Why read this? You already have seen a lot about the study of cleanup and disposal of Bellingham Bay and Bellingham onshore toxic wastes and about HB 1448. Because the world is run on excuses and reasons. Because recent articles justifying Rep. Kelli Linville's (D-42nd District) bill do not clarify the real reasons. Let's dismiss her excuses with a one liner from Shakespeare's MacBeth: Me thinks the lady doth protest too much. However, I would be less than forthright if I did not state that Bellingham Mayor Mark Asmundson and Port of Bellingham Commissioner Scott Walker used the same excuses in their letter published in the The Bellingham Herald. Then let us review the guts of factual reasons for and against the bill.
Bellingham Bay and Bellingham onshore have an estimated one million cubic yards of sediments contaminated by a number of toxic substances. Highly toxic mercury from Georgia-Pacific's chlorine plant and paper bleaching process was released into the Whatcom Waterway, and it constitutes 90 to 95 percent of the toxic wastes to be cleaned up.
The principal pressures for HB 1448 come from the Port of Bellingham, the Department of Ecology, and the City of Bellingham. The port is desperate to keep the Whatcom Waterway open for deep draft vessels. It is already silted up to the extent that some ships cannot use it. The waterway cannot be dredged deep enough to accomplish that goal without disturbing the mercury, and then another home for it would have to be found.
The Department of Ecology wants power, power under an appointed official without any direct accountability to the public through the ballot box. The City of Bellingham as well as the port welcome the business the waterway brings, but the city probably also is concerned about avoiding lawsuits for its part in the toxic pollution.Disposing of Mercury
The safest way to dispose of the mercury would be to truck it to a landfill in Oregon, but the cleanup and disposal of all the toxic wastes would cost more than $100 million dollars. The environmentally least safe but cheapest way would be to simply move the toxic wastes to another site in Bellingham tidelands at an estimated cost in the range of $30 to $60 million dollars. Under HB 1448, that would almost certainly happen.
Georgia-Pacific would have to pay the lion's share of cleanup and disposal costs, and they said a cost of $100 million would be too much. They would abandon their cooperation with the cleanup unless a less expensive way could be found. If Georgia-Pacific withdrew, it would trigger the Model Toxic Control Act, a state law with minimum environmental standards and minimal costs. The law is administered by the Department of Ecology.Georgia-Pacific's Dinosaur
One must believe Georgia-Pacific is reluctant to pay for a very costly cleanup and disposal. The Georgia-Pacific plant in Bellingham is a dinosaur struggling to survive. It uses the sulphite process that works for softwoods, the conifers that are in very short supply. Hardwoods, especially hybrid cottonwoods, are the wave of the future. As an official at the new paper plant in Longview, Washington, which uses the kraft process for hardwoods, put it, nobody in his or her right mind would build a sulphite plant today.
The question is not the demise of the Georgia-Pacific plant in Bellingham; the question is when. Could Georgia-Pacific just close up and leave? Probably. But Georgia-Pacific might find lawsuits and legal fees cheaper than paying interest on the cleanup costs.Mercury Discharges Continue
Is the principal toxic problem for wildlife in Bellingham Bay the mercury now deeply buried? Or is it the 25 pounds of mercury currently legally deposited annually in the bay?
That is as much as any discharge of mercury anywhere in the United States. And if the current mercury discharge is the main problem, why is not the Department of Ecology addressing what is most important?
Nobody seems to want the Model Toxic Control Act. Environmentalists want the study group to continue because of the law's low standards for safe toxic waste disposal. Avoidance of lawsuits may well be the reason the city does not to want the Model Toxic Control Act. And under the act, the port and the city would likely find keeping their deep shipping channel more difficult.
Moreover, the city bears a responsibility for the cleanup not only because it dumped garbage containing toxic substances, but also, some people think, because it issued permits that resulted in dumping some of the other toxic wastes that now are to be cleaned up.
Years ago polluters figured out that cooperation would be better and cheaper than lawsuits. Thus, for years an ad hoc group of private environmentalists and some state agencies and tribes worked on the cleanup project. However, since 1997 a group including governments, governmental agencies, and the Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Tribe, has been working on the project under the management of the Port of Bellingham and the State Department of Ecology. Gone are local representatives of the environmental community not under political control.
The present cleanup group is making progress up to a point. The draft environmental impact statement is 80 percent complete. Several toxic waste disposal sites have been agreed on by most of the group's participants, and an important one is on state tidelands close to the Bellingham Bay shore south of the log booms, south of the end of Cornwall Avenue, and north of Post Point. A spokesman for the Lummi Nation told me that they have not taken a position on a method of toxic waste disposal. Of course, the Department Natural Resources has not agreed.Protecting Tidelands
The sticking point is that the Department of Natural Resources, headed by Jennifer Belcher, is mandated by law to manage state tidelands including the protection of marine life. That is the reason the Department of Natural Resources under her has had a consistent policy to resist dumping toxic wastes on tidelands. Her steel magnolia stance concerns more than Bellingham. There are 12 times as many cubic yards of toxic wastes needing cleanup in the state than there are at Bellingham. Thus, she has reason to be concerned about what would happen to wildlife. Nevertheless, she is said to have remarked privately that We are not inflexible but we must set the bar high. She went on to say that the Department of Natural Resources might agree to toxic waste disposal on tidelands if the method could be shown to be absolutely safe.
HB 1448 introduced by Rep. Linville would reduce the environmental standards for protecting wildlife on our tidelands, and very likely would reduce them a great deal.Accountability to Voters
Most objectionable of all is the bill's end run around the power of voters to hold government officials accountable. HB 1448 would take authority to control disposal of toxic wastes on our tidelands away from the Department of Natural Resources headed by Jennifer Belcher, an official elected by the voters of this state. The bill would give that authority to the Department of Ecology headed by a political appointee. Hence, it would take away a direct public voice in accountability through the ballot box and give it to a political appointee.
