You are probably aware that an intriguing new housing project called Bellingham Cohousing is currently under construction in the Happy Valley neighborhood. As you drive by, or if you were to float over the project in a balloon right now, it might look like most any condominium project, a muddy quagmire just contributing to more sprawl. The current construction mess belies the reality that we have endeavored to incorporate as many ecological and sustainable features as we could afford in our ambitious project.
The story of trying to implement our vision of sustainable living for a village of 33 homes is one of difficult tradeoffs, with the only reasonable choices often being compromises between less than desirable alternatives. Contrary to what you might be led to believe as a frequent reader of environmental periodicals such as this, the environmental awareness needed by the construction and building materials community to completely and affordably supply a project of this magnitude simply does not exist right now.
There is much more to our story than just how we tried to incorporate hip and ecologically-friendly building materials, however. When thinking about the sustainable features within buildings, homes and communities, we do tend to limit our thinking to things. like building materials and solar powered gadgets. We have plenty of these kinds of features and I describe some of them for you below.
But, from the perspective of those of us in the thick of the project, the most powerful environmental impacts we will likely have on future housing projects in Whatcom County will have less to do with the kinds of materials we are using, and more to do with the extraordinary manifestation of democracy in which we are engaged. The ultimate ecological success of our project will have less to do with building materials and more with the sustainable behaviors we engage in as a community.
I believe we are well on our way.
Bellingham Cohousing will hopefully act as a springboard for building environmental awareness throughout Whatcom County. In turn, this will hopefully increase demand for the kinds of products and services our initial vision included so that future housing projects can include everything on their sustainability wish list.About Cohousing
Cohousing began in Denmark in the late 1960s, and spread to North America in the late 1980s, primarily through awareness brought about by the book "Cohousing, A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves," by Kathryn M. McCamant with Charles Durrett.
There are currently more than a hundred cohousing communities completed or in development across the United States. Cohousing is characterized by private dwellings with their own kitchen, a living-dining room, etc, but also extensive common facilities. The common building may include a large dining room, kitchen, lounges, meeting rooms, recreation facilities, library, workshops, and childcare space. The objective of the typical cohousing infrastructure is to support residents. desire for community.
Usually, cohousing communities are designed and managed by the residents, and are intentional neighborhoods: the future residents are consciously committed to living as a community and the physical design itself encourages that and facilitates social contact. Typical cohousing communities have 20 to 30 single family homes along a pedestrian street or clustered around a courtyard. Residents of cohousing communities often have several optional group meals in the common building each week.
According to McCamant and Durrett, there are six characteristics that distinguish cohousing from other types of housing communities:
1. Participatory Process. Residents participate in the planning, design and development of the community so that it directly responds to their needs. A well-designed, pedestrian-oriented community with no resident involvement in the planning might be "cohousing inspired," but is not a cohousing community.
2. Neighborhood Design. The physical design encourages a sense of community as well as maintaining the option for privacy. It is difficult to define exactly what constitutes "encouraging a sense of community," but rather than saying it must be a pedestrian-oriented design with the cars at the periphery, it is more important that residents are involved in the decision-making and the intent must be to create a "strong sense of community" with design as one of the key ways of achieving that. (Getting together to afford your private golf club does not do it.)
3. Private homes supplemented by common facilities. Common facilities are designed for daily use and are an integral part of the community. Typical features include a dining area, sitting area, children's play room, guest room, as well as garden and other amenities. Each household owns a private residence. complete with kitchen--but also shares in the extensive common facilities with the larger group. (Cohousing is not a shared house. A shared house could be included in a cohousing community but is a different community/housing type.)
4. Resident management. After move-in.
5. Non-hierarchical structure and decision-making. There are leadership roles, but not leaders. The community is not dependent on any one person, even though there is often a "burning soul" that gets the community off the ground, others that pull together the financing, and others that take care of the myriad other tasks necessary to build a project of this scope. Communities that have a leader who sets policy or unilaterally establishes standards are not cohousing.
6. The community is not a primary income source for residents. There is no shared community economy: If the community provides residents with their primary income, this is a significant change to the dynamic between neighbors and defines another level of community beyond the scope of cohousing.
Virtually all of the cohousing projects in the United States have strong environmental values. An ecologically important emerging version of cohousing known as "retrofit" cohousing will likely have the broadest positive influence since it uses existing buildings and infrastructure rather than completely new construction. There are also a number projects around the globe that call themselves "ecovillages," and some of these have cohousing-like attributes.A Brief History of Bellingham Cohousing
The Bellingham Cohousing Group first met on October 22, 1995 when founding members Marinus VanDeKamp and Irene MacPherson gathered with a few friends to explore their cohousing dream. New members came and old friends went different paths, but eventually the vision crystallized into action. During the following year the group investigated alternative building materials and created our first vision statement.
In the fall of 1997 a core group of six households made an acceptable offer on the Donovan Farm and the project was officially underway. In March of 1998, households from another active cohousing group calling itself Whatcom Ecovillage Group joined forces with Bellingham Cohousing in order to ensure its success. The merger of these two groups provided Bellingham Cohousing with the momentum it needed to get the financial backing of Wonderland Hill Development Company, a Boulder, CO-based developer experienced with the peculiarities of cohousing development.
McCamant and Durett, considered the "founders" of cohousing in North America are our architects, with Katie McCamant leading the site layout and common house design efforts, and Chuck Durrett leading the individual home programming and design.
Along the way, we have had a close relationship with Holly O'Neil from River Farm who has helped facilitate meetings and led consensus decision-making workshops for us. The group meeting and collaboration skills we have fostered as a result of our work with her have played a critical role in our success. Ask most any member of our group, and they will tell you that participation in some meetings can sometimes take on a "spiritual" dimension, perhaps due to having to step outside our own egos in order to ensure that the group's vision, not our personal visions, is attained.
Twenty-five of the thirty-three homes are already sold. Move-in is expected in March.Sustainable Building Materials and Techniques in Bellingham Cohousing
Most of our decisions relating to the building materials and techniques we ideally might have incorporated were limited by time and money. We had taken an enormous financial risk in order to buy the land and (still) have a daunting repayment schedule to adhere to. This debt means that we've needed to move the project along as efficiently as possible, and haven't had the time to research and find affordable versions of things on our sustainable wish list.
This entire project has been driven by the volunteer efforts of the future resident's, most of the sustainable building materials and techniques we have actually incorporated were the result of the passionate efforts of a few members who had the time to evangelize their findings to the rest of the group or to the architect and contractor.Some Things We Got:
Site design: The buildings are clustered in order to minimize our footprint on the land--the buildings occupy roughly half of the 5+ acre site. A long-term wetlands restoration project is currently underway on the rest of the site. We are located on a bus line and there is even a bus stop in front of the site.
Our site plan
The Common House: It would have been less expensive to trash the existing 1880-vintage farmhouse on the site and build a new Common House from scratch. Instead, we remodeled it and added an addition. You can tell from the tight grain of the refinished fir floors that they just don't make wood like they used to.
