Whatcom Co.: 90 Million Gallons of Water a DayPermalink +
Wed, Jul 22, 2015, 12:42 am // Guest writer
Guest writer Eric Hirst is retired to Bellingham and enjoys using his professional abilities to benefit our community. He has a doctorate from Stanford and spent his professional career doing reports on energy issues. Deb Gaber edited Eric's 4,800 word report down to this 1,800 word article. You can read his full report via the link at the bottom of this article.
If someone had asked me two years ago about water problems in Whatcom County, I would have offered a three-word response, “Lake Whatcom pollution.” As far as I knew, that was the only serious water problem we faced.
In early 2014, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities began a small project, WaterWork, to address freshwater supply and quality issues. At about the same time, the League of Women Voters sponsored forums on local water issues. Suddenly, I began to understand that Whatcom County faces serious problems. These problems concern water pollution, new sources of supply, efficiency of water use, fish listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, antiquated and inadequately enforced state water laws, and so on.
Thus began a journey to understand these issues and possible solutions to our problems. The result, at this point in the journey, is the article you are (I hope!) about to read. - Eric
Clean, affordable, and sufficient water is essential. While it may seem that Whatcom County has plenty of water, remember that this year we lost both ski events in Ski-to-Sea and the road to Artist Point opened two months earlier than usual. Will this be the new normal? Because water affects everything on this planet in one way or another, we need to better understand our water systems and problems and then move to improve them.
This article outlines how we use water and proposes a partial solution: locational and time-sensitive water pricing.
How Much Water Do We Use?
In 2010, Whatcom County used almost 33 billion gallons of water, or 90 million gallons a day. Irrigation is by far the largest water demand, using 38% of our annual total. Industry accounts for 26%; residential use is 22%; livestock takes 4%; and aquaculture, mining and commercial uses account for the remaining 10%.
There are seasonal differences in water use, too. In the summer, July through September, water use is 3.6 times greater than in the winter, November through January. This seasonal difference is driven primarily by irrigation, but residential, commercial and industrial demands are also higher in the summer. And none of these numbers consider the amount of water that must be left in-stream for navigation, fish and wildlife, recreation, aesthetics, and waste assimilation.
Then there’s the issue of supply. A little more than half - 57% - is surface water, the rest comes as groundwater from wells, all of which comes from precipitation. Bellingham averages 4.9” of rain per month in the winter, but only 1.4” a month in the summer. So, summer supply is only 29% of winter supply, but demand in summer is 357% greater than in winter.
How Much Does it Cost?
A family of four uses about 200 gallons/day, which costs about $60/month. But in fact, nobody actually pays for “water.” We pay for the pumps, pipes, treatment plants, electricity, supplies, operation and maintenance. The water is free.
Industrial rates are much lower than residential rates, primarily because while the two oil refineries and the aluminum smelter at Cherry Point use much more water, it’s lower quality. So to compare, we pay 3 cents per gallon for residential city water while industrial users at Cherry Point pay 0.14 cents per gallon.
The Big Three: Demand, Quality, and Supply
Demand will continue to escalate due to population growth and climate change. Historical trends and official forecasts predict a Whatcom County population growth of 1.1% a year for the next 30 years, or almost 84,000 more people.
Air temperatures will continue to escalate due to greenhouse-gas emissions and that, in turn, will not only drive up water temperatures, but increase outdoor use as well. Increasing temperatures will also continue to shrink glaciers and reduce snowfall on Mt. Baker, reducing Nooksack River flows, diminishing fish runs and causing water shortages and droughts. U.S. Geological Survey measurements show a 27% reduction of summer flows in the Nooksack River between 1963 and 2003. Finally, as other areas in the U.S. experience less rainfall and more frequent drought, their residents will increasingly move to the Pacific Northwest, further driving population growth in our area.
In addition, if the proposed coal-export terminal at Cherry Point is built, water consumption could increase by 2 billion gallons a year, roughly 5% of our current total water use.
At the same time, Whatcom County’s water quality is deteriorating. Streams and bays are polluted with fecal coliform bacteria from failing septic tanks, livestock, and wild animals. Storm-water runoff contains toxic metals, petroleum, herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers from farms and homes. According to the Department of Ecology, the Sumas-Blaine aquifer has “some of the most widespread and elevated nitrate contamination in the state.” And increasing water use only worsens water-pollution problems.
Compounding the problems with demand and quality, our supply of water is over-extended, illegally used and mostly unmeasured.