Moreover, it would erode property rights. How strange to find property rights advocates pushing HB 1448. In this Alice-in-Wonderland of state and local politics, the Department of Natural Resources would still be liable for lawsuits for misuse of Department of Ecology authority for unsafe dumping of toxic wastes on Department of Natural Resources managed tidelands. The situation is somewhat analogous to a hypothetical case where the Department of Ecology would authorize dumping garbage in your garden and you would have no power to stop the dumping. Still, you would be liable for lawsuits by your neighbors for polluting and stinking up the neighborhood.Deep Draft Shipping Channel
The port's push for a deep water shipping channel at Whatcom Waterway is driving HB 1448. Passage of HB 1448 would make dredging of Whatcom Waterway to maintain a channel for deep draft vessels a foregone conclusion. Instead, we ought to have a public discussion of whether there is any sense in spending taxpayers dollars for a deep draft shipping channel in a rapidly growing delta. Most of the infilling of the waterway by fine sediments is from the Nooksack River and carried by currents in the bay. Just put a deep water port somewhere else if one is needed.
During the few short years since the heavy discharge of mercury by Georgia-Pacific was stopped, 8 to 14 feet of non-toxic sediments have been deposited over the sediments contaminated with mercury. Development, farming, and logging upstream are the sources of the fine sediments, and show no signs of abating. Hence, at the current rate of sedimentation, dredging a Whatcom Waterway deep channel would be sure to become a repetitive expenditure of taxpayers' dollars. And if those dollars would come from the state, that would be pork barreling at its worst. The only way to keep our taxes down is to stop wasteful spending at the source, any source.Long-term Solutions
If we heed the dictum to medical doctors to do no harm, and apply it to treating Bellingham Bay, what is best for the long-term safety of marine life and humans?
Put very simply, mercury is bad stuff. I undertook to write this article because my career as a geologist caused concern that HB 1448 would lead to unsafe long-term disposal of toxic wastes on Bellingham Bay tidelands. Nothing that has happened since I took on that task has led me to change my mind.
I spent the better part of 37 years as a geologist with a major oil company, and I spent much of that time on the transportation of sediments and the movement of fluids in the earth. The waves in Bellingham Bay reach the bottom. The shoreline and the bottom of the bay are a dynamic profile of equilibrium. Sooner or later, nature will take over and modify any deviation to that profile of equilibrium caused by humans. That, too, is simply put.
As Chris Spens said to me, The Linville bill is not needed. The cleanup group is making progress. We need toxic waste disposal that would last 100 years. If it takes another five years to reach that goal, the time would be well spent.What You Can Do
HB 1448 was in the House Rules Committee on 3/5/99. The bill must be out of the committee, voted on, and passed by March 17th, or it is dead. If it passes, it must be passed by the Senate by the last day of this session of the Legislature on April 25th, or it is dead.
Aside from how you feel about protecting the environment or saving taxpayer's money, elimination of accountability to voters at the ballot box and handing that authority to an appointed official is an important reason for voters of all stripes to write or call their senators and representatives and ask them to vote against the bill; and if it would pass, to ask Governor Gary Locke to veto it. Also, voters should make their wishes known to the public by letters published in the press. There is no need to destroy accountability to voters. Do not let it happen.
As a self-regulated government agency, the Department of Natural Resources consistently disregards environmental protection laws developed to protect public resources. With the listing of the Puget Sound Chinook salmon as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, it appears that the Department of Natural Resources wants to slip through precedent-setting forest practices that clearly continue to negatively impact salmon habitat in the Nooksack River.
Recently, an approved Department of Natural Resources Forest Practices Application was appealed to the Forest Practices Appeals Board by concerned citizens living in the Nooksack River watershed.
The Forest Practices Application was approved for building 2.4 miles of new permanent roads, approximately one-quarter mile reconstruction of existing road, and for one-quarter mile of road abandonment. The total approved harvest consists of five units totaling one hundred twenty-two acres of ninety-seven percent clearcut harvest above the Middle Fork Nooksack River.
The Forest Practices Application states there are highly erodible and unstable soils within the units, with new permanent roads constructed across ninety percent slopes. When they cut into the upslope, how steep will the newly destabilized slope be? The haul roads closely follow and cross type 4 streams and type 5 streams numerous times in the proposed units.
The only condition placed on this application is that the contractor contact the Department of Natural Resources two days prior to commencing work. There are no conditions concerning working during heavy summer rains nor conditions concerning work in the headwaters above the Middle Fork Nooksack River an intricate web of waterways flowing between the ribbed lower slopes of the Cascade foothills.
This stream network feeds the Middle Fork Nooksack River just above the diversion dam for Bellingham's drinking water supply. The diversion system dewaters the Middle Fork where low flows allow the sediment to settle out in the river bottom covering gravel beds where Chinook spawn.
The appellant claims that the Forest Practices Application is in violation of either the Washington State Environmental Policy Act or the Forest Practices Act's rules and regulations. The Forest Practices Application was categorized as a Class III Priority Forest Practice by the Department of Natural Resources.
The appellant is asking the Forest Practices Appeals Board to remand the Forest Practices Application back to the Department of Natural Resources to be reclassified as a Class IV Special Forest Practice. They are asking the board to issue a temporary suspension of the application until the appeal is resolved. And they are also asking the board to instruct the department to prepare plans and permit applications for the entire road network which will continue from the roads proposed under the appealed Forest Practices Application.
The appellant is making five claims as grounds for review by the Forest Practices Appeal Board.
1. The Forest Practices Application may be exempt from the State Environmental Policy Act review process, but since the associated Timber Sale is not exempt from the State Environmental Policy Act, the Forest Practices Application automatically loses its categorical exemption and therefore must be a Class IV Special Forest Practice.
