Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Lake Whatcom: Watershed Land Acquisition Program -Rationale & History

For those interested in a little more history, here is a synopsis of the City Council discussions -back in July thru September, 2000- that led to adopting the Watershed Acquisition Ordinance we have today.

Back then, the Community had narrowly missed approving 'Proposition 1', a public initiative that came just short of its goal in requiring the City to enact a Watershed Acquisition measure using a Water Rate Surcharge as the source of funding.
But, that initiative served to educate citizens -including elected officials- to the need for such a measure, which did lead to adoption of the measure described below.

These notes may also be of interest to those who have followed the Silver Beach Ordinance Task Force proceedings, at which the concept of property transfers via acquisition and other methods was discussed.

This memo is what I presented to the Council.
Eventually, the Council decided to pass its own Watershed Acquisition Ordinance to raise funds, preserve watershed property and administer the program that still exists.

Details of Watershed Acquisition accomplishments & challenges can be obtained from the City Website, or through the Public Works Dept Environmental Resources Division.
The Watershed Advisory Board has also done great work resulting in in comprehesive set of recommendations that still require action by Council and Staff. Their meetings are public, and held monthly.

Fellow Council Members:

In anticipation of our discussion of this issue during the Watershed Committee session scheduled for 3:45 PM Monday, July 31, I have developed some questions, ideas and requests for your consideration.
After listening carefully to the main concerns expressed about this Resolution, I attempted to think of ways these can be addressed, recognizing the time for decision is near. Please review this information in preparation for our meeting.
1. Do you doubt that establishing a land acquisition program would help in protecting the Lake Whatcom Watershed?
2. What must happen before you would feel a sense of urgency, sufficient to spur taking this action?
3. Do you feel that taking this issue to the ballot this November is necessary?
What would make you change your mind?
4. Do you feel taking this to the ballot would expose this idea to unnecessary risk? If so, please indicate what changes you would need to enable you to simply pass this measure now?
5. Do you think taking this action now makes COB "non-collaborative" with other programs, like the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program?
If so, please indicate what changes would make it seem more "collaborative"?
6. Do you think the funding method proposed, of a drinking water rate surcharge, is too "regressive"? If so, please suggest what other funding sources are preferable, and readily available for Council approval?
7. Members of the Lake Whatcom Watershed Committee have already expressed their strong support for the Resolution, as it is now written, by bringing it forward on the agenda.
Do you have any suggestions that could be considered for incorporation?
If so, can these be made and incorporated in time to meet the September 9 ballot proposal submittal deadline?
8. Possible suggestions:

• Focus Watershed Land Acquisition Program, for now, on areas in the watershed that are inside or near City Limits; leaving adjacent Urban Growth Areas and/or County lands for inclusion in a more comprehensive program to be implemented later.

• Limit the scope and/or duration of this Watershed Land Acquisition Program, to allow merging or morphing it into a more comprehensive program later. Consider phasing this program out in 2 or 3 years, if it is no longer needed, is proven ineffective or a better funding source is found.
(possibly consider this as a 'interim' measure focused on COB-specific problems - remember the Silver Beach Ordinance was enacted on an Emergency Basis, and is now an Interim Ordinance, pending approval and possible incorporation of citizen-supported amendments)

• Consider simply passing the Resolution, at its requested funding level and source, without a ballot, either with or without additional agreed-to conditions.

• Support continuing development of a Watershed Land Acquisition Program, as proposed by the Resolution, to allow time to develop specifics more fully.
This would enable any resulting plan to be ready for implementation shortly after funding is provided (beginning 1/1/01) and (watershed-wide) recommendations from the Citizen's Task Force on Land Acquisition are available.
9. There are already some good ideas available on why these funds are needed and how they can be used to do valuable work, both in protecting the Watershed and enabling fairer and more flexible implementation of the Silver Beach Ordinance. Silver Beach citizens and property owners, in particular, need this tool to help them now, not 2-3 years hence.
Many citizens may be willing to continue working with COB to develop workable programs that make effective use of these funds.
We could also consider this Watershed Land Acquisition Program as similar to a working Demonstration Project, since experimenting with new concepts on a smaller scale is often preferred, because this can provide valuable feedback (at relatively low risk) to enhance more comprehensive programs to be developed in the future.
This course would seem a prudent one to follow, to help learn workable and practical methods for Watershed protection while directly involving citizens in the process.
10. A reminder of roles:

• The City Council is responsible for setting COB policies and goals

• The Mayor & Staff are responsible for implementing these policies and being accountable for meeting goals.