Advanced framing: A framing technique that uses less lumber through clever engineering. Framing connoisseurs will likely debate the details of how ours was done and just how "advanced" it truly is, but as a non-construction person I can at least verify that many of the walls have studs that are 24" on center instead of 16". Our first floor sheathing also acts as our structural sheathing, further reducing the amount of lumber used in the homes, and we used I-beam floor joists instead of solid 2 x 10's and 2 x 12's.
Blown-cellulose insulation: A recycled material that provides 10 percent better insulation value is used in the walls throughout the project.
Shared water and heating systems: Each building has a single water heating system that heats the water used in the radiant heat system as well as the water for domestic use.
Lighting: Compact fluorescent lighting is used within each home, some of the units have strategically placed skylights and light tubes to increase the daylighting.
Bamboo flooring upgrades in some homes: Bamboo is being marketed as a trendy sustainable flooring product and some of us are using it. Sustainable materials aficionados might argue that bamboo flooring has too much embodied energy to be a truly sustainable product since it shipped to us from far away lands. Marmoleum, a sheet flooring product made from linseed oil, is standard in the kitchens and bathrooms of all the homes. The standard carpet we chose is made from recycled pop bottles. Unfortunately, the cost and hassles associated with managing the purchase and installation of used wood flooring eliminated it as an option.
Low-toxic materials throughout: Low formaldehyde fiberglass insulation in the floors and ceilings, and the use of plywood boxes for our kitchen cabinets instead of the more toxic, less expensive, flake-board boxes. Low volatile organic compound glues and paints are also used throughout.Some Things We Didn't
Straw bale: We are frequently asked why we didn't use straw bale construction. The main reason we didn't pursue it very far was that none of the contractors that were interested in working with us had any experience with straw bale, and we couldn't afford to pay them to experiment on us since straw bale buildings have a larger footprint than wood frame buildings this would have driven up the price per square foot of the project as well. And, since our site is very tight, we really didn't have the room for larger buildings anyway.
Sustainably harvested lumber: We thought we were this close. We had made contact with a lumber vendor who claimed he could provide enough certified lumber for the entire project at the same price as conventional lumber. But, when our contractor started making calls to price out the project, this claim turned out to be false.
Further investigation also suggested that if we were really serious about sustainable lumber that we would have to track the wood ourselves as it made its way from the forest where it was logged to our site. We are using sustainably harvested wood from the River Farm for the trim in the Common House. Our second floor shingle panels are made from second-growth cedar.
Metal roofing: Something we painfully eliminated during the budget revision process known as "value engineering."Sharing as a Way to Reduce our Impact on the Earth
Now that the project is nearing completion, we are moving our attention away from construction-related issues to envisioning how we will live together as a community. An important focus for our group is how we will share resources as a way to reduce individual household expenses and to generally reduce our levels of consumption.
The Common House will be an important hub for a lot of this kind of interest and activity. Sustainable features in the Common House include:• A shared guest room that means that not every home in the community needs one
Additional individual resources are being inventoried by a recently formed " community resources committee" that will coordinate the community-wide sharing of "stuff."
Bellingham Cohousing is the result of years of hard work by people dedicated to making the world a better place. We might not have all of the sustainable and ecologically-desirable features that we wished for, but we are getting a lot for our money.
We occasionally hear rumors of a household has declined to join us because we "aren't doing enough for the environment." This is disheartening--like seeing only the half empty side of the cup. We are a village of people walking in the right direction and we still have room for a few more households to join us.For more information
In September of 1999, prior to the general election, the City of Bellingham brought forward a lawsuit funded with the public's tax dollars, against the Drinking Water Initiative (Proposition One). What was at stake was summarized by attorney Rand Jack representing the citizen initiative.
"At stake in this lawsuit is whether the people of Bellingham have a right to initiate a program to protect the watershed that delivers to them safe and essential drinking water."
The city argued that only it had this right. The city also was in court because it apparently continued to refuse to even hold public hearings on land acquisition proposals or to take effective action to protect the drinking water reservoir. The Drinking Water Initiative (Proposition One) would have forced the city to begin buying up land in the watershed for protection.Differing Rules for Initiatives
The City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, and the State of Washington all have different ways of managing the citizen initiative process. The county and state have many specific rules for the fair consideration and handling of this key citizen right: the right of direct legislation by voter initiative.
The initiative processes in Whatcom County and the State of Washington have many ordinances implementing the detailed setting of ballot titles upon filing, a check of the wording for legalities called code review, numbering of ballot measures, and the general fair handling of citizen initiatives.
The Bellingham City Charter has none of these safeguards. It is vague:
• Nothing requires that the city set a mutually agreeable ballot title upon filing.
• Nothing requires that the City Attorney must agree to review the ballot wording for legalities as the county and state do.
• Nothing requires that the city refrain from filing a lawsuit based on information it may have withheld from initiative proponents.
• Nothing requires that the city refrain from using the threat of a lawsuit to attempt to extract concessions from initiative proponents.
• Nothing requires that the city refrain from making misleading statements about a citizen initiative, even if it is before the court.
• Nothing requires that the city refrain from suing an initiative's proponents before it is voted on.
In brief, the city has many avenues to abuse and misuse the citizen initiative process with your tax dollars. The 1999 Drinking Water Initiative (Proposition One) is a prime example of how far the city can go to oppose the citizen initiative process.Drinking Water Initiative Election Results
The 1999 Bellingham Drinking Water Initiative (Proposition One) had exactly 226 more No votes than Yes votes. A total of 21,097 voters participated in the city election. Significantly 4,407 voters didn't know what to think about the initiative and declined to vote yes or no. The 1999 Drinking Water Initiative has been closely (a 1.36 percent difference), but fairly voted down by the public. Or has it?A Question
The following question arose from a Bellingham voter. Considering all of the actions and money spent by the city to defeat the Drinking Water Initiative (Proposition One), do you think their actions affected the close election and the initiative process ? Here is one perspective. You can decide if you believe the city treated fairly this grassroots effort to protect our children's drinking water. We welcome a city perspective and response.A Chronology
Here is a brief list of events regarding the city's treatment of the 1999 Drinking Water Initiative (Proposition One).March 1999
The 1999 Drinking Water Initiative (Proposition One) text (with proposed ballot title) was filed with City Attorney Dawn Sturwold and the county auditor. The Initiative Group requested, in writing, from the City Attorney any information on whether the city could see any problems with the form or content of the initiative.
This is similar to a "code reviser" process required by the county and state upon filing initiatives so that initiatives are in proper form and are less likely to be sued by the county or state.
Initiative proponents wanted to be sure that they were following all the City Charter rules and state law correctly. The request was declined by the city attorney. No City Council vote was taken on this matter.
The initiative proponents assumed city's silence was a green light. Several attorneys experienced with initiatives who had reviewed the wording saw no problems with the wording or intent.
No new ballot title was produced by the city prior to signature gathering. One thousand color copies of the Drinking Water Initiative (Proposition One) with a simple 30 word title were printed. No new ballot title or objection was filed by the city attorney or mayor.April 1999
Volunteer signature gathering began all across Bellingham. The proposal was received with enthusiasm by Bellingham voters.