2. The Forest Practices Application should have been a Class IV Special Forest Practice due to the construction of roads on uninterrupted unstable slopes with the potential to deliver to waters of the state.
3. In their State Environmental Policy Act review for the associated Timber Sale, the Department of Natural Resources states they intend to continue development of the proposed road network for future sales. This is clearly in violation of the State Environmental Policy Act's segmentation rules. Segmentation rules state that a series of exempt actions that are physically or functionally related to each other, and that together may be exempt, must be considered together under the same environmental review.
4. Two of the units in the Forest Practices Application violate rules and regulations for roads because of redundancy, too many unnecessary stream crossings, and the placing of roads in the wrong locations for harvesting Unit 1.
5. The effects of this Forest Practices Application as approved in combination with past forest practices in the Middle Fork Nooksack River have the potential for probable significant adverse environmental impacts to public resources.
Last year the Department of Natural Resources ran into similar problems when they rushed into Austin Creek above Lake Whatcom. The Department of Natural Resources quickly approved Forest Practices Applications with the potential for adverse environmental impacts to public resources, private property, and safety and welfare of families living in the Austin Creek watershed. This year it appears that the Department of Natural Resources wants to continue with business as usual.
It is time for state agencies and private industrial timber corporations to step up and change before we risk losing Nooksack River Chinook salmon to continued poor land use practices. Research has shown that sediment and debris from silviculture operations continues to be one of the major factors degrading waters of the United States.
In a recent Los Angeles Times article (January 21, 1999) it was reported that in the small country of Bhutan the government has taken a drastic stand to protect its natural resources. The government restricts logging to an area that represents five percent of the total size of Bhutan. Over 25 percent of the country has been set aside as national parkland. Also, the export of all unfinished timber was banned effective January 1, 1999.
Bhutan's location between China and India has given it a first-hand account of what economic growth and advancing population can mean for the forest. Over half of Asia's forests have disappeared in the last 30 years. Neighboring India has lost over 80 percent of its forests.
Bhutan's strict laws are in place to make sure its forests don't wind up like its neighbors. The laws pertain not only to logging companies but to individuals as well. To chop down a living tree a villager must first receive permission by a local ranger. For firewood, villagers can only gather dead or fallen trees. No tree, public or private, can be cut down without approval.
The laws pertaining to the forest are strict for a reason: the Bhutanese don't want to sell their forests to boost the economy. Trees are more valuable as a resource in Bhutan when they are left standing. Ugyen Tshering, Bhutan's foreign minister, was quoted as saying We could have been like other countries and sold our forests .... but that would have been a short term solution. We would still be a poor country and our natural wealth would be gone.
The natural wealth the prime minister is referring to is the diverse ecosystem which is home to animals like white leopards, red pandas and goat-like animals called takins. Bhutan's geography is as unique as its wildlife. It rises from near sea level to almost 25,000 feet, forming a stairway to the Himalayas. The rugged terrain makes up many different ecosystems.
Seven hundred species of birds and 2000 species of plants inhabit this country that is only one tenth the size of California.
Perhaps the most unique thing about Bhutan is its campaign to protect and conserve its forest land. This extreme method of conservation has set Bhutan apart from other countries. Keeping the country as environmentally intact as possible will reward generation upon generation with the breathtaking wilderness.
Over the past 25 years, logging practices on Washington's non-federal lands have been evolving as appreciation has grown for the forest's many values. As Puget Sound salmon stocks get listed under the Endangered Species Act, some of these changes will be formalized into new rules to better protect fish and water while practicing forestry.
The state Forest Practices Board is in the first year of a 2-year public rule-making process to upgrade its rules and meet Endangered Species Act standards. Not only is the board trying to stave off extinction, but has also taken on the goal of recovering wild salmon to harvestable levels. At least four proposals are now before the board, and final rules are expected sometime next year.Proposed Timber Bill
Meanwhile, the governor is trying to come up with a comprehensive salmon plan to meet Endangered Species Act requirements. The new rules that the Forest Practices Board develops will become part of that plan and the Feds will have to approve it.
The only major industry to come forward and negotiate for salmon is the timber industry. It learned a hard lesson with the spotted owl, and wants to negotiate now rather than try and pick up the pieces later. Negotiations have been ongoing for a number of years.
With the hysteria in Olympia to close a deal and give everyone a chance to celebrate the salmon as it's listed, the Forest Practices Bill (SHB 2091) has been introduced that goes too far. The Bellingham Herald's March 5 editorial sums up the problem: Timber plan gives too many concessions. They weren't referring to the salmon.Some Problems with Timber Bill
One of the more glaring concerns with the bill is again pointed out by The Bellingham Herald: Unless Governor Gary Locke has got some kind of crystal ball we don't know about, he shouldn't be supporting legislation that would put a 50-year ban on the creation of any new laws regulating the timber industry.
Do we know enough about salmon recovery to virtually lock in blanket rules across the state for 50 years? It wasn't more than 20 years ago that standard practices included clearing streams of wood after they were logged over. Now we know better. Who knows what we'll discover about wild salmon, and about forestry, just five or ten years from now?
The bill also directs the Forest Practices Board to adopt the industry supported proposal (called the Fish and Forest Report) for its new rules, bypassing consideration of any other proposals on the table (already two from tribes and one joint proposal from the Washington Environmental Council and National Audubon Society).Adaptive Management
We need not worry, say the bill's supporters, because if the rules aren't working, adaptive management provisions will allow science to help refine them over time. In theory, this is a reasonable approach. Start with relatively low-risk rules (the salmon are going extinct, after all) and adjust them over time if the science shows that less protection is warranted.
The bill turns this theory on its head, though, and mandates weak rules now until it can be proven later that more is needed. What are we going to do, stand logs back on their stumps? With only 150 or so spring Chinook making it up the Nooksack last year, there isn't much room for trial and error.
