Two years ago, volunteers came together to study the water quality of Lake Padden and the land use of its watershed, the area whose waters drain into the lake.
With the help of Western Washington University's Huxley College faculty and students and working under the auspices of the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, we completed our lake monitoring project, a fecal coliform study and a watershed analysis.
At this time, Lake Padden's water quality appears to be stable. There currently is no trend towards a worsening of the lake's water quality that we can detect through our study. That good news needs to be maintained by making sure we are good stewards in our activities in and around the lake and its watershed.
Levels of phosphorus, which directly contributes to algae growth, are within acceptable levels except during the fall. High phosphorous concentrations combined with low nitrogen levels have resulted in significant algal blooms in the fall. The growth of algae results in a depletion of oxygen in the lake below six meters in the late summer and early fall and may result in mortality of aquatic life.
Fecal coliform levels in the vicinity of the dog park and adjacent trail areas are very high, particularly in the fall. These levels exceed water quality standards in the stream and in the lake.
Based on these water quality and land use studies, People for Lake Padden recommends the following actions to the city of Bellingham, Whatcom County, residents of the Lake Padden watershed and Lake Padden Park users:
Development in the Lake Padden watershed should be carefully controlled. Watershed development typically results in increases in runoff, nutrients and contaminants which will likely further degrade Lake Padden's water quality. This should be viewed, rightly, as a health risk and ultimately a liability for the city of Bellingham and Whatcom County.
The county and the city should use clean sand products when sanding streets during snow events, and they should sand only on the steepest streets and intersections. Using clean sand, distributing it only where it is needed, combined with street sweeping soon after snow events and regular catch basin cleaning, will reduce the negative impacts on the lake's water quality.
Clean up the dog park area. The city of Bellingham should install a drainage and filtration system by the Lake Padden dog park and creeks, consider restricting the dog off-leash to places without access to the creek, and add more poop bag dispensers and disposal cans.
Post a no-swimming or wading advisory in the area where dogs are allowed to enter the water adjacent to the ball park until fecal coliform issues are resolved.
The city and the county should develop and carry out a park and watershed education program focused on nutrient and fecal coliform reductions. Such a program should include:
Informing park users how to notify the Department of Ecology's Algae Hotline when blooms are noticed, especially if they are near the dog park or the swimming area.
Engage watershed residents on reducing and eliminating activities that add nutrients and fecal coliform to the lake.
Engage park and lake user on disposal of animal waste and advise against feeding water birds.
Engage Wade King Elementary School on using Lake Padden as a focus for watershed education.
Initiate a watershed-pledge campaign to engage residents and lake users in water-quality stewardship.
Work with dog and horse owners and their organizations to keep the dog park and paths poop-free.
Initiate a public health media campaign to make leaving dog droppings on the ground as socially unacceptable as cigarette smoking.
The complete water quality and land use reports, as well as the full recommendations to protect the lake's health, are found at p4lp.org.
Lake Padden is a precious gem in our park system enjoyed by many. We have a responsibility to be its wise stewards. We have an opportunity to take constructive actions while the lake is still healthy. And we can provide a valuable legacy for generations to come.
People for Lake Padden and its volunteers have taken the Lake Padden project this far, and we now turn to the city of Bellingham, which administers Lake Padden Park; Whatcom County, which oversees development in the Lake Padden watershed; and the residents in the watershed and the many users of the park and ask all to work together to maintain the health and vitality of Lake Padden.
Betsy Gross is director of People for Lake Padden. For information on the group, go online to p4lp.org.