Several City Council members reported that they had been "warned" not to discuss the Drinking Water Initiative. City Council members also were told not to sign the initiative. None did.
This apparent warning seemed to have the result that the City Council was effectively gagged on this issue while signatures were still being gathered.
Were Bellingham citizens denied representation by their City Council members due to a "gag rule" being in place? Did someone in the city government have the power to silence the City Council at will by perhaps calling any issue "pending litigation?" What was it about protecting Lake Whatcom that caused our city to want to take draconian measures against a grassroots citizen action?July 1999
On July 21, 1999, the Citizen Drinking Water Initiative (Proposition One) was certified by the Whatcom County auditor for the ballot. More than 5,400 Bellingham and regional adults signed their names and agreed to the democratic idea of voting on public land ownership to protect Lake Whatcom.August 1999
In an apparent attempt to force the withdrawal of the now certified citizen Drinking Water Initiative (Proposition One), the City Attorney, Dawn Sturwold, informed proponents that they will be named personally in a taxpayer-funded lawsuit.
The city attorney proposed that the proponents accept a non-binding vote on a watered down "compromise version" in exchange for the city not suing the initiative.
No public City Council vote had been taken at this point. No agreement was reached. The city refused to use their charter option to put up its own "compromise version" on the ballot as a binding measure.September 20, 1999
The city delayed more than the 30 days allowed by the City Charter after the July 21 certification by the County Auditor, to pass or reject the measure or put up their own alternative.
By belatedly rejecting it, the measure forced its own way onto the ballot. Was this delay a violation of due process under section 10 of the Bellingham City Charter?September 20, 1999
Late in the evening meeting the city created a new, longer, more negative, and confusing ballot title, and named the initiative "Proposition One" only days prior to ballots being printed. The likely effect of this last-minute ballot title change probably was that many of the signatories no longer recognized the original initiative as the same as Proposition One on the ballot.
The Bellingham City Council meeting did not allow for public testimony or a sufficient appeal process for the new, mostly negative, confusing, and very long ballot title. The new title was generated within days of absentee ballots being printed so no appeal before the Whatcom Superior Court would even have time to change the printing.
The City of Bellingham voted to pursue a taxpayer-funded lawsuit (declaratory judgment) prior to the election and possibly prejudiced the democratic election process. The mayor and city did not offer to fund the legal defense of the citizen initiative. Was this a hostile lawsuit filed by the city to possibly defeat the initiative before voters had a chance to cast one ballot on the matter?
The city had unlimited tax funds to pursue suing the initiative into oblivion. The citizen initiative proponents luckily found volunteer attorneys who argued that Bellingham citizens do have a right to protect their drinking water when the city will not act to do so.October 1999
The Bellingham mayor and city attorney continued making public statements about the facts regarding Bellingham's drinking water quality and the ballot proposition. The city continued with its claims that the initiative probably was illegal, invalid, or would likely be thrown out. These statements had the potential effect of undermining support for the ballot measure. Was this activity an improper attempt to influence the Court on a pending legal matter prior to a hearing by the judge?
Whatcom County Superior Court Judge, Honorable Steven Mura, deferred a ruling on the city's lawsuit saying it would probably affect the election. Was that a possible attempt by the city to use the court to prejudice the voters?November 1999
On November 2 the 1999 Drinking Water Initiative was defeated by a slim margin of 226 votes out of 16,690 votes on the proposition. (See page 14 for detailed summary of the voting.)Initiative Process Needs Better Rules
You can decide. Did the city's actions possibly affect the outcome of this close election? Should the city have informed proponents that they were planning on suing the initiative, before signatures were even being gathered? Was the citizen initiative process treated fairly by the city? Should the rules regarding citizen initiatives be changed by the city?
The Drinking Water Initiative proponents will be proposing adoption of additional simple rules that we believe the city should adopt to prevent future abuse of the Citizen Initiative process. These rules are the same as those used by Whatcom County and the State of Washington and will substantially reduce the chances that future initiatives will be challenged on such grounds by the City of Bellingham. They also will protect your rights as a citizen to retain your right to vote on issues.
Whatcom Watch welcomes a city response to this article.
I'll avoid the mathematical debate over when the new century and millennium actually begin (I know we have 12 and a half months or so to go) by simply saying that the Legislature is about to hold its first session in a year that begins with the number two. In the 60-day session convening January 10, we face a great many challenges involving a great many issues. Initiative 695 will capture the lion's share of attention--demanding, for one thing, that legislators redouble efforts to streamline state agencies and re-emphasize government efficiency.
Yes, I-695 will likely seize many of the legislative headlines. But I want to concentrate on the biggest of the environmental matters that will come before us in Olympia. Most of them are issues with which I've dealt for many years. And I think we're at least getting close to resolving some of them. Every policy needs to focus on performance . on what the policy really means for communities in our state. We must also ask, "Is there sufficient funding for the policy to do its job?" If there isn't then it's not worth the paper it's printed on!Pipeline-safety Standards
I've been talking about pipeline safety the last several months with Bellingham-area residents, local-government officials, and oil-company representatives. Citizens and families in each of our communities want, first and foremost, policies that stress prevention of pipeline tragedies. We have a responsibility to make sure every pipeline is fit for service, particularly pipelines over which we have control because they are located entirely within our state.
It shouldn't take an awful disaster such as the pipeline explosion in Bellingham earlier this year to get something done. That said, we are holding open and frank discussions about where to go from here. The House Agriculture and Ecology Committee met in Bellingham a few months ago to take public comment on initial findings of the Governor's Fuel Accident Prevention and Response Team. On December 13, the governor discussed recommendations he will ask the Legislature to pursue. Some of the most important directions include:
• A more substantial training program for pipeline operators, as well as increased inspection of pipelines for any abnormalities.Clean and Plentiful Water
• stricter standard at the state level for pipeline safety than at the federal level, as long as the stricter state standard doesn't interfere with interstate commerce.
• A better system of specific information about the location of pipelines and cables, and stiffer penalties against people who don't use the one-call system to find out where these things are located.
• A review of the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) to broaden the council's examination of siting requests and possible inclusion of provisions of the State Environmental Policy Act in EFSEC decisions.
• A Citizens. Advisory Committee to make sure the community is fully aware of the process of inspection and has an opportunity to make recommendations.
The twin goals of clean water and state control over its own destiny are reflected in clean-water policy I support adopting in the 2000 Legislative Session.
Importantly, the federal government has delegated to Washington and other states the implementation of the Clean Water Act, which is a federal policy aimed at restoring this most precious part of our natural resources. While we've come a long way in cleaning our waterways, we need stronger water-quality laws because pollution is still a serious problem in some regions.
I've worked on this specific issue for 18 months now. Legislation should reflect recommendations reached by citizens and the regulated community in what has been a very public process, including six public meetings and countless interviews across the state. If Washington doesn't come up with a plan to correct water-pollution problems, the federal government will step in and write a "one-size-fits-all" program that won't guarantee clean water.
Proposals can't circumvent the federal Environmental Protection Agency settlement involving projects in what is called the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process.