A Step in the Right Direction: Helping Small Forest Landowners
New salmon regulations will probably disproportionately affect small landowners, mostly because they tend to own lower elevation forests along streams and rivers. To help the small folks, provisions in the bill include creating a small landowner office within the Department of Natural Resources, and compensating some needy landowners for trees left in riparian areas. The state would hold a 50-year conservation easement on these trees.
These could be good steps to help small-scale family foresters keep their lands in forestry and not be tempted, or forced to convert to other land uses (such as subdivisions). There is another bill now in the legislature more appropriate for these provisions. The Family Forestry Support Act (SHB 1281), which also funds Department of Natural Resources' Stewardship Incentive Program is the right place to deal with small landowner issues. Sure would be great to get it out of the timber bill, put it where it belongs and support it.Forestry and Salmon Can Coexist
Nobody said bringing back the salmon would be easy. As we keep on being told, it will affect every one of us. It hasn't been easy for all the unemployed commercial fishers either. As a society, we seem ready to help wild salmon return to our watersheds, keep forestry alive and keep our local people working.
While doing the right thing for salmon may reduce revenue for timber companies, I would hope, and sort of suspect that the industry will be able to adjust. There are lots of forests on more stable ground, away from streams and rivers, where good stewardship can provide a lot of wood products forever. We can work on this together.The Bottom Line
The important thing for this legislature to do is appropriate funds for implementing the forest practices board's new rules. By anteing up, the legislature and the governor will show the Feds what they really need to see that the state is serious about committing itself and its resources (i.e. $$$) to salmon recovery. The other constructive parts of the timber bill can be handled elsewhere.
As for what rules to adopt, let's leave it to the Forest Practices Board to decide how best to protect our public resources while maintaining a viable forest products industry. The legislature was wise to give the Forest Practices Board that directive 25 years ago, with diverse representation and a public review process. They ought to let the board do what it is meant to do. Together we can find a way to make all of this work.
The Lummi watershed restoration program has been hard at work improving the Nooksack watershed. The restoration program has been in operation since 1995. Program coordinator Jim Hansen and restoration assistant Frank Bob direct the operations. Some of the things the program has been doing are riparian tree planting, riparian stand maintenance and surveying, invasive non-native weed removal, and slide revegetation, road decommissioning and culvert fish passage survey.The program is dedicated to improving and restoring salmon habitat in the Nooksack watershed.
One of the many problems the program addresses is the erosion caused by many of the logging roads in the watershed. Throughout the years hundreds of miles of roads have been constructed. Some of the roads were built on hillsides that were too steep and consequently they started to erode. After the trees were harvested, the roads lay dormant until they were needed again to access more timber. Each washout or culvert failure has contributed to habitat destruction. Years of this happening has compounded the problem
With the loss of the trees, the run-off increases because the earth's natural way of collecting and dispersing precipitation is no longer there. The roads cut across the hillsides, collecting and channeling water in an unnatural way. The combination of loss of trees and logging roads on steep slopes greatly increases the potential for erosion. In many cases the roads were built on too steep of a hillside, resulting in the road being completely washed-out and initiating devastating landslides.
Decades of logging and road building have caused accelerated erosion in the watershed. Over time gravel accumulated in the creeks and streams that are tributaries to the Nooksack, eventually flowing into the riverbed and destroying prime salmon habitat. The Lummi watershed restoration program recognizes the threat of these roads to tributaries of the Nooksack. The program workers have replanted and stabilized cutbanks on some abandoned roads as well as storm proofing these roads to prevent further erosion.
The Lummi watershed restoration program also surveyed and targeted culverts that blocked fish from upstream spawning grounds. Some of the original culverts that were installed were not of adequate size for the amount of water that would have to pass through them, causing them to fail. Some culverts blocked fish passage that would not allow mature fish to reach their spawning grounds. With the installation of a bigger culvert, fish and water are able to pass under the road. This is important for the fish because, as well as enabling them to spawn upstream, the new culverts and rock armoring prevent future road failure at these junctions. The rockwork stabilizes the area around the culvert where most washouts occur.
The Lummi watershed restoration program is targeting these critical areas to ensure that they will not continue to erode sediment into the river. The roading phase of logging is one of the most detrimental factors in the decline of the health of the river. Maintenance, repairs and removal of roads in the watershed are an integral part in the recovery of the Nooksack.
A unique cooperative process is helping to shape the future of timber harvests in a 108-acre tract south of Hardscrabble Creek on the east side of Stewart Mountain. This unusual approach is proving that landowners and neighborhood groups can work together.
It's called the Green Zone.
In the Green Zone, Crown Pacific established a management plan to include a mix of small opening and thinning areas. Before even thinking about any management proposals, we reviewed the entire tract in the context of forest practice regulationsincluding measures established by Acme Watershed Analysis draft prescriptions.Evolution of Forestry
These prescriptions are taking hold as environmental knowledge progresses and the protection of public resources grows. This leads to new measures and methods for conducting forest practices. And as the demand for wood products remains strong, so do the challenges. Today we're seeing a tremendous evolution of knowledge, technology, and ideas in the field of forestry. People who take an interest in how private forests are managed have become a critical part of that evolution.
With so many diverse interests and objectives to consider, creating a workable timber management plan is no easy task. Even so, we've decided that balancing a wide spectrum of perspectives and considerations is the only path forward. Up to now, public involvement with forest management issues has generally been routed through state agencies. Now, progressive timber management companies encourage direct communication with neighbors and special interest groups.Stewart Mountain
With that process in mind, Crown Pacific has put considerable effort into listening. In the case of the Stewart Mountain Green Zone, joint discussions with downslope neighbors helped identify several important considerations. We talked about aesthetics, plans for wildlife corridors, feathered buffers, limits on the size of openings, and spacing between openings. All these factors have helped us craft a more comprehensive management plan.
