Bellingham approves sewer deal with Lake Whatcom district

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 25, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - City Council members say their doubts about a new 20-year sewer service agreement with Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District have been answered.

Council members unanimously approved the deal at their Monday, Feb. 24, meeting.

At a morning committee session, council members said they had heard from constituents worried that the new agreement might encourage more new home construction in the lake's sensitive watershed. The city has been trying to keep new development to a minimum to curb stormwater runoff that carries polluting phosphorous into the lake, which is the water source for both city and water district residents.

City Council member Michael Lilliquist said he had discussed the new agreement with city staffers and was convinced it would not make new construction any more likely in the watershed.

"I am assured that this is not a policy change," Lilliquist said.

He added that he would prefer a new regime that contains provisions to curtail new construction around the lake, but some existing lots in the city's urban growth area and other already-developed areas are legally entitled to connect to the district's water and sewer system, and the city has no immediate means to change that.

The city has invested millions of dollars, collected via water and sewer bills, in purchasing lake watershed real estate to keep it from being developed.

Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District provides water and sewer service for approximately 4,000 households in Geneva, Sudden Valley and other areas near the lake. The district's wastewater is piped to Bellingham for treatment, and the district also buys a portion of its water supply from the city while providing water from its own treatment plant in Sudden Valley.

Among other things, the new agreement between the city and the district will reduce the maximum amount of wastewater that the city must accept to 2,400 gallons per minute - a reduction from the 3,200 gallons per minute allowed in the old contract. City and district officials say the lower maximum should be plenty to accommodate the anticipated levels of homebuilding on existing lots in future years.

The district's commissioners have already approved the deal.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com . Read the Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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