“Most water in the Nooksack watershed is already legally spoken for,” according to the Washington State Department of Ecology. “Increasing demands for water from ongoing population growth, diminishing surface water supplies, declining groundwater levels in some areas during peak use periods, and the impacts of climate change limit Ecology’s ability to issue new water rights in this watershed.”
Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Indian Tribe also have legal claims to water. Treaty rights from 1855, perhaps to “time immemorial,” guarantee them the right to harvest salmon—which require clean, cool water. Yet summer flows in the Nooksack River and many of its tributaries are already below the minimum requirements set by Ecology: “From 1986 to 2009, flows in the Nooksack River failed to meet in-stream flow-rule requirements 72% of the time during the July-September flow period.”
Additionally, as much as 70% of agricultural water use in Whatcom County violates state law. Because agriculture accounts for 65% of summer use, bringing farmers into compliance is a major issue. A report for the Bertrand Watershed Improvement District in Lynden noted, “… non-permitted water use is one of the most pressing water resource management issues for the area.” Also, the city of Lynden uses more water than it has a legal right to use and “326 public water systems do not have water rights.” As Lynden grows, this problem will worsen.
One of the biggest complications is that much of the water in Whatcom County is not metered, recorded, or reported. Without reliable data on consumption, it will be challenging to resolve water-supply problems because, even with improvements, we won’t know if more efficient systems are working. According to Washington’s Department of Health, “Installing meters is the most important step you can take to establish an effective WUE [Water Use Efficiency] program.”
Water quality and use is controlled by federal, state, tribal, and local jurisdictions. State water laws identify problems and mandate solutions. County governments regulate land use and oversee public health issues of water quality and septic systems. Municipal governments and local water districts/associations operate water utilities. The courts are also certain to be involved, particularly regarding the 1855 Native American treaty rights.
Because these issues are complicated and longstanding, solutions will likely be expensive, controversial, and multifaceted. They may require new land use regulation as well as greater enforcement of water consumption and pollution laws. Below is a list of possible solutions.
- The county’s growth-management regulations could restrict development in areas that have problems with water supply and/or quality, or require mitigation.
- The county could improve its alignment of agricultural zoning with soil quality and water availability.
- It could strengthen existing water-quality and land-use regulations by requiring professional inspections of septic-systems. It could ensure better control of fertilizers and manure by keeping livestock away from creeks and rivers.
- Municipal governments and the county could improve storm-water management with stricter limits on impervious surfaces, and provide greater protection for critical areas such as flood zones, aquifer recharge areas, wetlands, and wildlife habitat and migration corridors.
- Cities and water districts/associations could modify rates to encourage efficiency. The city of Lynden already has a $150 penalty for “waste of water.”
- Cities could add surcharges to help pay for solutions. Bellingham charges every single-family home $12 a month to help buy land in the Lake Whatcom watershed.
- Water utilities could offer residential, commercial, and industrial customers help becoming more efficient in the same way electric utilities have done for decades.
- Because the public owns the water, it would be reasonable to tax its use to promote efficiency, raise revenue for water projects, improve data on consumption, and increase public awareness. A tax, and the discussion it will generate, will signal that water is critical, scarce and must be used wisely. And taxing water reduces the need for regulation because market forces spur efficiency.
A countywide charge of 0.01 cent per gallon during the summer—less than $3 a year for the typical Whatcom County family—would generate $1.5 million a year. It would be less than a 1% rate increase for large industrial customers. The agricultural sector would pay about $1 million a year, which is less than 1% of the value of our agricultural products.
Higher water prices will encourage users to make capital improvements and behavioral changes to increase efficiency and reduce pressure on supply. Low-flow toilets and front-loading washing machines are more expensive to buy but use one to two-thirds less water than their conventional counterparts.
Seasonal water pricing will encourage homeowners to conserve, watering their lawns less often, for shorter times, and before 10 a.m. or after 10 p.m., to encourage better water absorption.
Farmers, faced with price increases, will irrigate more efficiently. Watering will become more precise: timed and controlled to minimize evaporation and runoff and applied closer to the plants to maximize absorption by crops and soil.
Whatcom County has serious water supply and quality problems that are complicated, interactive, and long-term. As population grows and the supply of clean water continues to decline, in part because of global climate change, these problems will likely get worse. We cannot think of water as infinite and inexhaustible. Its supply is fixed and its quality must be protected and improved. This will require new policies, programs, and regulation from all levels of government as well as the keen awareness of every consumer. Taxing each gallon of water consumed would help resolve these problems.