The idea was to put everything on the table and see what kind of plan could be fashioned. Our goal was then to produce a forest management plan which could provide significant visual benefits and ecological function while maintaining economic viability. In other words, we are pursuing a way to remain environmentally responsible and realize a reasonable profit.Harvest Plan
Our task became even more complex as we recognized the variety of tree communities and the especially rugged slope of this piece of land. After considering limitations due to harvesting logistics, our options narrowed considerably. Even so, we were able to agree on a plan for the Green Zone which was consistent with our goals. Eight clearings averaging six acres are separated by eight thinning areas averaging 7.5 acres.
This 108-acre mosaic called the Green Zone is the result of a special cooperative effort between neighbors. It's a model, perhaps, for other communities grappling with how to balance the needs of different interests. While it is too soon to evaluate the entire result of our efforts, we feel that new avenues have been pioneered. Our purpose was not revolution but rather evolution, and as such this is a large step in the right direction.
Whatcom County residents rely heavily on groundwater for drinking water, agriculture, and commercial/industrial needs.Groundwater is water contained in aquifers, which are subterranean layers of porous rock or soil. Groundwater also plays an important role in maintaining stream flows, although much remains to be learned about the relationship between groundwater and stream flows. Protection and management of the county's groundwater resource is critical.
The majority of the county's drinking water supply is surface water from Lake Whatcom or the Nooksack River; however many county residents use groundwater as a source of drinking water. Over ninety-five percent of 347 public water systems located in the county rely on groundwater. In addition, approximately 20,000 homes obtain water from exempt wells (not from public systems).Groundwater Studies
A number of studies have been conducted over the years to help characterize the quality and quantity of groundwater in Whatcom County. These include:
A $500,000 study was initiated in the early 1990s through the cooperative efforts of Whatcom County, Lynden, Everson, Sumas, United States Geological Survey, and the Washington State Department of Ecology. Whatcom County received a grant from Washington State Department of Ecology to work with the United States Geological Survey to investigate groundwater quality (and to a lesser degree quantity) in the northern portion of the county. Numerous tests were conducted on hundreds of wells, with approximately 20 selected for frequent testing to evaluate seasonal changes.
The program also provided education to area residents by sending information to over 8,000 homes offering free nitrate testing and educational materials.
An effort has been made to develop a working relationship with agencies/partners in Canada because groundwater from Canada flows southward into the U.S. requiring international coordination in order to protect the resource. The Abbotsford/Sumas International Task Force was formed as a result of this study and continues to meet today.
In the early 1990s, Whatcom County, in cooperation with Island residents, received an Department of Ecology grant to provide education and investigate saltwater intrusion and naturally occurring arsenic on Lummi Island.
In a 1997 Department of Ecology nitrate study, the results of a previous $500,000 LENS (Lynden, Everson, Nooksack and Sumas) study were reconfirmed. Department of Ecology sampled 248 wells in the Sumas Blaine surficial aquifer for nitrate and found that 21 percent of the wells tested had levels of nitrate above the maximum contaminant level of 10 ppm. Additionally, 39 percent of the wells tested had levels of nitrate which exceeded half of the maximum contaminant level.
The presence of soil fumigants (EDB, 1,2cDCP and DBCP) in groundwater has been well documented since the mid-1980's. Numerous studies to determine the level and distribution of groundwater contamination have been conducted by various agencies. In 1998 coordinated studies conducted by federal and state agencies reconfirmed the extent of contamination in the county.Research Findings To Date
Through previous and on-going studies much has been learned about groundwater quality particularly in the northern portion of the county. Many still remains to be learned, particularly about water quantity. Key information now includes the following:
Groundwater in Whatcom County is very vulnerable to contamination because much of the county's groundwater lies within a shallow unconfined aquifer. Activities that occur on the surface of the ground directly affect groundwater quality. Shallow wells that draw water from unconfined water table aquifers are at highest risk.Nitrate Contamination
Nitrate contamination is the major concern for groundwater in the county.
The Sumas aquifer has been impacted by agricultural and other activities causing both nitrate and pesticide contamination problems in drinking water supplies. Though there is some variation in study results, approximately twenty percent of wells have levels of nitrate above the maximum contaminant load of 10 ppm, with forty to fifty percent of wells with levels that exceed half the maximum contaminant level.
Nitrate concentrations in some (particularly shallow) wells can vary significantly throughout the year. Concentrations can range from less than the maximum contaminant level to well over the maximum contaminant level depending on when the sample is taken.Sources of Excess Nitrates
The main sources for excess nitrate in drinking water have been determined to include improper application of commercial fertilizers, improper animal manure applications, and improperly designed, installed or maintained septic systems.Pesticides
The presence of pesticides, such as the soil fumigants Ethylene Dibromide and 1,2-Dichloropropane, and Dibromochloropropane have been well documented since the mid-1980s.
Limited data for wells sampled in 1991 and 1998 suggests that levels of the soil fumigants in well water may be decreasing. However results from sampling conducted in 1998 revealed that soil fumigant levels above the Maximum Contaminant Level still exist in at least 12 private wells.
Sources of soil fumigants appear to be associated with historic commercial applications of EDB, 1,2-DCP and DBCP to fields prior to growing potatoes or berries. These fumigants were used to control worms in the soil that attack the roots. EDB and DBCP were banned from use in the 1980's and production of 1,2-DCP was discontinued in 1991.Additional Contaminants
Bacterial contamination is also a concern. Many shallow private wells test positive for the presence of coliform bacteria. This indicates improper well construction or sealing.
Lummi Island groundwater has naturally occurring arsenic levels that in some instances exceeds drinking water standards.