Every two years, according to TMDL terms of the federal Clean Water Act, a list is compiled of waters that don't meet quality standards. The process requires a study to spell out exactly how much pollution is allowed . pollution from both the point sources (direct causes of water pollution) and the non-point sources (indirect causes).
We need to provide more certainty in our water-quality laws. Citizens, businesses, and local governments should be able to feel confidence in the predictability and effectiveness of these policies.
Serious problems loom if we surrender state control to the federal government. The Environmental Protection Agency, for one thing, hasn't focused on non-point pollution. Let's remember that a growing number of water-pollution problems are caused by something other than pollution at the end of a pipe, whether it's storm-water runoff from urban areas or soil erosion from more rural areas. We need to look at all causes and all opportunities to protect our state's waters, because we're all responsible.Clean-air Account
Although Whatcom County looks pretty good, according to statistics, many other parts of Washington are on the verge of suffering financial penalties for air-pollution problems. For this and other reasons, now is not the time to take more money out of air-quality funding. Some citizens might think that the impact of Initiative 695 is limited to transportation projects. But with I-695 taking $750 million a year out of the state treasury, many programs and services, not just transportation, are up against the wall.
The Air Pollution Control Account, for example, could lose as much as $12 million of the $23 million originally funded for the 1999-2001 biennium. Commute-trip-reduction programs and air-quality monitoring are two areas funded in the account. In terms of future federal transportation dollars, that's very significant for our state.
If the monitoring program is gutted, the federal government probably has every reason to question the sincerity of our commitment to controlling air pollution. We've also got to make sure vehicles meet emission standards in order to stay in compliance.
As the Legislature searches for ways to "backfill" important areas of the budget, we. d better keep reasonable funding for air-pollution control. Proper funding for mass transit and rail, and for encouraging car-pooling as much as possible, is a must.Recycle, Reuse, Reduce
The Department of Ecology reported recently that, although our recycling efforts still fall below 1995 levels, Washington citizens in 1998 did improve their recycling habits over 1997'statewide, the rate was 34.1 percent last yeas, almost two percent better than the previous year. (The rate in 1995 was 39.3 percent.)
We need a serious look at recommendations to build on the Waste Not Washington Act passed a decade ago. Since 50 percent recycling goal was established in this recycling law, we've clearly got a ways to go. But we also have some work to do on two other "R's": reuse and reduce. We should reuse products whenever we can, and we should reduce waste generation up front. Let's take a big chunk out of the waste we've historically trucked off to the landfill!
Certainly, we need to re-emphasize the importance of recycling in our daily lives, as well as in our public-policy decisions. Recycling will be a big issue in the next session. I sat on a recycling task force this interim, and there will be common-sense recommendations made which I believe will help us in our overall waste-management programs.
We very much need to continue working with our neighbors in British Columbia . an especially important consideration, of course, for those of us who call Whatcom County home. Clean air and water know no geopolitical boundaries, and international cooperation such as that of the Abbotsford/Sumas Aquifer effort need to be continued and expanded. Smart, preservation of farmland, and appropriate support for our system of state parks represent additional, tremendous opportunities for the Legislature to do the right thing. If we do less, we fail ourselves, we fail future generations, and we fail the other creatures and the natural resources with which we share the planet.
One way to grasp the significance of global warming for the Pacific Northwest is to ask, "How important is water here?" The answer is obvious--water is the defining element of this region, shaping our environment, economy, outlook and culture. An alternate name for our place is Cascadia. Bioregional thinker David McCloskey says the name signifies the cascades of water rolling through the region in a great cycle encompassing ocean, sky, land and rivers.12
Pacific storms whisking in overhead write their signature across the landscape in the shape of the world's most expansive band of coastal temperate rainforests. An emblem of the Northwest, they grow taller and thicker than any other forests on the planet.
Water is the lifeblood of the iconic Northwest salmon. The runs depend on rivers well fed by rains and snow melting off white-capped peaks, another important symbol of the Pacific Northwest. Mountain streams also feed reservoirs supplying Seattle, Portland and other cities and towns with some of the purest drinking water around. Most of the Northwest's electricity is generated by water, and east of the Cascades one of the world's richest farming areas is watered by a vast irrigation network. The majority of Northwesterners live by water, in cities and towns on rivers and coasts.
We consider forests, salmon, snowcapped mountains and rivers abundant with water for cities, power and farms to be enduring features of Northwest life. But each is dependent on arrival of the right amount and quality of water at the right time. If we disturb nature's free water delivery service, changing any of its three key aspects--quantity, quality and timing--it spells trouble. Such disruption is precisely what global warming threatens to bring home.
Of course, increasing temperatures will have some direct effects on the region. But the way warming might alter water flows is the greatest potential danger climate change poses for the Pacific Northwest. Much of this paper turns around the connection of global warming and a skewed water cycle.
If the climate develops in the way that scenarios suggest, it will mean that sometimes, particularly in winter and spring, there will be too much water, causing floods and mudslides. Often in late summer and fall there will be too little. Forests will dry out, becoming more vulnerable to catastrophic fires and disease outbreaks. Salmon find new obstacles to spawning in swollen winter streams that wash out nests and overheated summer streams with too little water. Low flows will also choke hydropower production and irrigated farms.
El Nino and other natural climate variations bring warm, dry spells to the Northwest every few years. These variations are regarded as dress rehearsals for climate change. (See sidebar, El Nino's Double Whammies.) Climate change could considerably exacerbate dry spells by increasing evaporation and changing runoff patterns.
Water supply is already very much a zero-sum game in much of the Northwest--for someone to win, someone must lose. This is one reason why the salmon crisis on the Columbia has become so intractable. Meanwhile, growing populations and economies are expected to put even more pressure on regional water resources. In the context of these escalating demands, the "primary impact" of climate change in the Northwest "will be increased competition and conflict over access to water supply," Miles says.13Snowpack: Losing Half of the Northwest's "White Gold"
We're all familiar with nature's water delivery "pipes"--the clouds that carry water from the ocean and drop it on the landscape. Many are less aware of the huge "reservoir" system through which nature stores water for our typically dry summers. This is the mountain snowpack, massive layers which annually bulk up with heavy winter precipitation.
While rivers west of the Cascades are primarily fed by rainfall, melting mountain snow sustains rivers east of the mountains during the dry season, particularly the mighty Columbia. More than a skier's delight, snowpack is a crucial element of Northwest life. Sixty percent of water flowing through Washington state began as melting snow.25 During the dry months streams and rivers gushing with snowmelt carry salmon and recharge groundwater beneath mountain forests. Snowmelt fills municipal reservoirs. The Pacific Northwest draws the majority of its electricity from hydroelectric dams that suck power from snowmelt-driven rivers. The region's seven million irrigated acres mostly rely on those rivers. For the Northwest, snowpack is white gold.
