residential plan advocates the use of cluster subdivision development. By adhering to cluster development, dwellings can be distributed every 10,000 square feet instead of the 15,000 square feet necessary to accommodate the provisions of normal residential development. The developers have endorsed the use of a cluster development to allow affordability.

Environmentally concerned individuals met along with the California-based land development company to discuss the effects the residential growth would have upon the Lake Whatcom watershed. Because the lake provides over 65,000 Whatcom County residents with potable drinking water, the degradation of Lake Whatcom water quality remains a heavily contested issue. Already contaminated by residential pollutants and runoff, the question of whether or not more residential development should be allowed remains a major public concern.

Water Runoff

Theoretically, according to the developer's attorney, “the runoff will not change pre-development conditions.” Under the provisions of the Silver Beach Neighborhood Plan, water runoff would be regulated by a water retention facility that would release water into the lake at safe levels.

Further water management practice would include the use of chemical treatment to keep dangerous runoff from entering and damaging the fragile watershed habitat. Proposed environmental protection plans include the installation of water treatment facilities in older sites, and the cleanup of neighborhoods that don't fully regulate current water runoff.

“By helping old projects that have zero water quality treatment, there will be a net reduction in runoff pollution,” stated the developer's attorney.

The Approval Process

Springland Estates is far from complete. The development application, which will most likely be reviewed within the year by the Bellingham Public Works Department, is only one of eight steps that must be completed to allow for contract agreement. Once the application is approved, the remaining process must be completed within four months. After contract approval, the developing company has five years to begin construction.

With questions about population growth and lake water quality becoming more frequent, it remains improbable that future development around the Lake Whatcom watershed will go unnoticed.


Sustainably Harvested Wood Available Soon in Bellingham

by Rick Dubrow
Rick Dubrow is president of A-Builders and president of RE Sources

No longer is the question “Will Whatcom County get a local vendor for Certified Wood?” Now it is simply a question of time.

A Short Time

Builders Alliance (formerly Bellingham Sash and Door) has decided to market certified wood (sustainably harvested wood, following a chain of custody in which each player is also certified)! After months of discussion, including presentations here by the certification people themselves, Builders Alliance is jumping in head first. They plan on bringing in the first batch of certified wood in late October or early November.

This first load of certified lumber will probably contain items such as 2" x 4" hem-fir, 2" x 6" hem-fir, 3/4" tongue and groove subfloor plywood and perhaps 1/2" CDX plywood. Although certified hardwoods have been available for quite some time from relatively nearby sources, this step by Builders Alliance represents the real, first, local source of certified framing lumber.

Market Opportunity

Although my inclination is to run out onto Northwest Avenue and start screaming out that Whatcom County can now build with certified wood, or to string a banner across the road thanking Builders Alliance, their desire is different, and I want to respect this. It's important to understand that Builders Alliance has decided to go this route in order to address a potential and growing market opportunity. It just so happens to be a green product line. Their goal is not to be painted as changing course towards greensville. Quite simply, a market opportunity arose and they have decided to fill it.

Bottom line... they don't want a fanfare in the press but simply a gentle, relatively quiet insertion of another building product line that just happens to be green. SSSSsssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh !!!!@#$%^&* Perhaps their motivation differs from mine, but the bottom line is that they are stepping up to the plate and I commend them. Their decision is bold and well thought out. They want to sell more stuff and I want certified wood. Two different paths to the same goal. Now we need consumers to step up to the plate and buy this sustainably harvested lumber. I can only do so much as a single builder. Perceived demand led to their decision to supply the materials. If the demand does not materialize, said materials might disappear.

Framing and sheathing with certified, sustainably harvested wood, using advanced framing techniques to reduce the amount of wood used, have been dreams of mine for quite some time. Building with certified wood is yet another step forward in A-1 Builder's “Journey Towards Sustainability.”