Certain areas within the Lummi Reservation have problems with saltwater intrusion.Health Impacts of Nitrates
The State Department of Health recently completed health assessment considers nitrate the primary contaminant of concern based on concentrations observed, frequency of detection, and potential health impacts.
Ingestion of nitrate can cause anemia. If this condition is not treated, serious health consequences can occur, especially in very young children and other at-risk populations. The maximum contaminant level for nitrate is 10 ppm. Unlike most drinking water maximum contaminant levels, the nitrate maximum contaminant level is based upon an observed human effect in highly sensitive individuals. There is no safety factor incorporated into the standard. In fact, symptoms have been observed in infants exposed to nitrate concentrations slightly above the maximum contaminant level.Soil Fumigants
Ingestion, inhalation, and dermal exposure to the soil fumigants are all considered significant routes of exposure. EDB and DBCP are known to cause cancer in laboratory animals and can impact human health. 1,2-DCP does cause health effects in both people and laboratory animals but available data was not sufficient for either the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Health to classify the carcinogenic potential.
Exposure to levels of the soil fumigants above the maximum contaminant level over a long time period is considered to be a health risk. The maximum contaminant levels for the fumigants (EDB 0.5 ppb, 1,2-DCP 5 ppb and DBCP 0.2 ppb) are considered to be protective of public health.Responding to the Problem
A variety of actions have been undertaken to address the concerns identified. Such actions include:
l. A drinking water database has been developed at Whatcom County Health and Human Services Department to consolidate the results of past groundwater studies. In addition, information on more than 2000 private wells have been added to the database.
2. Public water supply data is now also available in the database. The database also contains all known and available fumigant data that has been collected to date. Drinking water data has been mapped using the Geographic Information System to show the distribution and level of contamination found to date. This information will be used to identify those individuals at risk so that educational materials can be provided, and other actions taken as possible.
3. Maps of existing wellhead protection areas are available through the county Geographic Information System.
4. A comprehensive inventory of existing groundwater studies and information was compiled through the efforts of the Nooksack Water Users Steering Committee. The information is available on hard copy and through electronic media. The documents will be located at a central location.
5. Cooperative Extension and Washington State University have been conducting on-farm research and demonstrations to investigate the flow of nutrients through the farm from feed to cow to field to crop. Research and demonstrations have looked at providing guidance on how to measure existing nutrient levels in manure, soils and crops and how to calculate the current application rates based on this farm data. This work has been grant funded for the past five years and the grants have just ended.Integrated Pest Management Project
Three federal agencies, the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency have jointly decreed that the most effective way to protect the environment from pesticides is through the adoption of integrated pest management. Integrated Pest Management does not mean no pesticide usage, but rather provides a systematic decision-making process that looks at all pest management options.
Cooperative Extension has been implementing Integrated Pest Management research and education through the Nooksack Integrated Pest Management project for the past three years here in Whatcom County. The effort has been funded by a federal Clean Water (319) grant but is scheduled to end June 1999.
The goal of the project is to reduce the reliance on pesticides as the first choice response to the presence of key pests in the production system. The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Project is designed to increase the knowledge, skills, and adoption of practical Integrated Pest Management practices by growers. This project enhances the adaptation of IPM by increasing the capacity of the industry to identify, plan, conduct, and evaluate IPM research in an on-farm production setting. Refer to http://whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/comhort/nooksack/nook1.htm for more information about the project.Manure Ordinance
This past year, Whatcom County passed a manure ordinance that prohibits the application of liquid manure to bare ground or corn stubble in the fall and winter which is during a period of high rainfall and not utilized by a growing crop.Public Water System Requirements
State health regulations include monitoring requirements for nitrate and soil fumigants. Public water systems are required to monitor for nitrate concentrations on a periodic basis (every one to three years).
If nitrate concentrations above one-half of the maximum contaminant level are detected, the water system is required to monitor the source on a quarterly basis. If a concentration above the maximum contaminant level occurs, the water system must notify all customers so sensitive individuals can be protected.
Public systems are also required to evaluate the development of alternate drinking water sources and treatment/blending options when technologically and economically feasible to reduce the nitrate concentration. There are a number of public water systems in Whatcom County that exceed these regulatory limits.
Community public water systems serving residential populations are required to monitor for soil fumigants. If contaminants in the water are identified above an action level (set by state law) further monitoring or treatment may be required.
Small group systems serving fifteen or fewer residential connections or transient non-community water systems (restaurants, grocery stores, migrant labor camps, and similar facilities) are not required to monitor for soil fumigants.
New public systems are required to test for soil fumigants prior to obtaining source approval. If contaminants are found above the action level, further testing may be required.Water Availability Evaluation
As part of the Growth Management Act, applicants for building permits must provide evidence that they have a safe, reliable water supply prior to issuance of a building permit. Testing for nitrate is required at this time. Testing for fumigants may also be required by Whatcom County Health and Human Services. If unsafe levels are found, treatment systems and/or other options are required. The water availability requirement is one of the most effective measures to ensure safe water supplies for new homes.Critical Area Ordinance
Protection of critical aquifer recharge areas is required as part of the Whatcom County Critical Area Ordinance. The ordinance relies upon the State Environment Protection Act process and may need to be reevaluated as part of the larger groundwater protection and management strategy.Wellhead Protection Programs
A number of public water systems in the county have developed wellhead protection programs (Blaine, Sumas, Everson, Deer Creek, Pole Road). Wellhead protection programs are a required part of a comprehensive water plan (State Health regulations) for public water systems that rely upon groundwater.
The program requires the purveyor to identify areas requiring special protection, identify potential contaminants within the areas, and develop/implement strategies to address potential concerns.
One of the limitations of this program is that often the purveyors do not have jurisdictional control over the issue(s) of concern. For that reason, the strategies should be done in coordination with jurisdictions, such as the county, that have authority over the issue of concern.