A tax would signal that water is a scarce resource that must be used efficiently. It would provide important market signals regarding when and where to consume water and when and where to conserve. Metering use would provide valuable information on where, how, and when water is used in Whatcom County, allowing us to develop better policies and programs to not only preserve supply, but also improve quality. Finally, it would encourage greater efficiency during critical summer months, which is a value in its own right as a “resource” that could be used when Lummi and Nooksack rights to minimum in-stream flows are determined. It would facilitate formation of local water markets, and revenues collected could help solve local water problems.
Related Links:-> Full original article with 4 appendixes
-> Appendix A - Water Use
-> Appendix B - Nooksack Summer Flows
-> Appendix C - Water Markets
-> Appendix D - Summer Water Tax
Wed, Jul 22, 2015, 12:42 am // Guest writerEric Hirst provides us all with a well researched report on Whatcom County water issues - rights, Lake Whatcom, ground water and more.
9 comments; last on Jul 25, 2015
Tue, Jul 14, 2015, 4:13 pm // John LesowThe fight to keep Point Roberts from becoming a Radio Tower Farm is not over.
3 comments; last on Jul 22, 2015
Thu, Jul 09, 2015, 8:27 am // John ServaisLois Garlick has died. For many decades, she and George served as environmental stewards and leaders in preserving wildlife and nature.
2 comments; last on Jul 10, 2015
Mon, May 25, 2015, 8:17 pm // John ServaisYoung Chiara spent 3 nights hanging from the anchor chain of Shell Oil's Arctic Challenger as a protest to arctic oil drilling.
Wed, May 13, 2015, 5:30 pm // John ServaisUpdated | Ski to Sea race does not need to race through sensitive Chuckanut Community Forest Park for special mountain bike leg. City did not renege.
10 comments; last on May 15, 2015
Thu, Mar 12, 2015, 1:06 pm // John ServaisAdd your thoughts and remembrances. Robyn du Pre` was a stalwart and true environmental advocate for Bellingham and Whatcom County. She died this week.
9 comments; last on Mar 23, 2015
Wed, Dec 31, 2014, 1:16 am // Guest writerDuuhhh! Try doing without it. Marian Beddill provides an overview of our rural Whatcom County water situation and the efforts to find fair solutions.
3 comments; last on Jan 08, 2015
Thu, Dec 18, 2014, 5:04 pm // John ServaisOne part of the environmental study for the proposed Cherry Point mega coal terminal has been completed and released. It deals with ship collisions - they call it…
2 comments; last on Dec 22, 2014
Wed, Oct 22, 2014, 2:44 pm // John LesowUpdate Oct 22: John Lesow has posted a comment with considerable more information on this issue.
1 comments; last on Oct 22, 2014
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 3:13 pm // Guest writerSandy Robson guest writes of the need for real prosperity at Cherry Point, not a destructive short term coal port that destroys the fishing grounds.
5 comments; last on Oct 02, 2014
Mon, Jul 07, 2014, 5:04 am // Guest writerGuest writer Sandy Robson breaks the story of officials from Washington treated to a coal-promoting junket to Wyoming.
2 comments; last on Jul 13, 2014
Wed, Jun 11, 2014, 11:39 am // John ServaisWyoming Senators and coal honchos were in Whatcom County June 10 - to hold a news conference with select reporters.
7 comments; last on Jun 20, 2014
Sun, Jun 01, 2014, 12:39 am // Guest writerA Venn diagram where coal, the Endangered Species Act, Republicans, and Wyoming’s Board of Education collide.
2 comments; last on Jun 02, 2014
Wed, May 28, 2014, 3:15 pm // Guest writerA perspective by guest writer Ellen Murphy reflects on the Whatcom Watch and the threatened law suit by Craig Cole.
22 comments; last on Jun 01, 2014
Thu, May 22, 2014, 12:10 am // Guest writerWyoming is ready to try and legally force us to limit our environmental scoping for the Cherry Point coal terminal
4 comments; last on Jun 17, 2014
Tue, May 13, 2014, 5:04 pm // Wendy HarrisBellingham's annual water quality report indicates that city hall's propoganda machine is going strong
1 comments; last on May 14, 2014
Sun, May 11, 2014, 2:20 pm // Terry WechslerPart 1: Introduction to the Bellingham Basin’s Potential for Fracking, Earthquakes, and Earthquakes Due to Fracking
3 comments; last on May 14, 2014
Fri, May 09, 2014, 6:10 am // Terry WechslerWhy Washington must step in and assume lead agency status in Skagit County for the Shell crude by rail proposal.