Yes, we've made the transition to advanced framing months ago; certified wood simply closes yet another loop in trying to build responsibly... to build less, build with less and build with low or non-toxic materials. There remains an interesting paradox; one similar to one the RE Store faced when it was a one-store town. Until they opened their second RE Store in Ballard, they were salvaging materials in Seattle and driving it up to Bellingham so as to attract consumers from Seattle to drive here to drive it back to Seattle !!!! Very environmental, eh? Let's see... which of the four System Conditions from The Natural Step does this RE Store strategy violate?

Well, look at the present paradox once Builders Alliance inventories certified wood here. A company like Collins Pine, for example, cuts wood sustainably in northern California and then trucks it here to Builders Alliance to sell !! instead of selling uncertified wood from local clearcuts. Which strategy is better environmentally? Certified wood from far away or uncertified wood from nearby? (Got a graduate student nearby in search of a thesis, have you?)

Here's my dream... there are a lot of players thinking about inventorying certified wood to our south. Once Builders Alliance has trucks driving by them, moving certified wood to the north, thereby reducing the probable shipping costs that they are allergic to, I'm hoping that others jump in here. Then, with many certified wood vendors up and down the I-5 corridor, the shipping aspects of harvesting sustainably may also fall into place.

One Step at a Time

My hat goes off to Builders Alliance. They are truly walking their talk. I voiced a need for something that might at first stretch their imagination, but they have, in fact, increased their ‘builders alliance.' Please support them, and while you're there, thank them—quietly, as per their request—for stepping up to the plate. Every business—every consumer—must buy and sell responsibly when they step up to that plate... if this ball game (called humanity) is to last a long, long time.

Side Story

Sustainably Harvested Logs Slated for Local Housing Project

by Alan Soicher
For further information please contact Alan Soicher at: Evergreen Ecoforestry, 3231 Hillside Road, Deming, WA 98244, (360) 592-3123, ecoforestry@nas.com .

A local ecoforestry project is looking for help in designing and selling a house made from certified, sustainable Northwest wood. The Evergreen Land Trust (River Farm), a non-profit educational organization, recently signed a lease with timber giant Crown Pacific to manage a 160 acre ecoforestry demonstration project upslope from River Farm in Whatcom County.

Through our new company, Evergreen Ecoforestry LLC, we are managing this land for ecological conservation, local jobs and to show that we can make some money. One of the goals of this project is to show that ecologically based forestry can be profitable, and that people here in the Northwest are willing (and wanting) to support the shift away from big clearcuts.

We spent the summer developing a stewardship plan for the forest, and just recently began our first operation. We will be seeking certification with the Smartwood program later this fall. A small portion of our first harvest has already been milled into fir trim for the Bellingham Co-Housing common house project.

We want to put the rest of our initial wood into a model eco-house, made of all certified, sustainably harvested wood from the demonstration forest. We have maple, alder, Douglas fir, hemlock and a little bit of cedar for the project. We are looking at having 22,000 board feet, or enough perhaps for a 2,000 square foot home. Half of the wood for this project has already been cut, and the rest will come out during the next dry spell. We are in the process of contracting with a local mill that will turn our logs into finished product.

If you are interested in working on the design of this “friendly-wood” house, if you have any ideas, or if you know just the right person to buy such a house, please get in touch. This house project should get a fair amount of publicity, and its success will hopefully go a long way in helping the movement toward environmentally sound forestry.


Bird-Friendly Home Landscapes

by Sally Manifold
Sally Manifold is Greenway Volunteer Coordinator for Bellingham Department of Parks & Recreation.

Bellingham has shown enthusiastic community support for wild areas in the city by passage of Greenway levies in both 1990 and 1997. Residents appreciate the difference that the wild green zones along the trails make to their daily walks or family outings. Sidewalks go to the same places, but the atmosphere is very different on a trail. The difference is the wildness—the surprise of deer, birds or a snake sharing the trail corridor, the way the plants change with the seasons.

