Deja vu All Over Again

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Mon, Jun 30, 2008, 3:33 am  //  g.h.kirsch

This map shows many of the significant features of the water systems on the Northshore side of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, outside of the Bellingham City Limits. Provided by Marian Beddill and derived from a map in a LWWSP report. (added July 4)
No matter how one hopes things will change, things remain the same. Bellingham wants the county to curb development in the watershed, but can't seem to stop allowing the infrastructure that supports it.

Former administrations and councils have made agreements that gave them the ability to protect the watershed from the damaging development recent study amply documents; only to forget the provisions that would allow the city to preclude that development. Without reliable water, development does not move forward.

Last summer the big news was the city's overlooked agreement with Water District 7, an agreement that had prohibited water hook ups to lots on Squalicum Mountain not earlier platted. This allowed the district to provide Bellingham's own water to develop scores of new residences in the watershed of its reservoir where wells were unreliable.

Now it is becoming apparent that the city's inattention to the activities of the Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District, or their disinterest in enforcing similarly restrictive agreements with that district, allowed a great deal of the damage to the watershed we must now redress.

And presently, Bellingham is allowing LWW&SD (something of a surrogate following their recent Memorandum of Understanding) to further extend and expand urban water services to provide water needed to develop at least another thousand residences in the watershed.

It didn't have to be.

In June of 1989 the City of Bellingham entered into an agreement with LWW&SD covering development and control of water hook ups in the water district's North Shore Service Area. A reasonable reading of that agreement indicates the city was to provide treated water to something less than 70 lots in a subdivision known as Eagleridge Estates, and LWW&SD was to forbear from hooking up new customers in their North Shore Service Area, "for any use other than single-family dwellings on lots of record as of June 10, 1988, without the specific approval of the City of Bellingham" so long as the water district was unable to provide water themselves.

When the pipes and pumps and reservoirs the water district planned, and is currently constructing, are complete, the water will come from a well at Agate Heights. This well drains an aquifer that recharges Lake Whatcom with needed dissolved oxygen. Someday, according to the district's plan, this water will be diverted from the lake to serve sprawling residential development all along the north shore.

But lest it be lost on the otherwise inattentive, the water that will someday be used for that growth, and free the water district from the restrictions negotiated, then forgotten, by the city, will again be Bellingham's.

In the fall of 1990, LWW&SD entered into an agreement with Trillium, Evergreen View Ventures and Richalou Estates to facilitate development of their properties. The terms had the developers construct a water system and then transfer it to the district in a series of developer extension agreements that committed the district to serve their properties.

At the time of that agreement the district planned to use the new service to hook up some 756 residential equivalents stretching across its North Shore Water Service Area, in addition to more than 200 units in Eagle Ridge Estates. The land owners, David Syre and Peter Watts, financed and constructed the well at Agate Heights and other improvements for the water district.

But by 1999 LWW&SD had only confirmed 108 potential connections and, in order to avoid any disputes with Trillium (Syre) and Evergreen View Ventures (Watts), the water district sought a further agreement in order to allow Richalou Estates (now Opal Terrace) to go forward with the water system for their property, on the condition that improvements made would be adequate to serve the other developers' properties later.

In consideration of Trillium and Evergreen accepting this modification, LWW&SD agreed that the two property owners, and their successors in interest, were entitled to the remaining flow from the well after 42 residences were hooked up at Opal Terrace.

The City of Bellingham apparently became that successor in interest when they acquired the Trillium and Evergreen properties in an effort to buy up developable land in the watershed to protect Lake Whatcom. Amazingly, with prevention of development the focus of these acquisitions, it's just now dawning on the city that control of the water from this well would be an even bigger gain than the land itself.

But with the city apparently unaware of their rights, and the water district remaining mum, LWW&SD proposed to quietly take the water and use it for lots that were not platted as of June 1988, even non single family uses, without apparently any concern that the city first give its specific approval.

At least, for now, we presume the city did not approve the water district's actions.

The Agate Heights well, the lines the water district is installing from Opal Terrace to the water district's reservoir, currently under construction, along with the reservoirs planned at Eagle Ridge and North Shore Estates, are together certainly capable of supplying the level of service the water district plans for the north shore of the lake. Later, Vineyard Development will just be frosting on the cake.

Not only is this a violation of the 1989 agreement, and uses water allocated to the city in the agreement reached in 1999, but given the recent decision that critical sections of the Municipal Water Law of 2003 are unconstitutional, neither the city or the water district have a right to take the water because of its impact on the lake and instream flows.

With the understanding presently in place between the city and the district, this is no longer simply a district project. The expansion of urban water services in the rural watershed, underway now, are policy decisions supported by the city.

Like the situation with Water District 7, the extension of water out the Guide for Caitac and the agreement with the Deer Creek Water Association, “it's deja vu all over again.”

How many more skeletons will the new administration and council find in the closets of City Hall? Who's been watchin' the store?

This Whatcom County map helps you to locate the area of concern - as shown in the detailed map.

Tom Pratum  //  Tue, Jul 01, 2008, 9:04 pm

I will shamelessly refer anyone interested in the background that Greg refers to, to my article in Whatcom Watch (“Scarce Groundwater in the Lake Whatcom Watershed”, June 2003):

+ Link

This is a good reason to get the city in control of LWWSD. The city is not in control of LWWSD now, and has no control over whether LWWSD runs a water line to Eagle Ridge from Agate Bay. I think it is clear that, if the city were in control, they will not connect the NS well to Eagle Ridge. I also think, and am hoping, that LWWSD will also not be doing this any time soon so there is time to negotiate the takeover. LWWSD would have to run a water line down NS Road, and, probably before they did that they would try another ULID to help pay for it. The last time a ULID to serve water to this area was floated (approx 1993), it failed and would likely fail again in my opinion. Doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do it without the ULID, but it could delay things a bit.

g.h. kirsch  //  Sat, Jul 05, 2008, 3:27 pm

Actually Tom, the city seems to have willingly surrendered control to the water district by not opposing the first stage of the extension of water services, the reservoir and lines going in now that will allow service to be extended westward along North Shore Drive.

And the city is not even demanding that their water not be used, or at least only be used if they control the intensity of the service so further growth is impossible.  They just seem to have rolled over.

I agree the current administration opposes development in the watershed, but would remind you that a future administration, equipped with the infrastructure to develop, might happily support development in the watershed.

The city needs to act, and now. The only real safeguard is keeping the infrastructure from being created.  Once installed in the county’s jurisdiction, it’s a very short step to expansion. 

The county has already taken the position that running more 8” lines to connect these reservoirs is “outright permitted” with no further need for review.  The reservoirs are already permitted.

In the fall of 2005, the Kremen administration quietly got a franchise approved by the council to allow LWW&SD;to run water and other utilities along any county roads within its boundaries; and even beyond if the roads originate within the district boundaries or abut such a road.

Hell, they can probably run water right up to Pete’s place on Squalicum Mountain the way things stand.

I doubt that when the developers are ready to move there will be any need for a ULID.  They’ll put in the pipes and just collect the latecomer fees as everyone along the route hooks up.

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