"A typical mid-winter storm deposits snow in the Columbia watershed that will be used in the summer for hydropower and irrigation and can be valued in many millions of dollars," notes University of Washington atmospheric scientist Robert Fleagle.26
Global warming threatens to eliminate half the Northwest snowpack resource. This "is likely to be the most important of the consequences of global warming to the Northwest," Fleagle says. While Northwest winters are projected to have more precipitation they are also projected to be warmer. So less will fall as snow and more as rain. Snow that does accumulate will vanish more quickly--nothing melts snow faster than rain. (Rain-on-snow is the source of most of the Northwest's severe floods, a topic covered in a following section.)
Warmer temperatures promise to elevate freezing levels. The PNNL model, with its detailed resolution of heights, shows average Cascades snowline rising from its current 3,000 feet to 4,100 feet by 2050-80.27 More snow may pile up in regions where the temperature stays well below freezing, typically above 9,000 feet. But the loss of snowpack in far more extensive lower elevation areas is projected to more than cancel that out. The PNNL model shows the volume of water stored in Northwest snowpack shrinking 50 percent by 2050-80. In the scenario some areas near snowline see snowpack drop by up to 90 percent.28 Many Northwest mountain areas in the 3,000-6,000-foot range become snow-free.
Only 40-60 percent of today's average March snowpack is projected to remain in most of the Cascades and interior eastside mountains of Oregon and Washington. The westside Oregon Cascades take an even harder hit--most slopes retain 20 percent or less of current snowpack. (The somewhat higher Idaho and Montana Rockies lose 30 percent of snowpack overall.)29 Because snow moderates heat by reflecting sunlight back to the sky, the albedo effect, a reduced snowpack alone can add 1 deg F to warming, Leung notes.30
With less snowpack, and warmer, rainier spring months, mountains are expected to lose their snow cover earlier in the year, making for earlier runoff. Eastside rivers such as the Columbia are expected to flow more like their rainfall-driven westside cousins. Rainfall-driven rivers also are likely to see flows increased in winter and decreased in summer.31
In the PNNL scenario for mid-century, runoff in Oregon and Washington will surge well above current levels through winter. Total annual streamflow will be higher but the peak will be sooner. In Oregon runoff will peak in March, instead of May as it does now. Around the beginning of April, it will dip below the present amount and remain significantly lower until September. Washington today experiences maximum runoff in May and June. The scenario shows it will tail off by early May, then stay lower all spring and summer.32
"Streamflow is reduced at the time you need it most, in July, and August," Leung notes. "This is the biggest problem in Washington and Oregon under doubled CO2."33
"The earlier melt effectively lengthens the period between the end of snowmelt and the onset of fall rains," says Alan Hamlet, a JISAO streamflow expert. "In hydrologic terms this is like making summer several months longer than it is now."34
The Northwest experienced droughts in 1987-88 and 1992-94 which resulted in low streamflows, Hamlet notes. Among the consequences were $575 million in added expenses to Bonneville Power Administration in 1992-93, mandatory lawn watering restrictions in Seattle in 1992, and 1994 streamflows 10 percent below the target for salmon on the Columbia and 25 percent below on the Snake. Such severe low flow events are now expected four years out of every 40. By 2020, under a middle of the road climate scenario, odds are for eight drought years out of every 40, and by 2050, 12 out of 40. That represents a doubling of the risk in 20 years and tripling in 50.35
The human-made reservoirs behind Northwest dams hold an impressive amount of water. Over 100 reservoirs on the Columbia system can store about one-third of the river's annual flow. They catch winter-spring runoff for use in the dry summer and fall. But they are not equipped to store water from year to year, or to compensate for the loss of half the snowpack.
Reservoirs tend to run short when snowpack is low or the summer-fall dry spell lasts longer than usual. And in heavy runoff years, reservoirs fill to capacity, limiting their ability to control floods and forcing dam operators to spill water early. Both these extremes are likely to be more frequent in a warming world. The region could be forced to build additional reservoirs at great economic and environmental cost. And the best sites are dammed already.
One of the scenarios developed by JISAO, based on global modeling done by Max Planck Institute (MPI), projects that the Columbia-Snake hydrosystem, which now meets firm energy requirements 96 percent of the time, would slip down to 82 percent by 2050.36 That signals large new regional investments in energy efficiency and generating capacity.
For irrigation, reliability drops even more. For example, the Upper Snake now reliably provides water to farmers 97 percent of the time. By 2020, that is expected to go down to 84 percent. The Middle Snake, now only reliable only 86 percent of the time, drops to 70 percent.37 The growing season may be longer, but water supplies could be severely constricted. Higher temperatures are likely to increase demand even as supply is decreasing. All this represents a substantial economic threat to farmers.
Less water in rivers will also multiply the impact of farm runoff, the largest nonpoint source of Columbia River pollution. Just when flows of pollutants are highest, flows of water will be lowest, limiting the pollution diluting capacity of the river.
Skiers would also suffer. The season could be abbreviated by around a month, Leung says. With snowlines moving higher, runs could stop short of the base of current chair lifts.38 Most ski areas are located near current snowlines where snowpack losses are expected to be highest. Among the most vulnerable are resorts on Snoqualmie Pass in Washington, on Vancouver's north shore in British Columbia, and in Oregon's Blue Mountains.39Coming in February, Part Three:
It is 8:00 a.m., and about an hour of driving has deposited me exactly where I hoped I would be, in the ditch. No, I am not calling AAA, or flagging down a friendly 4x4 driver with a tow chain. No, this is the same ditch I have been frequenting for years.
And this isn't just any ditch. It took me years to find this awesome ditch. The salmonberry here is unusually abundant; I often accumulate a five gallon bucket of berries before noon, not including the berries that end up down my shirt or in my hair. A five gallon bucket of berries, when full, can yield over 500,000 seeds. Of course my quota is delayed because many of the best, most succulent berries end up in my mouth and, oh, they are soooo good.
The neighbors of this ditch, non-human and human, seem to remember me and go about their business as though my actions are part of this system. Time flies by with the birds around me involved in their own harvest. Eventually, the couple that for 25 years has lived on this land and adjacent to this ditch come out to greet me. They welcome me back and we discuss the weather, the state of my business, and of the course the number of berries and which taste better, the orange salmonberries or the red ones. They prefer the red, I the orange.
In a sense, collecting seed is much like fishing is to an avid fisherperson. I know about where the seeds (or fish) are, but I don't know if the harvest will be bountiful, crop failure has occurred, or I will get my bucket snagged and lose everything. And of course, the hope is always of catching the big one or finding the unexpected.
This is my summer job. I sell native plant seed to commercial growers of native plants. There are many large companies involved in this industry, but my niche is to work with smaller growers and project managers who desire seed from the watershed where the plants will be planted and live their lives.
I suspect the lone fly fisher on a river will agree, part of the pleasure is spending hours and days in out-of-doors observing the details and anecdotes of the critters that live in these areas. This process of observation and discovery has captivated me, offering its lessons and points-of-view on the world in subtle and painfully obvious ways.
Urban and suburban sprawl has rendered habitat rare, and often the ditch is the last vestige of native diversity. Local songbirds rely on ditches for food and shelter. Bees and wasps pollinate many native plants.
To sustainably harvest native plant seeds, I first observe flowering and fruiting patterns. This knowledge enables me to choose collecting sites and recognize when there is not enough bounty for us all.