• Staff is responsible for providing professional & technical advice and doing the daily work of providing services to the citizenry.
11. The City Council has consistently stated its intentions of:

• Supporting its preference of "non-structural", PREVENTION & PROTECTION methods over "structural", TREATMENT, MITIGATION or REMEDIATION methods in sustaining good water quality in the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, the sole drinking water source for 66,000 city and county residents.
This is because non-structural, preventative methods, like proper zoning and land preservation measures, are proven to be much more effective and much less costly.

• Making substantial progress in achieving each of the 3 priorities agreed-to and set for the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program, which for the year 2000 includes:

i) Urbanization/Land Use Zoning - COB action:
Passed Silver Beach Ordinance; Citizen's Task Force is now working to recommend additional provisions to add fairness and flexibility, with report due in September. ("non-structural", PREVENTATIVE measure, but includes no funding for land acquisition)

ii) Stormwater Management - COB action:
new Surface & Storm Water Utility program and funding anticipated later this year ("structural", TREATMENT method, in response to Federal/State mandates; includes no funding for land acquisition)

iii) Watershed Ownership - COB action:
a) supported formation of Citizen's Task Force on Land Acquisition (under Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program auspices; a "non-structural", PREVENTATIVE measure, will begin to study funding for land acquisition later);
b) now considering this Watershed Land Acquisition Resolution. ("non-structural", PREVENTATIVE method; does include funding for land acquisition)

Each of the above stated and agreed-to priorities has specific actions for each jurisdiction to accomplish, some jointly and some independently, toward achieving progress on the goals.
Clearly, any actions COB may take to further these goals within its own jurisdictional boundary will help this overall cause.
Urban areas have inherently different and more difficult problems than more rural areas.
Density, itself, makes this so.
Conversely, implementing effective measures in an urban area pays off quickly, in reducing adverse impacts and greatly reducing the necessity and cost of future mitigation.
12. General Comments:

• This Watershed Land Acquisition Resolution is NOT intended to stimulate any sense of competition with the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program 2000, Whatcom County or any other entity. It IS intended to convey a sense of urgency for the city to accept responsibility for some tough, existing problems, to help resolve them, and in the process, PREVENT further problems from happening that are uniquely ours as an urban entity. It makes no sense to wait any longer in facing up to these responsibilities!

• Both COB and its City Council have been justifiably criticized in the past for talking sympathetically about protecting the watershed, but not being willing to take enough sustained effective action, aside from strongly supporting the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program. By passing this Resolution, the City Council will serve notice of its commitment to take its own timely action to resolve some uniquely COB problems, when and where they are needed most. I believe that citizens will strongly support this action, whether or not they are allowed an advisory vote on it.

• Even by taking action and passing this Resolution, I don't expect all criticism will stop. Some will be unhappy that this action doesn't go far enough; some will find reasons to say this is unnecessary, unfair or unlikely to significantly help. In response to these concerns, I ask you to also listen to those citizens who were directly impacted by the Silver Beach Ordinance, including those who have volunteered their time and energy toward trying to make the Silver Beach Ordinance more fair & flexible, without sacrificing its goal of protecting the City's portion of the Watershed in measurable ways. They will tell you they need a Land Acquisition Program now - to facilitate their immediate needs, within the city limits.

• While all details of a COB-specific Land Acquisition Program aren't yet fully formed, the need for such a program is clearly present, and well established. I encourage you to seize this moment, and take advantage of the strong citizen support and momentum we all know is out there. I believe the best way to do this is to simply pass the requested drinking water rate surcharge; then allow us (Lake Whatcom Watershed Committee, Staff and Citizens) to work out and bring to you for approval, a program plan, developed using the public process.

• Lastly, in making the decision at hand, please consider the wisdom of having this developmental work done, and in place, by 1/1/01, when funding could begin and recommendations from Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program's Citizen's Task Force on (watershed-wide) Land Acquisition are due.

