Recent Articles

Fixing Lake Whatcom: A New Approach


Enoch J. Ledet guest writes. Enoch is retired from a career in petrochemical research and marketing. He has lived the past 16 years in Sudden Valley, on Lake Whatcom.

- - -

Note to reader: This article is a summary of his full report. The full report is a pdf and is linked at the bottom of this summary article.

- - -

Lake Whatcom water users, tax payers, and new storm water district customers are being required to fund the construction of Best Management Practice (BMP) storm water filters to trap and remove external phosphorous before it enters the lake. BMP filter construction is an integral part of the Department of Ecology’s Total Mass Daily Load (TMDL) on phosphorous (P) and bacteria. DOE estimates it will have to filter/remove 3,140 lbs. of phosphorous from stormwater runoff to bring the lake back to 2002-3 Dissolved Oxygen (DO) concentrations. DOE has used data from WWU researchers stating that phosphorous is the main cause for low dissolved oxygen in the lake. In 1998, due to Low DO in Basins 1 and 2, the EPA placed Lake Whatcom on its 303d list of polluted waters.

Tax and fee payers are being assessed a total of $100 million over the next 50 years to pay for implementation and maintenance of these BMP storm water filters. The new storm water district fee will collect an estimated $41 million ($820,000 x 50 years) of the total $100 million from Lake Whatcom water users outside the City of Bellingham. Bellingham tax payers have already been assessed a stormwater tax/fee. However, data from 2019 shows that in the last 12 years of operation, BMP filters have only prevented 436 lbs. of phosphorous, (out of 3,140 lbs.,) from entering the lake. This is an average of 36.3 lbs. of phosphorous per year. If we are able to capture the anticipated 3,140 lbs. of phosphorous, it will have been at a cost of $32,000 per pound.

Research indicates that the best BMP filters remove only 50% of external phosphorous (EP) and don’t address the internal phosphorous (IP) already present in lake sediment at all. This internal phosphorous recycles annually, causing algae and blue-green bacteria. The bacterial degradation of the algae is one cause of oxygen depletion, enabling anaerobic biochemical reactions to occur. This repeating cycle of “bloom and bust” negatively impacts lake water quality and increases drinking water treatment costs.

Currently, we are only addressing the external phosphorous input into Lake Whatcom. There are two problems with this approach. 1) Not all “EP pathways” into the lake have been identified; i.e., point sources such as streams, creeks, ditches, etc., and non-point sources such as developed or undeveloped land near the lake; and 2) even the best BMP filters for removing EP can not be used to treat all EP pathways into the lake. Naturally, filtering will not address the Internal Phosphorous (IP) already present in lake sediment.

Since all EP pathways (point source and non-point source) flow into the lake, and BMPs have to be fortified with alum/aluminum salts to increase BMP filter efficiencies, why not save money (operations and maintenance construction costs), as well as implementation time, and add alum directly to lake waters to bind EP inflow pathways into the lake? Alum will also bind IP in the water column and sediments already in the lake. Numerous case studies show that in-lake treatment of internal phosphorus (IP), using alum (aluminum sulfate) is 50 times more effective/efficient than using external BMPs and is one-tenth the cost.

Wisconsin studies on alum addition to lakes to control phosphorus and mitigate algae/phytoplankton growth also show that it is both cost effective and safe to use. Alum is and has been safely used in drinking water treatment plants, including Bellingham’s water treatment plant, all over the United States, and in Europe.

Bellingham’s Public Works Department could run a three-year beta test in Basin 1 to evaluate whether alum-addition removes enough phosphorus and algae to restore sufficient oxygen to provide healthy fish habitat and remove DOE’s determination of “polluted waters” for our lake. WWU and a third party environmental lab would provide analysis on: alum-addition effectiveness and efficiency of binding and removing TP, control and management of phytoplankton growth/reproduction, and verify or refute the DOE/WWU statement that phosphorus is the main cause of low DO in Basin 1

My causal analysis of low dispersed oxygen in Lake Whatcom, and research over the last 15 years into solutions for DO-impaired lakes and drinking water reservoirs, has led to the conclusion/proposal that DOE and CoB will need a combination of solutions to manage not only Total Phosphorous (external stormwater phosphorus and internal water column and sediment phosphorus) as well as phytoplankton, and supplemental Oxygen. Using a combined, holistic, in-lake solution can save local taxpayers $50 – $80 million over the next 50 years and be implemented within two years. Measurable improvements in Lake Whatcom water quality will be realized in 10 years vs. the 50-year implementation time for current Total Mass Daily Load phosphorus solution focused on managing EP only.

Related Links

Comments by Readers

Dianne Foster

Aug 22, 2020

What most of us have been working for is stopping development on the lake -  that would be the most effective.  But of course after decades of county council doing nothing (except a few purchase of development rights),   now it is overdeveloped,  and we the taxpayers have to clean it up…..


Fixing Lake Whatcom: A New Approach

By Guest WriterOn Aug 18, 2020

Enoch J. Ledet guest writes. Enoch is retired from a career in petrochemical research and marketing. He has lived the past 16 years in Sudden Valley, on Lake Whatcom. - - [...]

