In what officials admit is only a first step, the Whatcom County Council approved a fine for boaters who introduce harmful, invasive animals and plants to county lakes.
The new law, approved Tuesday, Sept. 25, by a 6-1 vote, creates a maximum fine of $1,000 for bringing invasive species into any county lake.
Council member Barbara Brenner voted no. She didn't approve of using money from the Flood Control Zone District to pay for enforcement of the law.
Concern has centered on non-native plants and animals - especially shellfish - entering Lake Whatcom, the source of drinking water for Bellingham and some other county residents.
The species most directly targeted are two types of mussel that have infested lake shores, water intakes and boat engines in other parts of the country.
County officials became aware of the threat of the zebra and quagga mussels after the less-threatening Asian clam was discovered for the first time in late 2011 in Lake Whatcom and Lake Padden.
Concern among Bellingham City Council members was enough to have them consider closing the boat launch at Bloedel Donovan Park this summer. They stopped short of that measure, instead passing an ordinance similar to the county's, also with a $1,000 maximum fine.
Critics say the county ordinance doesn't do enough to ensure that boats and seaplanes entering the lake will be inspected.
"This is certainly a work in progress," Assistant Public Works Director Jon Hutchings said at the council meeting.
The level of enforcement will depend on how much money council members will commit to the program starting in 2013, he said.