• I ask each of you to support passage of the Watershed Land Acquisition Resolution today, in whatever form your conscience will allow. Thanks for giving this matter your serious consideration.

A. “United We Stand” -paragraph excerpts)

The growing concern about the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, which is just now being addressed more effectively, results from years of unintentional, incremental misuses, ignorance of the cumulative effects of these misuses, and the inertia of short-term thinking regarding the surrounding watershed.
Arresting and reversing the impacts of these past, and present, careless practices and habits will require building a broad public awareness of their factual contributions to the situation, and a strong, common commitment to change these collective habits and practices in common sense, but comprehensive ways.
The proposed Watershed Land Acquisition Ordinance seeks to apply proven watershed acquisition techniques in helping to institutionalize a long-term preservation program for the Lake Whatcom Reservoir resource.
It represents a suite of potentially very effective tools, which our local community can adopt to help prevent further degradation of our primary water resource, which is needed to supply potable (drinking water) and non-potable water, and provide for recreation and aquatic habitat uses.
B. Agenda Bill -excerpts

1. The Lake Whatcom Reservoir Watershed and its protection were again recognized as the City Council's top priority for the year 2000.

2. Watershed Ownership is also one of the three top priorities this year for the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program 2000, which jointly supported by the City, County and Water District 10.
This program established earlier this year, a special Citizen's Task Force on Land Acquisition that is currently developing criteria to prioritize land for protection, determining options for preserving & enhancing high priority lands, and mechanisms for integrating these options with identified priority areas.
Recommendations are due from this Task Force by year-end, and should be instrumental in guiding watershed-wide land acquisition strategies.

3. Effective Watershed Ownership or Land Acquisition programs often include any or all of the following acquisition methods and financing options:

a. Land Acquisition Methods

Fee simple interest

Partial interests
• Conservation easements & restrictions
• Purchase of development rights or credits
• Restrictive covenants

b. Financing Options

• Donations or "bargain sales"
• Purchase by conservation groups
• Increased water & sewer fees
• Increased local property or property transfer taxes
• Municipal bonds

4. Many Land Acquisition Program needs have already been identified, but an ongoing funding source and land acquisition methodology have not yet been fully developed.
In anticipation of the recommendations from the special Citizen's Task Force on Land Acquisition, the City wishes to be proactive in its collaboration with this effort by arranging to have a funding source and land acquisition methodology in place by 1/1/2001.
This proposed Ordinance establishes a public procedure for achieving that end, including public participation.
C. Lake Whatcom Watershed Land Acquisition

WHEREAS, protection of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, the drinking water source for the City of Bellingham and others, is of the utmost public health importance to the citizens of Bellingham and others who obtain water from the lake; and

WHEREAS, a proven and effective method of protecting municipal water supplies, such as the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, is to acquire, for public ownership, lands within the watershed and protect them from development; and

WHEREAS, the City, County, and Water District 10 Joint Resolution No. 92-68, signed in 1992, recognized the importance of protecting Lake Whatcom and its watershed as a Reservoir and the major drinking water source for the County; and

WHEREAS, the City's Comprehensive Plan requires that before-the-fact prevention take precedence over after-the-fact mitigation or treatment; and

WHEREAS, a Citizens' Task Force of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program is currently developing criteria to prioritize land for protection, determining options for preserving & enhancing high priority lands, and mechanisms for integrating these options with identified priority areas; and

WHEREAS, preserving and enhancing the quality of our drinking water supply has been identified as the top priority for the City Council for the past three years; and

WHEREAS, recognizing that a truly comprehensive program of education, land use regulation and enforcement, monitoring, and review as well as land acquisition is essential to preserving water quality in the Lake Whatcom Reservoir; and the City Council will continue its active support and encouragement of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program with Whatcom County and Water District #10. Therefore ........

You, the Citizens get to write the next Chapters regarding Watershed Acquisition & Preservation.
I hope you will do it well, so the benefits can begin soon and enure into the future.

But, Watershed Acquisition & Preservation can't realistically do the job alone!
We will have to find better ways of encouraging the existing inhabitants of the Lake Whatcom Watershed to recognize their responsibilties for proper care and use of their 'lake', because what they do -or don't do- impacts us all.
It is our Reservoir, and the only one we have, so we need to take care of it!

Let's get on with this task!