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Bellingham’s 2013 Water Quality Report: The Facts But Not the Truth

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Great News!! According to Bellingham’s 2013 Safe Drinking Water Act annual water quality report, “Bellingham's water is very clean.”

Sure, “unregulated contaminants of concern” (vanadium, stontium, hexavalent chromium, molybdenum, and cobalt) that must be monitored were found in city drinking water. But “it does not mean there is cause for concern.” To prove this point, the city report compared the city's drinking water to common brands of bottled water. Bottled water is not subject to regulation and is distributed by companies that operate for profit. The city is regulated, is responsible for our drinking water supply, and operates for public health and safety. I certainly hope the city understands this distinction.

The report next informs us that the 2013 levels of detected substances, such as disinfection by-products and free chlorine residual, met federal Safe Drinking Act standards. This is true. But it is only part of the truth.

What we are not told is that these substances have been increasing each year, exposing us to higher and higher levels of carcinogens. In other words, we are meeting water quality standards through the increased use of toxic disinfectants. The city states that the “presence of contaminants does not necessarily indicate that water poses a health risk,” while noting that certain populations are “more vulnerable,” including infants, the elderly, and people with suppressed immune systems and disease.

As someone within the “more vulnerable” category, I want to ask the city why they continue to engage in the very activities that degrade water quality and imperil public health. The city is allowing more watershed growth and infill, which increases impervious surface and reduces trees and vegetated shorelines. They know, but will not admit, that the touted Silver Beach Ordinance storm water standards are inadequate. They are expanding development and intensity of use at Bloedel Park, increasing car traffic and recreational water use associated with invasive species. They are issuing greater numbers of variances that build into critical area buffers, often for unjustified reasons.

To be clear, the city has violated no laws in the information it printed in its water quality report. It reported what was required, and nothing more. But it was in this “nothing more” that it failed us. Instead of being forthright and open about our water situation, the city has provided the public with a misleading and overly optimistic assessment. As long as the city continues to issue propaganda instead of information, and as long as it avoids open and honest dialogue with the public, there is no real hope of reversing these negative trends.

It is pretty easy to understand why Lake Whatcom has continued to degrade over the last 25 years. The residents care about health and quality of life and the city apparently cares about expanding, and the tax revenues this brings. And as the damage to our water supply continues, so does the substantial cost that will be imposed on all of us to fix the problem.

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About Wendy Harris

Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2008

Comments by Readers

Terry Wechsler

May 13, 2014

I love your comment when you posted this on the WW FB page:  “I find it so convenient to have my municipal propaganda delivered by mail. Saves me the time and effort of having to go out on the internet and look for it. I think this is what COB means when they talk about improved public process.”

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