Recent Articles

Fixing Lake Whatcom: A New Approach

Enoch J. Ledet guest writes, advocating for a better method of cleaning Lake Whatcom of the phosphorus. The phosphorus that our drinking water must not contain.

Enoch J. Ledet guest writes, advocating for a better method of cleaning Lake Whatcom of the phosphorus. The phosphorus that our drinking water must not contain.


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, advocating for a better method of cleaning Lake Whatcom of the phosphorus. The phosphorus that our drinking water must not contain.

1 comment, most recent 1 year ago

Open Letter to the Community

By Guest WriterOn Aug 16, 2020

Irene Morgan guest writes. She is turning 80 this week and reflects on her many years of helping victims of our so called justice system.

1 comment, most recent 1 year ago

State Government Skewing Internet Test to Favor Telecoms

By Jon HumphreyOn Aug 07, 2020

WA State Department of Commerce Internet Access Test is a Scam to Protect Big Telecom

7 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Portland protest: confessions of a riot tourist

By Ralph SchwartzOn Aug 03, 2020

White guilt in tow, the author treks 260 miles from Bellingham to Portland to see what all the fuss is about.

4 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Drop Your Ballot In A Drop Box

By John ServaisOn Aug 01, 2020

See link to map of Ballot Drop Boxes. It is too late now to mail your ballot. Postal Service is struggling. Drop your ballot in a Drop Box.

5 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Veterans, COVID, and a Flag at Half-Staff

By Dick ConoboyOn Jul 30, 2020

Veterans honor veterans in this time of national mourning.

Western To Go All Online In September

By Dick ConoboyOn Jul 29, 2020

Only very limited number of experiential courses will be taught on campus.

4 comments, most recent 1 year ago

There Will Be No Phase 3

By Dick ConoboyOn Jul 28, 2020

Moving to the governor’s Phase 3 reopening will very likely never happen. What we have is what we get, except for going back to Phase 1.

29 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Racial Listening Sessions…or Tone Deaf?

By John ServaisOn Jul 27, 2020

Whatcom Human Rights Task Force has sent an open letter to Mayor Fleetwood and Executive Sidhu expressing their concerns about the planned four Listening Sessions.

4 comments, most recent 1 year ago

COVID-19 Deaths in Whatcom County

By David A. SwansonOn Jul 26, 2020

Relative to the state’s other 38 counties, Whatcom is doing reasonably well in terms of COVID-19 deaths

2 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Musings from a Political Junkie in Quarantine

By Guest WriterOn Jul 23, 2020

Guest writer, Dianne Foster, a self-described “old radical hippie, yearning for a better world,” shares her election choices and reasoning.

14 comments, most recent 1 year ago

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

By Dick ConoboyOn Jul 23, 2020

Even a partial opening of the WWU campus will threaten or reverse our progress in fighting the pandemic. Play with fire, get burned.

11 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Republican-leaning states take the lead!

By David A. SwansonOn Jul 21, 2020

The 30 Republican-leaning states now lead in total COVID-19 cases

4 comments, most recent 11 months ago

Cougar Inside Bellingham Yard

By John ServaisOn Jul 21, 2020

No kidding, this mature cougar was casually prowling backyards inside the Bellingham city limits this past weekend.

6 comments, most recent 11 months ago

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

By David A. SwansonOn Jul 18, 2020

So far, so good for San Juan County. The July 4th holiday visitors have not led to either a “Yellow” or “Red” alert for covid-19 cases among its residents


By Guest WriterOn Jul 13, 2020

A writer has a conversation with an article about police unions.

5 comments, most recent 1 year ago

WWU Campus is Closed And Should Stay That Way

By Dick ConoboyOn Jul 06, 2020

Bringing thousands of students back to campus in the fall is a recipe for a disastrous spread of COVID-19. Restart in the fall of 2021.

23 comments, most recent 1 year ago

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

By David A. SwansonOn Jul 03, 2020

Along with potential “super-spreader” venues, rates of interaction, and other factors, “being Republican” also could represent a COVID-19 risk factor.

6 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Fledgling Great Blue Herons Need Our Help

By Jamie K. DonaldsonOn Jul 02, 2020

With this year’s crop about to fly the coop, it’s time to contact Mayor Fleetwood to seal the deal and create a permanent, protected wildlife reserve — the first of its kind in Bellingham.

1 comment, most recent 1 year ago

Just Whose Flag Is It Anyway?

By Dick ConoboyOn Jun 30, 2020

Guess what? Nobody has a corner on the use or abuse of the U.S. flag.

15 comments, most recent 1 year ago