Next, I respect that I'm not always a welcome intruder. When the black-capped chickadees scream,I know that I am too close to a nest and must move on to the next uncontested grove. Here I am allowed to harvest, often with the same birds that chased me out of the last patch.
Finally, I work side-by-side with bees and wasps. This was no easy task for a guy who is allergic to bee stings, but no bees, no seeds.
I am prone to be self-righteous, but admit to learning a lot from young and old alike who live of and by the land. With permission, people are generous with access to their land and stories of years gone by.
Many are incredulous that anyone would want to buy or grow these "weeds" at all; they have been fighting them for years as unwanted "weeds" encroaching into their landscaped areas.
However, most people I meet are genuinely interested in how these plants are being used to revegetate and undo some of the damage we have done to the planet and enjoy being a part of the healing process.
Perhaps the greatest lesson I've learned is pay attention to the small wild places that still remain in our neighborhoods; they are part of the mosaic that makes this part of the world what it is. And who knows, maybe someday we'll be fishing in these ditches.
The 1999 Washington State Legislative Session was billed in advance as the Salmon Session, the year when our state government would step up to the plate and hit a home run for salmon.
It was a reasonable expectation. After all, Puget Sound Chinook salmon were to be listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act while the Legislature was in session. What could be a more compelling reason to take action?
Public support for salmon recovery was strong enough to give any politician courage: poll after poll were conducted and we learned that a large majority of citizens in this state do support clean water, salmon recovery, and a healthy environment. Yet while legislators and the governor claim that progress was made for salmon, the truth is, opportunities were lost.Timber Bill
The legislative centerpiece for salmon in 1999 was the Timber Bill. It was heralded as a new era in environmental protection by legislators. It is a major piece of legislation that will affect this state for decades to come.
The Timber Bill was crafted by timber companies and their lobbyists, Governor Locke's office, various agency heads (all of whom rely on the governor and the legislature for their funding), some of the tribes, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Strongly opposing were all conservation groups, commercial fishing groups, seven tribes, and nearly all scientists.Quiet Opposition
Silent on this bill were the many scientific staff at the agencies who quietly opposed the deal. A staff member at the Environmental Protection Agency, one of the agencies that agreed to the deal, later wrote,"We do not contend the agreement fully protects fish in forested lands, especially in the short term. And, yes, there are ways that the risk to fish could have been reduced even further and clearly this is not a scientific judgment, but a political one."
While the Timber Bill demonstrated a smart political campaign by the industry, unfortunately we won't see much of a response from salmon. Salmon, simple creatures that they are, respond to basic biological needs and not political compromise. In searching for cool, clear water salmon fry won't appreciate that the Timber Industry still writes its own ticket in the Legislature. A great tax cut for big timber won't convince them to hatch out of sediment-smothered eggs.Taken For a Ride
And what was all the Timber Bill fuss about? Why will the informed public in Washington need to keep their eyes on this? The Timber Bill was a vehicle; the driver was the timber industry, and the passenger in the van was the "Forests and Fish Report"--a proposal for new forest practice rules on state and private land.
The "Forests and Fish Report" was one of several proposed new rules for the citizen-based Forest Practice Board to look at. Normally the board would have waded through all of them. There would have been a process of examining proposed rules and their impacts. Citizen and scientific input would have been included. In the end, the board would have adopted one rule, or a combination of several rules. The Timber Bill rode right over the board and that process. The Timber Bill passed by the Legislature and promoted by Governor Locke, forced the Forest Practice Board to adopt rules written by the timber industry.The Timber Bill
The Timber Bill was an expensive vehicle (we'll be paying it for decades) and it contained:
l. Industry-wide tax cuts
2. A 50 year guarantee from enforcement under the Endangered Species Act
3. No prohibition from cutting trees and then converting private timberland to residential housing.
The "Forests and Fish Report," merely an unfinished draft report when its companion Timber Bill was passed, also specifies the way in which power will be transferred from the citizen-based Forest Practice Board to the Timber, Fish, and Wildlife Committee, essentially the timber industry.Adaptive Management
There continues to be much talk about the adaptive management component of this bill. That is, if science shows that salmon are not recovering, changes to the rules will be made.
There are two problems with the adaptive management part of the "Forests and Fish Report." One is that the group making the decision on adaptive management is largely the timber industry. They are writing their own rules.
The second is that forests recover slowly. The new rules, as written, allow for clear-cutting to the stream edge on over half of the streams. Once cut, the trees are,... well,... cut. It will take decades for new trees to have the same function as an older forest.Plums For Industry
The tax cuts contained in the Timber Bill were a particular plum for the biggest timber companies. In protesting the generous tax cuts to the industry, Senator Valorie Loveland (D-Pasco) said, "It's a federal law. Why should the state have to pay them to follow it?"
Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish) said, "I don't believe in paying somebody not to do bad things." But many of his fellow legislators did and the tax cuts add up to $160 million in the next 15 years.
Over the 50 year lifespan of this agreement you, our neighbors, and I will be kicking back $1 billion for this legislation, primarily to big timber companies. The passage of I-695 puts those tax cuts in a new perspective. Where will the money come from?Scientific Monitoring Unfunded
At this time of extraordinary largesse to the timber industry, the Legislature is not providing the funding needed to monitor the science of the bill. Curt Smitch, one of the bill's backers said, "We can't treat this as a normal monitoring program that never gets funded. One of the promises was scientific evaluation and research to find out if salmon are being protected. Now it seems that the money just isn't there for science."
And what did the citizens of this state get? Somewhat better streamside protection on our state and private timberlands. This is, however, only a fraction of the protection found on federal lands, and not enough to recover salmon. Twenty percent of streams will have buffers of 50 feet; other streams will have narrower stands of trees. And the very headwaters of our rivers will receive no protection from clearcutting. We will still have sediment in our salmon streams and warmer water in our rivers.Scientific Report Flawed
Twenty-eight prominent scientists wrote a letter to the Legislature to say that they oppose the timber bill because it represents a high risk to salmon. Their letter stated that,
"Few data are presented, and there is no explanation as to how data were gathered. There are no literature citations associated with the numerous statements of fact within the Report, and no explanation of how the vast literature on salmon habitat requirements was used to form the Report's conclusions. Most importantly there has been no independent scientific review of the Report. Further, review of the Report suggests that some of its conclusions contradict findings published in scientific journals."
There has been no study of the chances of success with the experimental buffers called for by the timber industry. However, in a study with somewhat larger buffers, salmon had only a 28 percent chance of survival. In short, the new timber rules are unlikely to work.An Unworkable Plan
It is increasingly apparent that our efforts at environmental compromise are delivering results that don't work for anyone. During the Timber Bill debate I heard from a local logger that the rules are unmanageable, unenforceable, and they just won't work on the ground. As people are now discovering, the rules are confusing.
The "Forests and Fish Report," the industry proposal for new forest practice rules on state and private land, calls for three different kinds of buffers on the streams it protects. In a trial run in Lewis County in August, two different foresters lined up two completely different buffers for the same stream. Clearly, the "Forests and Fish Report" was written by timber executives, not by people marking or cutting trees.