1 comment, most recent 3 months ago

Open Letter to the Community

By Guest WriterOn Aug 16, 2020

Irene Morgan guest writes today. She was raised on a farm in Whatcom County, and raised her own family on a farm in our county. She then turned to helping [...]

1 comment, most recent 3 months ago

State Government Skewing Internet Test to Favor Telecoms

By Jon HumphreyOn Aug 07, 2020

[Note: This article under the same author originally appeared at Washington State Free Press on August 3rd with the same title. The update at the end of the article is [...]

7 comments, most recent 3 months ago

Portland protest: confessions of a riot tourist

By Ralph SchwartzOn Aug 03, 2020

I decided to make the 260-mile trip down Interstate 5 from Bellingham to Portland, to attend a nightly protest that had attracted national attention. As I prepared by packing dark, nondescript [...]

4 comments, most recent 3 months ago

Drop Your Ballot In A Drop Box

By John ServaisOn Aug 01, 2020

The county auditor and the U.S. Postal Service both recommend we not mail our ballots this close to Election Day, this coming Tuesday, August 4. In fact, they recommended not [...]

5 comments, most recent 3 months ago

Veterans, COVID, and a Flag at Half-Staff

By Dick ConoboyOn Jul 30, 2020

At the end of April, the group of veterans who care for the Veterans Flag in Fairhaven decided to keep that flag at half-staff. This decision was made in an [...]

Western To Go All Online In September

By Dick ConoboyOn Jul 29, 2020

A memo from the Provost of WWU to the teaching staff announced today that classes for the fall session will be “predominantly online or remote” except for “face-to-face delivery for [...]

4 comments, most recent 3 months ago

There Will Be No Phase 3

By Dick ConoboyOn Jul 28, 2020

“There is no getting out of this until we have a vaccine. There is no getting out of this. This will be in our community until we have a vaccine, ...” [...]

29 comments, most recent 3 months ago

Racial Listening Sessions…or Tone Deaf?

By John ServaisOn Jul 27, 2020

The Whatcom Human Rights Task Force (WHRTF) has sent an open email letter to Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood and Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu. It is critical of the “Listening [...]

4 comments, most recent 2 months ago

COVID-19 Deaths in Whatcom County

By David A. SwansonOn Jul 26, 2020

On March 22nd, a COVID-19 case was announced at the Shuksan Long Term Care Center in Bellingham’s York Neighborhood and by March 25th the first of 11 residents had died, [...]

2 comments, most recent 3 months ago

Musings from a Political Junkie in Quarantine

By Guest WriterOn Jul 23, 2020

Dianne Foster, guest writer and political junkie in quarantine - - - Once again it’s that time of year, and I’m compiling my personal recommendations about this year’[...]

14 comments, most recent 3 months ago

Open The WWU Campus In September?  What Then The Toll?

By Dick ConoboyOn Jul 23, 2020

Upate: In a related development Washington State University announced today that all undergraduate classes at its Pullman campus would be online for in the fall 2020. “Given the alarming rise in [...]

11 comments, most recent 3 months ago

Republican-leaning states take the lead!

By David A. SwansonOn Jul 21, 2020

This article is co-authored with Eric Tyberg, a retired IT executive and consultant residing in Lincoln, California. Originally from Falun, Wisconsin, he rose through the ranks at IBM and formed [...]

4 comments, most recent 1 month ago

Cougar Inside Bellingham Yard

By John ServaisOn Jul 21, 2020

This beautiful big cat is a large cougar, also called a mountain lion. It was seen prowling a backyard in the city of Bellingham this past weekend and photographed by [...]

6 comments, most recent 1 month ago

Update on the COVID-19 Warning System for San Juan County

By David A. SwansonOn Jul 18, 2020

Co-author of this article is Peter A. Morrison, Ph.D., RAND Corporation Senior Demographer (retired) and President, Peter A. Morrison and Associates, Inc. He is an applied demographer based on [...]

Why is flag at half-staff?

By John ServaisOn Jul 18, 2020

Saturday, July 18, 2020 The flag is at half-staff in honor of U.S. Representative John Lewis of Georgia who died yesterday. The presidential notice for lowering today was only issued near [...]


By Guest WriterOn Jul 13, 2020

[This is a third article from our guest writer who does not wish to make his identity known. I refer to him as G, a retiree who moved to Bellingham [...]

5 comments, most recent 4 months ago

WWU Campus is Closed And Should Stay That Way

By Dick ConoboyOn Jul 06, 2020

Any substantial number of the student body at Western Washington University who physically return to campus in the fall will constitute a reverse Spring Break, an infectious phenomenon verified after [...]

23 comments, most recent 4 months ago

Is “Being Republican” a Risk to One’s Health and the Health of Others?

By David A. SwansonOn Jul 03, 2020

[This article has two co-authors. The first is Eric Tyberg, a retired IT executive and consultant residing in Lincoln, California. Originally from Falun, Wisconsin, he rose through the ranks at [...]

6 comments, most recent 4 months ago

Fledgling Great Blue Herons Need Our Help

By Jamie K. DonaldsonOn Jul 02, 2020

Hurry down to the Post Point Great Blue Heron colony in the next few days to catch sight of a wondrous event: the giant baby herons are preparing to leave [...]

1 comment, most recent 4 months ago