Civic Agenda: Lake Whatcom Reservoir vision set; next up, action plans

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 9, 2014 

Every March, the governments of the Lake Whatcom Management Program join together to assess their previous year's work, lay out actions for the future, and re-commit to our greatest community vision: a clean and protected Lake Whatcom Reservoir.

Why is this annual meeting important? It is an opportunity to pause and reflect on the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, and on the fact that it is the drinking water source for 100,000 people - over half of all residents of Whatcom County. It is a time to remember that it has irreplaceable ecological, recreational and aesthetic value. It is an opportunity to re-commit, and to recognize together that our determination to improve Lake Whatcom water quality is increasingly paying off.

The City of Bellingham, Whatcom County and the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District make up the Lake Whatcom Management Program. The annual meeting is a joint meeting of the Bellingham City Council, the Whatcom County Council and the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District Commissioners.

The Joint Councils and Commissions meeting will be held at 6 p.m. March 26 at Bellingham City Hall. We encourage community members to attend and provide an opportunity for public comment. For those who cannot attend, the meeting will be videotaped and aired later on BTV10 and posted on the city website.

2014 AN IMPORTANT MILESTONE

This year's meeting marks an important transition to a new era of program planning, administration and action, guided by greater knowledge, experience and success than ever before.

Our work to reduce bacteria and nutrients entering the lake is guided by five-year work plans. These work plans describe our principal program areas and define local government investment in the watershed. The participating governments have developed and implemented three five-year plans since entering into a joint working agreement in 1998.

Each plan builds successively on past work as our community learns more about how to improve water quality, deliver projects and programs, and improve accountability. While the current work plan (2010-2014) addresses federally mandated reductions in fecal coliform bacteria and phosphorus entering the lake, it does not provide assurance that reductions can or will go far enough to achieve our vision. The next work plan, to be prepared this year for the 2015-2019 period, must show how these reductions can be accomplished and how they will be financed.

This will be a major milestone in the management of Lake Whatcom and will move us much closer to achieving a forever clean and protected source of drinking water, and a viable habitat for wildlife and people.

BUILDING ON KNOWLEDGE

The effort begins with greater knowledge and experience than ever before. Successful demonstrations of phosphorus reduction - such as those alongside Northshore Drive and at Silver Beach Creek -- together with improved modeling and analysis, have advanced our understanding of how and where phosphorus enters the lake. We no longer dispute phosphorus reduction goals, but focus our energy on getting work done on the ground. Today, we largely agree that the watershed's phosphorus footprint must be restored to near its pre-development condition around the lake. To achieve our vision, we must remove phosphorus from our landscapes, stabilize our soils, infiltrate our runoff, and treat remaining stormwater before it reaches Lake Whatcom.

Our community's work during the last five years proves that we can succeed in this. We have delivered a host of phosphorus reduction and watershed protection projects, investments that have resulted in:

Collecting and treating stormwater from 1,090 acres of developed landscape;

Managing and protecting 11,000 acres of land;

Upgrading stormwater infiltration and treatment on 82 private lots and two schools;

Removing 775 lots from future development;

Reducing our yearly phosphorus footprint by more than 300 pounds.

We have learned to effectively design and build stormwater facilities for our unique urban environment, to provide meaningful incentives that leverage private investments, and to deliver targeted messages to residents who can make the biggest impact. We have learned that success demands government action and public participation, so we work to inspire, cajole and provide incentives for good stewardship by watershed residents and visitors.

And we have done this together: the city, the county, the water and sewer district, the Sudden Valley Community Association, other watershed residents and concerned citizens throughout our Whatcom County community, with the support of our state government funding partners and others.

RE-COMMITTING TO PROTECT LAKE

This year's Joint Councils and Commissions meeting marks a transition from envisioning a clean and protected lake, to making choices about how and when it will be achieved. Participating councilmembers and commissioners, with strong support from their respective administrations, will consider a joint resolution establishing strong and meaningful expectations for the next five years and beyond. In doing so, they will re-commit us to achieving our greatest community vision.

We hope the citizens of Bellingham and greater Whatcom County will honor and embrace our leadership on this vital community resource and support a forever clean and protected Lake Whatcom Reservoir.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

This is one of a series of monthly Civic Agenda reports The Bellingham Herald invited Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville to provide to share updates about City of Bellingham issues and projects. She invites citizens to contact her at 360-778-8100 or mayorsoffice@cob.org. Bellingham City Council President Cathy Lehman can be reached at 360-778-8200 or ccmail@cob.org.

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