It is now almost perfunctory for candidates for City and County office to list LakeWhatcom among their top priorities. And while the public overwhelmingly supports Lake restoration and protection, they also appear to be satisfied with such perfunctory statements.During an election dominated by the SSA coal terminal, the public failed to hold candidates accountable for issues relevant to the restoration and protection of LakeWhatcom. A number of important events concerning the Lake have occurred during the election with little comment from the public, the candidates or the media.
Among these events was the discovery of Asiatic clam infestation.Asiatic clams excrete phosphorus, deplete oxygen, and cause algae blooms.In other words, they are an independent source of water quality degradation. The clams have been spreading undetected for approximately 4 years.While City and County staff are now working on this matter, they have not yet completed their investigation and management recommendations. I do not believe that sufficient resources have been allocated to this important and time sensitive issue.The clams reproduce in high numbers during the Spring and Summer and are most vulnerable in cold weather. The clams are too numerous and widely spread to be eradicated, so control efforts will now be an annual cost if we wish to avoid a massive increase in clam population.
Asiatic clams are generally connected to recreational water activities, and LakeWhatcom’s clam “hot spots” coincide with boat and sea plane launches. This provides new and meaningful evidence that recreational uses and clean drinking water are incompatible in LakeWhatcom.A public discussion of this problem would be timely and appropriate.However, the City and CountyStaff, supported by City and County Councils, decided that recreational use of the Lake will continue.The Aquatic Invasive Species Plan for the Lake Whatcom Reservoir will address public education and an inspection program.By excluding consideration of regulatory restrictions, the City and County have essentially removed from public consideration the issue of how the Lake should be used subsequent to clam infestation.
The County recently released its response to the Water Quality Improvement Plan mandated under the Lake Whatcom TMDL, and the Planning Staff held two meetings to provide information and obtain public feedback on proposed updates to Countystormwater requirements for new development.The revised regulations, which have the preliminary approval of the Washington Department of Ecology, will be reviewed by the County Planning Commission in less than 2 weeks.
This appears to be a positive action until you consider that the actual purpose of the proposal is to allow additional development in the LakeWhatcom watershed by attempting to prevent additional phosphorus loading from new development. Because these updated regulations are not intended to restore water quality, it is a misnomer to call this a “Water Quality Improvement Plan”.
At best, updated stormwater regulations will maintain the status quo for the Lake’s water quality.At worst, they will increase water quality degradation.The revisions are premised on the belief that Lake degradation is caused by stormwater run-off, but this fails to consider the excess phosphorus and oxygen depletion attributable to the Asiatic clams.As a result, the stormwater regulations may not be adequate. This uncertainty is increased because the Department of Ecology will not be adjusting its TMDL model to account for the impacts of the clams.
Since updated stormwater standards do not apply to the undeveloped watershed lots that have vested development rights, or land use permit extensions, (courtesy of Council Member Crawford), their resulting effectiveness is reduced. In fact, the County does not even know how many watershed lots will be exempted from updated stormwater requirements.Additionally, if the County believes that new stormwater requirements are necessary to protect the LakeWhatcom watershed, shouldn’t they be imposed on the entire County, which includes a number of other impaired watersheds?
It appears that the revised stormwater provisions are motivated by politics more than water quality concerns. The purpose of a TMDL is to improve water quality to meet water quality standards.Using the Lake Whatcom TMDL to justify more watershed development, the primary source of water quality degradation, is contrary to the TMDL’s intended purpose.The County has justified this action as an appropriate response to the City’s attempt to close the watershed to new water withdrawals.The logic of this explanation and its relevancy to the TMDL process escapes me, particularly when the City’s primary concern was to protect its priority water rights, a matter that is not addressed through the County’s revised stormwater regulations.
Of even greater concern is the fact that these issues were not raised during the current elections. Candidates have no incentive to broach sensitive and complex matters during an election.With insufficient media coverage, the burden falls on the voting public to remain educated, informed and aggressive in questioning candidates on these specific Lake issues.Moreover, this allows the public, rather than the candidates, to set the agenda and control the issues that dominate the elections. Unfortunately, the public meetings concerning LakeWhatcom have been poorly attended.(Kudos to candidate ChristinaMaginnis for her regular attendance.)
It is not enough to say that we support Lake restoration and protection.It is not enough to require candidates to state that they support Lake restoration and protection.It is painfully clear that the public can not rely upon the City, County or State to take meaningful action.We must demand it, and we must let our elected officials know, beginning the moment they first become candidates, that we are watching and that we require full accountability.The only way to do this is to ourselves be informed and involved.