John Edwards, former manager of forest practices for the state Department of Natural Resources said, "It's going to be almost impossible to explain and very difficult, to implement on the ground. I don't think anyone was thinking about implementation. It just isn't going to work. And once trees are cut you can't stand them back up."Campaign Donations
Timber lobbyists trotted out the small timberland owners. However, the same lobbyists did not support a good bill to help the same small timber land owners. That bill failed. This Timber Bill was all about the economic interests of big timber companies. And they planned their campaign well. According to a study of campaign donations conducted by WashPIRG, timber interests donated over $265,000 to state legislative races in 1998. They significantly increased donations this last campaign season over the previous years. How did our Whatcom County legislators do? Let's have a look at their donations from the timber industry (see Campaign Donations sidebar on facing page).
The outcry from the local conservation and fishing communities was strong. Jeff Morris, in bucking the tide and voting "No" said, "I voted with the people from the 40th District who made the effort to contact me and let me know their opinion. I received virtually no contacts asking me to vote for this bill. This was the deciding factor for me." It is very likely that Linville, Ericksen, and Quall had a similar experiences, yet they chose to vote for the Timber Bill.One Step for Fifty Years
We have all heard the argument from elected officials that they are searching for balance, or that "this is a step forward." In many cases, that's appropriate. There is no question that the new rules blessed by the Legislature are better for forests and fish than what we currently have. Yes, it is a step forward. Unfortunately, it's a small step forward that has been frozen in place for the next 50 years. That one small step didn't get us to a healthy river. And regarding balance, tell it to the salmon searching in vain for a cold spot to rest in the river.
To receive updates on local and state action that impacts salmon, and what you can do to help, please send an email to: email@example.com
For a summary of the 1999 legislative session by environmental organizations see the July 1999 issue, page 4, and for a response by Representative Kelli Linville see the Aug./Sep. issue.Campaign Donations: How They Voted
|No||Senator Harriety Spanel (D-40)||$0||$0||$0||$0|
|No||Rep. Jeff Morris (D-40)||N/A*||N/A*||$200||$1,450|
|Yes||Rep. Dave Quall (D-40)||$150||$100||$1,150||$1,100|
|No||Senator Georgia Gardner (D-42)||N/A*||N/A*||N/A*||$0|
|Yes||Rep. Kelli Linville (D-42)||N/A*||$2,375||$750||$2,775|
|(co-sponsor of the bill)|
|Yes||Rep. Doug Ericksen (R-42)||N/A*||N/A*||N/A*||$3,000|
|(co-sponsor of the bill)|
These notes are my reflections on key actions that shaped the creation and the outcome of the Drinking Water Initiative (Proposition One) in the general election of 1999. In this article an important distinction needs to be made between cooperation and competition. I maintain that cooperation achieves a higher goal.
Prompted by decades of non-action by elected officials and committees, Tim Paxton, Marian Beddill, and myself formed The Initiative Group in the spring of 1998. We explored how we, as citizens, could move the city's legislative body to protect Lake Whatcom as the drinking water reservoir for the citizens of Bellingham and nearby water districts.Ongoing Dialogue
For over a year, we met as often as three times a week, exchanged numerous phone and electronic communications, and gathered opinions from many citizens and elected officials. We brainstormed. We researched. We wrote and re-wrote. We thought we had it, and then we found new information or adjusted opinions, and had to change it again. Throughout the dialogue, we respectfully listened to one another's ideas, took responsibility for follow-up on tasks, and communicated openly our questions and intentions.Forest Protection
This cooperative effort resulted in The Forested Watershed Protection Program (The Drinking Water Initiative-Proposition One), a proposal to fund protection of the forests and thus the water supply from the Lake Whatcom and Middle Fork Nooksack watersheds. The Drinking Water Initiative document was drafted and printed, and we began the process of obtaining signatures to place the measure on the November ballot. With the cooperation of many citizens, enough signatures were gathered to obtain certification of the ballot measure by the county elections officer. Competition in two camps then changed the nature of the effort.Executive Privilege
First, Mayor Mark Asmundson began influencing the citizens. direct legislative process by:
1. using the power of innuendo to undermine the credibility of the ballot measure. One of several misleading statements by the mayor indicated that the Initiative would likely cost each household $144 per year; however, in the Initiative, it was clearly stated that the cost to each household was to be determined by city council, not by passage at the voting booth,
2. canceling scheduled meetings to hear the proposal,
3. convincing an indecisive city council to follow his lead, and
4. slapping a lawsuit, "Motion for Summary Judgment," on the Initiative and naming the three of us as defendants. Legal action prior to the election appeared to be an attempt by the elected officials to influence voters.
This is not a democracy working in cooperation. This is a republican form of government working in competition. The precise impact of the mayor's legal action on the ballot measure cannot be determined, except in the mind of thoughtful voters. Why would the mayor, apparently, be motivated to such action?Stormwater Sewer Project
Rather than fund watershed protection, the current administration wants to ask the citizens of Bellingham to finance a new treatment facility and a new network of storm water sewers to collect urban runoff from Lake Whatcom residential areas.
Their view, an insidious form of competition, has been that if citizens agreed to fund Proposition One, they would be loathe to fund the storm water plan. I am concerned not only that further residential development in the watershed will be encouraged and supported by such a plan, but that it will be financed from city-wide taxes to clean up the runoff and residue caused by lakeside neighborhoods and continued watershed development.Competition Supplants Cooperation
The second factor related to behavioral training, in which competitive habits cannibalized the cooperative effort. This occurred when the The Initiative Group committee was expanded for the campaign effort.
Since the beginning, The Initiative Group committee had worked in cooperation for a common goal. Although, there were slight differences between us, we allowed each idea to go through a process of being brought forth and molded, shaped over many conversations, with the text being worked and reworked. Each idea was viewed from as many perspectives as possible.
When the initiative committee expanded, two lawyers volunteered to help, and a fundamental change in the committee's values and goals took place. Their legal education was adversarial. They did not express any understanding of or make any distinction between their competitive behavior and the cooperative behavior that brought the Drinking Water Initiative to this junction."Flawed Initiative"?
Within two weeks, after expanding to the campaign committee, lawyers from the committee held a meeting with city Councilwoman Barbara Ryan and Mayor Mark Asmundson, resulting in their agreeing with the mayor that the initiative was flawed, and should be replaced by a city version.
The city's version did not come close to our original intentions. Our version included dedicated funds for buying forest land, oversight by a citizen's commission, and using certified sustainable forestry practices as a higher source of revenue for continued land acquisition.Communication Declines
Suddenly, the free expression between committee members and the elected officials was limited to a self-appointed legal spokesperson. One member limited his involvement to business hours only, and when we had questions about the city's version that needed to be answered, calls were not returned in a timely manner.
At that time a full discussion of possible actions was not possible. Critical review in the strategy meetings stopped. With few individual discussions and no group discussions, decisions appeared to be left to the lawyers, city Councilwoman Barbara Ryan and the Mayor, Mark Asmundson. This dissention resulted in the fracturing of the original The Initiative Group committee.