6 comments; last on Jun 21, 2014
Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 1:59 pm // Terry WechslerA closer look at Whatcom County's industrial "stewards of the environment."
4 comments; last on Aug 28, 2014
Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 11:43 am // Wendy HarrisThe public needs to support city council and request that a waterfront habitat assessment include terrestrial species and habitat connectivity.
Sat, Apr 19, 2014, 2:57 pm // Terry Wechsleror How Not to Plan for Future Generations' Water Needs
12 comments; last on Jun 30, 2014
Sun, Apr 06, 2014, 12:52 pm // Terry WechslerWhy commenting on the EIS for Comp Plan revisions for Cherry Point means demanding an EIS in the first place.
5 comments; last on Jun 25, 2014
Wed, Mar 19, 2014, 10:32 am // Riley SweeneyRiley digs into the county's plan to buy the county morgue
3 comments; last on Mar 24, 2014
Fri, Mar 14, 2014, 10:47 am // John ServaisFukushima radiation has been found 20 miles from Whatcom County farmland along the Fraser River in British Columbia.
1 comments; last on Mar 17, 2014
Mon, Mar 10, 2014, 10:51 am // Riley SweeneyRiley digs into an unusual hiring decision at the County Planning Dept
1 comments; last on Mar 10, 2014
Sat, Dec 07, 2013, 12:03 am // Wendy HarrisThe county will be required to consider water quality and water quantity when planning rural growth.
3 comments; last on Dec 10, 2013
Tue, Oct 08, 2013, 3:22 pm // Wendy HarrisThe city staff considers the overwater walkway a done deal before official approval or resolution of treaty right conflicts
4 comments; last on Oct 16, 2013
Sun, Jun 30, 2013, 11:28 am // John ServaisBellingham City Council ready to approve $500,000 of trails money for resurfacing plastic grass on Civic Field.
15 comments; last on Jul 02, 2013
Fri, Jun 28, 2013, 7:29 am // Riley SweeneyRiley Sweeney examines Sen. Ericksen's legislative methods
Fri, May 24, 2013, 1:18 am // Guest writerMarian Beddill provides a general guide for the public, with a look at the history of water rights in Washington state.
4 comments; last on May 26, 2013
Sun, May 05, 2013, 3:45 pm // John ServaisHelp fund a scientific study looking for links between diesel locomotives, coal trains and unhealthy air.
Mon, Mar 11, 2013, 7:37 am // Guest writerGuest writer Shane Roth writes in favor of the reconveyance of Lake Whatcom land back to the county.
1 comments; last on Mar 11, 2013
Fri, Feb 22, 2013, 3:47 pm // John ServaisThe election created a new park district with taxing power - but with NO control over Chuckanut Ridge - the 100 acre woods.
1 comments; last on Feb 23, 2013
Tue, Feb 19, 2013, 10:40 pm // Wendy HarrisAn "Updated Preferred Alternative" reduces the number of waterfront jobs and expands the boundary of the waterfront district.
Wed, Feb 13, 2013, 4:42 pm // John ServaisThe Park District vote is close and we will not know final results until late ballots are counted.
6 comments; last on Feb 19, 2013
Sat, Feb 09, 2013, 1:14 am // John ServaisThe proponents have avoided the issues on the Park District as the close of voting nears this weekend.
2 comments; last on Feb 12, 2013
Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 1:36 pm // Guest writerPaul Leuthold and Byron Elmendorf explain why to vote NO on the Chuckanut Park District ballot measure.
19 comments; last on Feb 12, 2013
Tue, Jan 29, 2013, 6:25 pm // Guest writerBill Geyer explains Transfer Development Rights and how they can be applied to the Chuckanut Ridge.
17 comments; last on Feb 06, 2013
Mon, Jan 28, 2013, 2:52 am // Wendy HarrisImproving ecosystem functions holistically is the best form of protection for the Lake Whatcom.
1 comments; last on Jan 29, 2013
Tue, Jan 22, 2013, 7:19 pm // Wendy HarrisLinks to a few noteworthy GPT scoping comments .
1 comments; last on Jan 23, 2013
Fri, Jan 11, 2013, 2:35 pm // Wendy HarrisA proposed amendment to the Lake Whatcom watershed moratorium will increase water quality degradation
1 comments; last on Jan 12, 2013
Mon, Jan 07, 2013, 12:49 am // Wendy HarrisWatch the Whatcom County Council wiggle its way out of the latest round of GMA compliance requirements for Lake Whatcom
1 comments; last on Jul 27, 2013
Sat, Jan 05, 2013, 12:37 am // Wendy HarrisCouncil majority willing to spend, and spend, and spend public funds defending development rights
2 comments; last on Jan 05, 2013
Mon, Dec 03, 2012, 4:26 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein citizens must hold their representatives' feet to the fire
6 comments; last on Dec 09, 2012
Fri, Sep 21, 2012, 9:53 am // John ServaisBellingham Business Journal breaking story - Lummi's to hold meeting today at noon to speak against the Cherry Point project.
