Water issues likely will cost Whatcom County residents more money starting in 2018, if the County Council approves two measures it is considering.
▪ One would increase the flood tax by 34 percent countywide. The owner of a house assessed at $300,000 would pay $14.40 more a year.
An increase would bring the total up to $53.10 a year for a $300,000 home.
The property tax increase would bring in another $1.2 million to pay for flooding and water-quality issues.
The flood tax now brings in about $3.6 million a year.
▪ The other is to form the Lake Whatcom Stormwater Utility District, which would have, roughly, the same boundaries as the unincorporated part of the Lake Whatcom watershed.
Fees would be assessed on those in the district, which the county also calls a service area, once it has been formed. The amount would be determined next year, with fees beginning in 2019.
The lake is the source of drinking water for about 100,000 residents in Whatcom County, including Bellingham, and the fees would be used to improve water quality – by getting phosphorous and fecal coliform out of the lake – as required under a cleanup plan approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2016.
Both measures have public hearings on Dec. 5 before the County Council.
They are part of the wide-ranging water action plan approved by the County Council in 2014, which made water quality a top priority. That was in response to community request for more services related to water, which the council started without raising more money. It had been relying in the short term on the flood tax and its reserves.
“The reality is our flood fund is running dry,” said County Council member Carl Weimer, who was the author of the water action plan. “There’s all kinds of demands from different segments of the public.”
Those demands are from people wanting more flood protection or wanting to keep fecal coliform bacteria out of rivers and phosphorous out of Lake Whatcom, Weimer said, adding that the county can’t meet those needs without increasing the flood tax.
Water rights also are an issue.
As for Lake Whatcom, the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County government and Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District are in a 50-year plan to restore the health of the lake, which has experienced declining water quality.
The primary focus is on reducing the impact of residential development by filtering phosphorous, a long-standing problem because it depletes oxygen and causes seasonal algae blooms in the lake.
Phosphorus is a naturally occurring element found in the soil as well as human and animal waste, some fertilizer and detergents. Every time it rains some of it washes into the lake, so preventing stormwater runoff – from roofs, driveways and lawns – is the focus of the cleanup plan.