In the early 1990s, the county applied for and received a grant to work with purveyors to develop a countywide program but was unable to meet the match requirements.Bottled Water
The Department of Ecology has been providing bottled water to those residences known to have wells contaminated with fumigants. Whatcom County Health and Human Services is coordinating efforts to provide a long term permanent solution. This may include an alternative water source or treatment options.Actions Needed to Halt Continuing Deterioration
Groundwater in Whatcom County is an important water resource that deserves a comprehensive strategy to ensure its protection for current uses and future generations. Now is the appropriate time to complete a comprehensive groundwater protection plan.
This plan must integrate existing planning and management efforts, such as the wellhead protection plans and local watershed planning efforts, which will address water quantity issues under 2514.Re-examining the Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas
Only those activities where the county is the lead State Environmental Protection Act agency are evaluated for critical aquifer recharge areas. This leaves many development activities within the recharge areas that do not get adequate review.
The non-conforming laws regarding existing land use and development should be examined. Current non-conforming laws permit non-conforming use to continue within designated wellhead protection areas and critical aquifer recharge areas.
Sunset provisions may be beneficial in providing additional aquifer protection. These changes could be used to affect land-use decisions over the aquifer. This review process could also be used to drive a public education effort to inform the public of the vulnerability of the aquifer and the potential for groundwater contamination.
The county administrative process of recording, routing and tracking permits that may impact our groundwater resource should be examined. The county could benefit from a consolidated system that includes all county permit actions and links to state permitting data as well.Farm Nutrient Flow Analysis & Management
Efforts need to continue to better understand and then develop locally tested best management practices for on-farm nutrient management.
Some farms are increasing herd sizes based on economic necessities, which creates excess nutrients for the land base. Recent work on developing both the production system and market for compost from dairy manure has great potential for this region and needs to continue.
Compost has the capability of taking a surplus of nutrients on a farm and turning it into a value-added product to supplement farm income and provide a valuable commodity to other farmers and home gardeners.New Public Water Systems
If the concentration of nitrate, fumigants or other contaminants equals or exceeds the maximum contaminant level (10 mg/l), public water systems will be required to install and operate a water treatment system, or take other mitigation measures, that will reduce any of the contaminants to concentrations below the maximum contaminant level.
When a contaminant is detected at concentrations below the maximum contaminant level but exceeding a trigger level, public water systems are required to monitor more frequently for the contaminant. This monitoring will better characterize changes over time.
During this time the water system operator can evaluate potential sources of contamination, and identify available resources for installing, operating, and maintaining a water treatment process or other mitigation measures if levels continue to increase.
Public water systems will also be required to show the capability to maintain the water treatment process (or other mitigation measures) over an extended period of time prior to receiving approval or a finding of adequacy.New Individual Water Supplies
The county should consider requiring new private water supplies that exceed 5 mg/l of nitrate be connected to existing or future public water systems. State guidelines already recommend water treatment systems be installed if nitrate concentrations exceed the maximum contaminant level of 10 mg/l.
The county must continue to require treatment of any new water source that is contaminated with fumigants above the Maximum Contaminant Level before issuance of a building permit. Treatment will only be allowed when a public or alternative supply is not available for use.
On-going fumigant monitoring for new water sources that exceed the action level for any of the soil fumigants or connection to a public supply when available will provide further assurance that residents are not at risk.
Owners or developers of private domestic water supplies with contaminant levels at or above the maximum contaminant level are required to treat water prior to approval of the water source by the county.
These owners or developers also must be required to inform future owners or consumers of the potential hazards associated with the contaminants (disclosure on the property title plus other mechanisms).Alternative Options
Alternative water supply options should be examined for north county residents whose drinking water supply has been impacted by contaminants.
A preliminary estimate of extending public water supply lines from the City of Lynden to the area most impacted by fumigant contamination has been made. The project total is currently estimated at $7,200,000. This includes a projected local 25 percent match of $1,800,000. It is hoped that with implementation of the source protection recommendations included in this plan, costs such as this can be avoided. At this time,less costly point-of-use treatment alternatives may still be feasible.
Without timely implementation of a groundwater protection program, our groundwater resource will continue to deteriorate and it will no longer be available for use as a drinking water source.
What to do about Scudder Pond is a question begging for answers. A 1987 study of the pond was done by Claire Cdebaca and Jeanne Funsch of Huxley College and and a summary was published in the May 1987 issue of the school magazine The Planet. A photo that is part of the article shows the pond to be mostly open water with cat-tails (Typha latifolia) on the margins.
Since then the pond has become a marsh dominated by cat-tails. It has only about 20 percent open water in winter, and about half of that is choked with a monoculture of lady's thumb (Polygonum persicaria) in summer. Lady's thumb is an alien weed commonly dominating parts of shallow polluted lakes and ponds in Western Whatcom County. In short, a marsh with two plant monocultures does not present an exciting view. More importantly, the present ecosystem with little structural and floristic diversity does not attract a wide variety of wildlife species.
The pond was formed by beavers that plugged the drainage through an abandoned railway grade that had been converted to a Bellingham city park trail. The city considered the water level a threat to its trail and unplugged the culvert. Human apartment dwellers on the west bank liked the pond and helped the beavers plug the culvert again.
The city unplugged it, and so it went on and on, see-sawing back and forth. Finally, the water level was stabilized after the property owner gave the pond to the North Cascades Audubon Society. The new owner, the city, and the apartment dwellers reached a compromise on the position of the outlet culvert and agreed that it should remain open.Doing Nothing or Next to Nothing
Any significant attempt to increase the open water at Scudder Pond would require a considerable expenditure of volunteer labor and money. It might require diligent pursuit of permits, difficult negotiations, and compromises that would not achieve lasting objectives. Some changes might not be net improvements.