Density of Bird Populations

My recent graduate studies included a research project evaluating bird populations along Bellingham trail corridors with different widths of forest vegetation. Was there a threshold width that would benefit birds and make greenways more effective habitat? The results were encouraging. Corridors at least 40 meters wide (130 feet) contained the same density of birds as larger forests in Whatcom Falls Park, on Sehome Hill and along the Interurban Trail. Even 20 meter (65 feet) wide corridors harbored many breeding and feeding native bird species. Forest composition was also important. Bird numbers increased with the percent cover of evergreens and dead standing trees (snags).

Greenway Volunteers

Since 1992, thousands of volunteers have enjoyed planting and maintaining native trees and shrubs on public property through the Greenway Volunteer Program. While working, volunteers learn about restoration techniques, native trees and shrubs adapted to various site conditions, and about the kinds of wildlife which use the cover and food those plants provide. For a schedule of drop-in work parties, call 676-6801 ex.24.

Principles of Restoration

Here are some habitat principles used in greenway restoration that you can use in your yard:

A Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary packet is available for five dollars from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek, WA 98012. Their new book about landscaping for wildlife is expected out this fall.

Side Story

Plants for Bird-Friendly Yards

Dry Soils
Full Sun:
Red-flowering Currant   Ribes sanguineum           shrub 1-3m
Blue Elderberry         Sambucus cerulea           shrub 1-7m
Kinnikinnick            Arctostaphylos uva-ursi    shrub to 20cm
Hairy Manzanita         Arctostaphylos columbiana  shrub to 3m
Serviceberry            Amelanchier alnifolia      shrub to 10m
Juniper                 Juniperus communis         shrub to 1m
                        Juniperus scopulorum       tree to 10m
Garry Oak               Quercus garryana           tree to 25m
Shore Pine              Pinus contorta (contorta)  tree to 20m
Tall Oregon-Grape       Mahonia aquifolium         shrub to 2m     
Low Oregon-Grape        Mahonia nervosa            shrub to 60cm

Moist to Moist/Dry Soils
Full Sun:
Sitka Alder             Alnus sinuata              shrub 1-5m
Black Hawthorn          Crataegus douglasii        shrub to 10m
Mock Orange             Philadelphus lewisii       shrub to 3m
Bitter Cherry           Prunus emarginata          shrub/tree 2-15m
Paper Birch             Betula papyrifera          tree to 30m
Beaked Hazel            Corylus cornuta            shrub 1-4m
Indian Plum             Oemleria cerasiformis      shrub 1.5-5m
Vine Maple              Acer circinatum            shrub to 7m
Oceanspray              Holodiscus discolor        shrub to 4m
Cluster Rose            Rosa pisocarpa             shrub to 3m
Snowberry               Symphoricarpos albus       shrub .5-2m
Thimbleberry            Rubus parviflora           shrub .5-3m
Sitka Willow            Salix scouleriana          shrub/tree 1-8m
Douglas Maple           Acer glabrum (douglasii)   shrub/tree to 10m
Sword Fern              Polystichum munitum        fern to 1.5m
Salal                   Gaultheria shallon         shrub .5-5m
Cascara                 Rhamnus purshiana          shrub/tree to 10m
Western Hemlock         Tsuga heterophylla         tree to 60m

Wetland Soils (Wet to Moist/Wet)
Full Sun:
Hardhack                Spirea douglasii           shrub to 2m
Hooker's Willow         Salix hookeri              shrub to 6m
Sitka Willow            Salix sitchensis           shrub 1-8m
Red Alder               Alnus Rubra                tree to 25m
Oregon Ash              Fraxinus latifolia         tree to 25m
Quaking Aspen           Populus tremuloides        tree to 25m
Red-osier Dogwood       Cornus stolonifera         shrub 1-6m
Pacific Ninebark        Physocarpus capitatus      shrub to 4m
Pacific Crabapple       Malus fusca                shrub/tree to9m
Red Elderberry          Sambucus racemosa          shrub to 6m
Salmonberry             Rubus spectabilis          shrub to 4m
Black Twinberry         Lonicera involucrata       shrub .5-5m
Western Redcedar        Thuja plicata              tree to 60m

Whatcom Watch Online
NorthWest Citizen