The Ryan-Asmundson meeting led us to question why the lawyers were asked to join the committee in the first place. It was reasoned that two functions were needed, one being related to a successful campaign and the other being the need for strategy. Initially, they were asked to be part of the campaign . fund raising, signs, advertisements, public relations. The Initiative Group founders had intended to continue their own collaboration in forming the campaign strategy.Removal of Certified Initiative
For over a month, there were discussions between Councilwoman Ryan and Councilwoman Louise Bjornson, the mayor, the city attorney, and some members of the campaign committee, regarding the replacement of the certified initiative with a measure drafted by the city attorney.
We were told that the certified initiative, later to be referred to as Proposition One, could be taken off the ballot by mutual agreement. The method for removal was not discussed by the lawyers, just suggestions that it could be removed.
The fact is, according to state law, it could not be changed or removed after it was certified for the election. When this was mentioned in discussions, no one would comment. All lawyers involved, including the mayor, his legal staff, and lawyers associated with the campaign committee, failed to respond to the effort to protect the certified ballot measure. Their silence was a strike against democracy, against openness, against cooperation.Trust Shattered
Through this period of haggling, there was no campaign effort of significance. The competitive internal behavior of the campaign committee, combined with the energy taken by the mayor's interference, affected the result at the polls.
Of the 21,097 ballots counted, there were 4,407 which did not tally either a yes or a no vote on the measure. I believe that the decision to not vote on the issue, by these voters, was influenced by the actions of elected officials and the inaction of the campaign committee. Could a cooperative campaign effort have made a difference? Yes.
Of the 16,690 votes cast for Proposition One, it only lost by 226 votes (see page 14 for details). The use of honest and open communication, cooperation, and trust that would be found in a healthy "community" was shattered in favor of the competitive nature that is prevalent in our culture. The goal of protecting clean water for our community was squelched, for this year.
The roots of competition, as normal behavior in Nature and, thus, a model to emulate, is a human misconception. It is believed that we live in a dog-eat-dog world and that only the fittest survive. Are these fallacies beneficial to our common good? I think not. With competitive reasoning, it is the individual who gains at the expense of the common good or put another way, "my gain, your loss."
As Lake Whatcom water quality deteriorates and natural resources around the world dwindle, we need to ask the question, is the competitive model the best management tool to manage our resources? We can look at another solution that is dominant in nature: cooperation.
It was 8:00 in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1998, to be exact. While most Americans were just waking to their first Starbuck's latte and whiffing aromas of rosemary basted, free-ranged organically stuffed turkey, I was speeding along I-5 to Seatac Airport.
Boarding United Flight #1005 for Los Angeles on route to Auckland, New Zealand, I was laden with bicycle, backpack, and a six-month airline ticket to the islands of the South Pacific. I had no itinerary, no contacts nor really any destination; only a bit of money and heaps of ignorance slash courage to navigate the highways and biways of "Down Under."
Who knows where I'd end up, when I'd end up, or if I'd end up. But I refused to dally with those details. If I could eke out a living from a minimum wage job in Bellingham, competing with the Vast Majority who have superb professional experience and scads of ivy-league education, I could certainly "figure it out" on a solo bike expedition to Zland.
Being the intrepid soul that I am, I had to ask myself why? Why bother to risk the foreign seas and native islands of aborigine cultures, when I could stake out a fairly happy existence here in B. ham, God's nirvana on planet earth.
Here I was travelling overseas on an open-ended solo adventure; what in the world was I searching for when I could probably just go buy it on sale at Walmart up on Meridian? Most reasonably well-adjusted Americans were celebrating thanks by gorging on a Big Bird with Fixings while I chose to celebrate by leaping off a cliff, or ocean rather.
Something about my Roman Catholic heritage "begged" for answers to those elusive, Big Questions like "Why am I here?" "What's my life purpose?" And then of course toss in that incessant Catholic guilt, the Way of Suffering, the Way of the Struggle that drove me to obliterate my comfortable, predictable life.
Geeze Louise, why couldn't I just numb out like most capitalists; veg out on ESPN and a Big Mac Happy Meal? Why did I have to make life so damn complicated? "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all" seemed to be carved into my brain cells. So be it....
Finally arriving in Auckland after a horrendous 21 hour transcontinental flight, I disembarked the plane groggy from time-zones, intrepidation, joy and god-knows what other stuffed emotions. After claiming my pack and bike, I dragged my gear to the tourist information booth. Free phones to assorted hotels, hostels, and inexpensive lodging!
Not yet concerned with pinching pennies, I called the first hostel offering transport from the airport, The Ponsonby Place in downtown Auckland. It was 8:00 a.m.; I was wired with adrenaline and anxious for connection to other backpacking vagabonds.
A Japanese woman arrived in a Toyota van, adequate room for my bike and pack. Barely speaking English, she navigated the hectic streets of downtown Auckland, depositing me at the youth hostel which her Yugoslavian husband owned.
Situated in the Ponsonby district, an artsy, colorfully gay neighborhood, the hostel was nestled in the corner of a busy sidestreet. Oh God, it was noisy and crowded; all I wanted was a quiet space for my weary bones and turbulent thoughts.
After registering with payment of $18 NZ ( exchange rate November 23, 1998. $1 equals $1.74 New Zealand dollar), I was assigned a bunk in an eight all-male room. Smelly, stale socks, snoring "teen-something" airheads, and trashed Darth Vader comic books was not the right environment to spend my first night "Under."
I marched up to the front desk demanding some shred of dignity and privacy. For $4 (NZ) more I was given a cramped corner room off-side this male bastion. What a dive! I literally had to walk through this slobhouse every time I ventured into the closet.
Relax I told myself, I'd not tarry nor meander; my purpose was to meet other questers and organize my head and gear before hitting the trail.
Karen, another female cyclist from Toronto, Canada helped me assemble my bike. She too, was in transition and seeking answers to life's questions: whether to marry and commit to a four- year relationship; whether to remain in Toronto with a job that was comfortable but boring as snot.
I felt I had met a fellow "quester," boundless with courage and passion. We compared our vague itineraries and promised to meet around Christmas in Nelson on the South Island.
Nelson, a small artist enclave on the southern coast, was a popular holiday destination for thousands of backpackers. It was the ideal beach town with tropical deserted beaches, rivers to swim and camp near, and a huge New Year's Eve three day outdoor rock concert!
Oh brother, my geezer-tendencies were shrieking. The last thing I wanted on New Year's Eve was a teeny-bopper, youth-crazed Woodstock. Nevertheless it would give me some sort of a destination after nearly two months on the road.
Karen headed north to the Ten-Mile beach area of the North Island while I headed east to the Corimandel Peninsula. I knew little about the area other than it was fairly flat and very scenic.
Holy Moses! I leaped into the unknown and began my quest on an ancient metallic blue 15 year old turbo-charged 12 speed Schwinn. Armed with my NZ Youth Hostel guide, superfluous bicycle/road maps, and the W.O.O.F.A (Working on Organic Farms) manual, I set out on the journey of a lifetime.