7 comments; last on Nov 04, 2012
Wed, Sep 05, 2012, 12:00 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley patiently explains to the Whatcom Excavator what a flowchart should look like
Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 9:00 am // Riley SweeneyRiley sits down with Matt Petryni with Power Past Coal to get the latest scoop
Fri, Aug 17, 2012, 12:50 am // Wendy HarrisThe Mayor's Negotiations With Costco Undercuts City Permit Procedures And Public Process
4 comments; last on Aug 17, 2012
Sun, Jul 29, 2012, 12:17 pm // John ServaisNew report suggests U.S. weather stations reporting higher temperatures because NOAA has poorly managed sensors and caused false higher readings.
11 comments; last on Aug 06, 2012
Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 1:02 am // Guest writerDevelopers are gaming the system with help from the county government - and big changes are made in multiple small changes.
1 comments; last on Apr 27, 2012
Fri, Apr 06, 2012, 8:16 am // Guest writerKen Mann writes a guest article of his personal support for the Padden Trails development inside the Bellingham city limits.
3 comments; last on Apr 07, 2012
Mon, Apr 02, 2012, 12:43 pm // Larry HorowitzWhere to begin? Misinformation. Disinformation. Truths. Myths. Same old, same old. Paradigm shift. GMA. OFM. Growth pressures. Population loss. Growth subsidies. Proportionate share.
36 comments; last on Apr 11, 2012
Fri, Mar 09, 2012, 12:15 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley gets to the bottom of this in a NWCitizen Exclusive
4 comments; last on Apr 01, 2012
Sat, Feb 18, 2012, 4:03 pm // Guest writerNo EIS - no real county planning concern about developing Squalicum Mountain and degrading Lake Whatcom water even further.
Wed, Dec 14, 2011, 9:05 am // Wendy HarrisClaiming it is unfair to treat large property owners different than small property owners, the Commission refuses to remove industrial areas from buffer mitigation proposal.
Wed, Dec 07, 2011, 9:00 am // Wendy HarrisTell the Planning Commission to eliminate this loophole
2 comments; last on Dec 15, 2011
Sun, Dec 04, 2011, 6:53 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the sooty prospect of economic necessity rears its ugly head
2 comments; last on Dec 05, 2011
Mon, Oct 31, 2011, 4:07 pm // Guest writerBob Ferris of Re-Sources takes a values based perspective on our community and a possible coal port.
9 comments; last on Nov 02, 2011
Fri, Jul 29, 2011, 11:11 am // John ServaisThe Gateway Pacific coal port appears to be under construction now - secretly and w/o permits.
36 comments; last on Aug 05, 2011
Fri, Jul 22, 2011, 4:52 pm // John ServaisWashington Federal has bought out Greenbriar's interest in Chuckanut Ridge.
3 comments; last on Jul 25, 2011
Election InfoCounty Candidate Filings
State Elections Website
Whatcom County Elections
Coal, Oil & TrainsCoal Stop
Community Wise Bellingham
Powder River Basin R. C.
Local Blogs & NewsBellingham Herald
Bham Herald Politics Blog
Bham Politics & Economics
Bhm Biz Journal
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
League of Women Voters
Western Front - WWU
Local CausesChuckanut Community Forest
City Club of Bellingham
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary Building
WA Conservation Voters
Whatcom Peace & Justice
Port of Bellingham
State Elections Website
US - The White House
WA State Access
WA State Elections
WA State Legislature
Weather & ClimateCliff Mass Weather Blog
Nat Hurricane Center
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That? - climate
Edge of Sports
Famous Internet Skiers
Good Web SitesAl-Jazeera online
Change The Mascot
Foreign Policy in Focus
Innocence Project, The
Intrnational Herald Tribune
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Middle East Times
New American Century
Paul Krugman - economics
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Project Vote Smart
Stand for the Troops
Talking Points Memo
The Crisis Papers
War and Piece
NwCitizen 1995 - 2007Early Northwest Citizen
Quiet, Offline or DeadBellingham Police Activity
Citizens of Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
Facebook Port Reform
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Protect Bellingham Parks
The American Telegraph