When most people think of Washington State University Extension, programs such 4-H, Master Gardeners and support for the agricultural community and families come to mind. Many of these programs have been in place since the local office was established in 1917. One of the lesser known roles and values of Extension is its ability to respond to new challenges and issues facing the counties where our offices are located.
One of the primary challenges facing Whatcom County and other communities throughout the state are water and natural resource issues. In Whatcom County these challenges include legal and physical supply limitations, water quality problems for streams, rivers, groundwater and marine systems, and changing climate conditions. Left unresolved these challenges threaten the economic, cultural, and environmental sustainability of our community.
In response to these issues WSU has made major changes in our local and state programming. State level initiatives include: development of a world-class Low Impact Development Stormwater Research Program in Puyallup; establishment of the Climate Friendly Farming Project designed to improve the resiliency of agriculture to a changing climate; support for irrigated agriculture through the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser including the installation of two weather stations here in Whatcom County; and establishment of the State of Washington Water Research Center, which has been contributing to our understanding of water resources and water management issues for 50 years.
At the local level water and natural resource programs have been incorporated into many of our existing 4-H, Master Gardeners and commercial agriculture programs. In addition, in 2002 a full-time water resource faculty position was created ensuring a long-term focus on research, education and training for water issues. This position was further strengthened by institutionalizing a strong partnership with Washington Sea Grant. The sea grant focuses on marine issues as part of its mission to serve communities, industries and the people of Washington State, the Pacific Northwest and nation through research, education and outreach. This year Pete Granger has joined our office part-time as a Washington Sea Grant seafood industry specialist.
Through these program modifications and enhancements we have added many new outreach, research and training activities to our work — many in coordination with multiple local and state partners. Some examples include:
• Participant and founding member of the Whatcom Watershed Information Network, which was established in 1996 and is committed to supporting and improving watershed education, stewardship, information exchange and public involvement efforts in Whatcom County. Major activities of the organization include the annual Whatcom Water Weeks celebration, a speakers series, maintenance of an email outreach list providing information on water-related news and events, and training opportunities. This year marks the 5th annual Whatcom Water Weeks celebration from Sept. 6 - 20. Nearly 40 events will be happening throughout the county including the kick-off at Bellewood Acres on Sept. 6 during Oysterfest, and a celebration of our working waterfront on Sept. 18 at Squalicum Harbor. Details on these and other activities can be found at the Whatcom Watershed Information Network website atwhatcomwin.org
• Residential sustainable landscaping training to reduce impacts of stormwater from residential properties. We offer classes, workshops, educational displays, tours and on-line resources. The latest six-session class will begin on Sept. 16.
• Development of materials and outreach opportunities on residential and commercial agriculture irrigation practices, water rights and water supply, integrated pest management, food systems (Whatcom Food Network), Shore Stewards, rain gardens, climate change and forestry.
• Research projects such as the water quality and stream riparian cover study, cover crop evaluation, and a evaluation of effects of nutrients, sediments, and bacterial pollution on Bellingham Bay and potential implications of climate change.
• Development of programs focusing on sustainable seafood practices and seafood consumer issues.