Cat-tails grow in water up to 3 or 3 1/2 feet deep. The culvert is about 2 1/2 feet below the lowest spot in the trail over the old railway grade forming the dam. Thus, by hindsight, one sees that the culvert was set at a level ideal for spreading cat-tails through the pond.
If, instead, had the water level been controlled by a broad concrete spillway set about 6 inches below the lowest spot on the trail, water would have been deeper and there would be no cat-tail marsh today.Beaver Control
The pond was originally controlled by beavers, but now people control the water level by keeping the outlet culvert open. If the present drainage policy is maintained, the property is likely to remain a cat-tail marsh throughout the lives of present Audubon members. If one wants open water, the beavers were right; but of course, they were not concerned with protecting the trail nor the cheapest way to do it.
A cat-tail marsh is not all bad. Red-winged blackbirds and mallards nest there, and blackbirds commonly use cat-tails as perches. Beavers eat cat-tail roots; muskrats eat cat-tails and use them to make their homes, and native amphibians breed there. Open water is beneficial to alien bullfrogs that compete with our native species. Therefore, if there were more open water near the shoreline and we started more aquatic plants beneficial to amphibians, there might be no net gain.
Marsh wrens are seldom seen as one or two. They seem to be communal birds preferring cat-tail marshes of an acre or more where they use the fluff from cat-tails in making their nests. Who knows? Perhaps a Scudder cat-tail marsh could become a great breeding place for marsh wrens.
There used to be numerous cat-tails, many other native plants, and excellent places for a variety of wildlife to breed along the shores of Lake Whatcom. Now the lakeshores just about anywhere near Scudder Pond have been converted to boat docks and grassy lawns. Before altering Scudder Pond, North Cascades Audubon should ascertain whether there is another significant cat-tail ecosystem within about a mile of the pond.Options for Change
The Columbia National Wildlife Refuge near Potholes State Park in Eastern Washington has a program of cat-tail eradication and replacement by plants considered generally more useful to waterfowl. Here are options applied to Scudder Pond outlined by Refuge biologist Randy Hill, and by suggestions from biologist Bob Zeigler of the Washington State Wildlife Department.
Cattails do not grow in water more than 3 to 3 &1/2 feet deep. Removal of accumulated silt and decayed cat-tails by dredging is the only really long-term solution to maintain open water. Dredging is not recommended as it is too expensive and would require complex permitting including the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the Washington Department of Ecology. Moreover, it would be almost totally disruptive to wildlife now using the marsh.
If the water level can be controlled adequately, two other useful options are feasible. Raising the water level to deepen the pond could flood out the cat-tails. This may be feasible at Scudder Pond by raising the outlet, and possibly by raising the trail level. This option will be discussed in detail below. Alternatively, if the pond can be completely drained, a tractor and disc can be brought in to destroy the cat-tails. This option is not recommended as it would be too expensive and too destructive to plants and wildlife. In addition, it is doubtful that the pond could be adequately drained.Removing Cat-tails
If the water level cannot be controlled, there are very few options and none of them is long term. Short-term methods include hand pulling and application of chemicals. Hand pulling is labor intensive and it is difficult to remove the entire base of the plant.
Cat-tails can be killed with the chemical Rodeo. It is similar to Roundup but is made for application in wetlands in late spring or summer when cat-tails are growing and roots are killed. As it also kills all parallel-veined plants such as grasses and sedges, not just cat-tails, it would be best to swab it on the cat-tails instead of spraying. A second application might be needed to kill cat-tails missed by the first applications. Rodeo does not last very long except possibly in the roots. Therefore, it might not be a serious threat to most wildlife, but it might be rough on beavers that eat cat-tail roots. A permit from the Department of Ecology probably would be required.Advantages of Adding Logs
Adding whole logs with root masses to Scudder Pond is an option for inexpensive improvements without changing the water level or removing any cat-tails. A whole log with root masses is certain to be a focal point for visitors. It would attract attention to an otherwise monotonous cat-tail marsh by providing structural diversity, especially if there is a bird, amphibian, or plant in flower on the log.
Such logs would do much more than improve the view. In time they would become platforms for terrestrial plants that can tolerate a nutrient deficient habitat, for example, Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum), monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus), species of the grass and sedge families (Poaceae and Cyperaceae), ferns (Polypodiaceae), and mosses. Submerged roots would provide nurseries for fish and aquatic invertebrates, and attachment sites for egg masses of northwest salamanders and red-legged frogs.
This option would require permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Ecology, and the City of Bellingham. However, it could be relatively inexpensive by requiring only the cost of a dump truck and an excavator if donated logs could be found.Raise the Water Level
If the area of open water is to be increased at Scudder Pond, raising the water level is recommended as the best way to achieve that goal. From physical and financial points of view, it would be easy to raise the water level 2 feet by installing a broad concrete spillway 6 inches below the lowest point on the trail, covering it with a footbridge, and plugging the present outlet culverts. Water could be raised higher by raising the trail level, but that would be more expensive. The principal concerns would be securing permission from the Bellingham Parks Department to change the outlet, and possible flooding to the apartment property at the west shore. If the city resolutely rejects changing the outlet under its trail, this option should be dropped.
Topographically, the water level could be raised at least five feet without being a threat to the apartment buildings. The important questions needing answers are exactly where the boundary between North Cascades Audubon and apartment properties is located, and hence, whether the apartment property would be flooded. There have been allegations that the North Cascades Audubon property is larger than some people envision and that the owner of the apartment property cut trees and shrubs belonging to Audubon. Nevertheless, North Cascades Audubon has not surveyed its property line and the exact location is still unknown. A boundary survey should be done before making a decision to raise the water level.
Is it already too late to raise the water level only two feet? Would enough of the pond become open water to justify the expense? Before making a decision, a survey of the present depth of the pond should be made to determine whether the increase in open water would be warranted.