Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lake Whatcom: Goal Statements & Methodology Aren't Enough!

In December of 2001, between 40 and 50 City Staff and advisory personnel went through -either all, or part of- a 6-day course, which was given in three, 2-day sessions at the Bellingham Public Library. Loose-leaf handbooks and materials were given to each participant for homework and future reference.

I was very positively impressed by both the common sense techniques used in this course, and the extensive, directly-relevant experience of the instructors, Hans & Anne-Marie Bleiker. I believe it would be very helpful if the City were to use some version of this methodology whenever possible on ALL projects of significance, not just Lake Whatcom.

Here is a summary of the assignment one team picked to work on using the methodology taught by the Institute for Participatory Management & Planning [IPMP] Citizen Participation Workshop for Public Officials.
The Four Elements of this assignment were:

1. Null-Alternative - A potential future scenario resulting from taking insufficient action to effectively protect this resource.

2. 'Raison d'Etre' - A statement defining the mission that needs to be accomplished. This essentially responds to the four points which comprise the "Bleiker Life-Preserver": 1. There really is a problem; 2. It's our duty to tackle it; 3. Our approach is sensible; 4. We do listen, we do care.

3. Problem-Solving/Decision-Making Process - A summary of those actions which, if taken, could implement an effective long-term protection plan for Lake Whatcom. Two parallel processes must take place together; (a) Rigorous Technical Problem-Solving/Decision-Making Process [PS/DM] AND (b) a Systematic Development of Informed Consent & Objectives-driven Citizen Participation [SDIC/CPO].

4. Matrix of Potential Affected Interests [PAI's] versus 5 Potential Future Undesirable Headlines [these headlines could all have been avoided had sufficient preventive action been taken]

Additionally, a completed Citizen Participation Program can be developed by systematically evaluating 15 key Objectives, then selecting those Techniques likely to be most appropriate and effective to implement the program.
Lake Whatcom Protection: An Assignment

Organization: City of Bellingham, County of Whatcom, State of Washington
By Charter, the City Council has local Legislative Powers and is Responsible for policy-making, regarding the preservation of public peace, health & safety of citizens.

Project: Long-term Protection of Municipal Water Supply, the Lake Whatcom Reservoir.

"Bleiker Life Preserver"

1. There really is a problem:
This Lake has already experienced significant development, which continues to occur, despite indisputable, observed degradation of water quality over time, which is happening at accelerated rates above what might be expected of an undeveloped lake watershed.
In 1999, DOE placed Lake Whatcom on its Clean Water Act 303 (d) list as an impaired water body, which requires management action to correct documented problems. Another DOE study identified the presence of other toxins in water, sediments and fish tissue.
An investigation of potential Mercury contamination sources is also imminent, as is a TMDL study to determine the lake’s capacity to assimilate runoff pollutants.
Because of mandatory reduced water flow into and out of the lake, flushing of the reservoir has recently been greatly reduced. This increases the concentration of nutrients, which can cause algae blooms, which in turn could impact drinking water treatment costs.
Other beneficial uses of the lake including recreation and aquatic habitat, are also diminished by continued water quality degradation and each could result in public health concerns.
Currently, Lake Whatcom supplies drinking water for over 80,000 people, about half of the County’s population.
There are no other viable fresh water sources available, which means that policies of prevention, rather than mitigation are much preferable, for both health and cost-effectiveness reasons.

2. It’s our job to tackle it:
Concern over water quality degradation has already resulted in the commissioning of investigative and monitoring studies and the establishment of a multi-jurisdictional City/County/Water District 10 Lake Management Program. This program’s mission includes identifying tasks, priorities and work plans to comprehensively address known and anticipated problems which contribute to the cumulative water quality impacts being experienced.
Although it has jurisdiction over only 2% of this watershed, the City has recently enacted legislation which directly responds to each of the top three priorities agreed to in the LWM Program; Land Use/Zoning, Watershed Preservation & Acquisition and Storm Water Management.
The County has undertaken or is considering similar actions, including the Watershed Resource Inventory Area 1 Project, which comprehensively assesses management options throughout the region. Modeling of the Lake Whatcom watershed is an anticipated work product from this program, which will provide a useful management tool in about 3 years time.
More scientifically accurate data, a more comprehensive watershed management structure and adequate long-term funding are needed to effectively accomplish reservoir protection.
Federal & State regulatory agencies can assist in these efforts, but effective protection programs must first be initiated at the local level. This means the City and County have the duty and responsibility to collaborate closely to preserve this irreplaceable resource. There is no other entity that we can look to provide this function, and failure to do so could result in a public health crisis, costly mitigation efforts and citizen lawsuits for dereliction of duty.
As a water purveyor, the City must comply with Department of Health regulations, in addition to satisfying its customer’s expectations for a consistently high quality product at reasonable cost.

3. Our approach is sensible:
All of the efforts and resources expended to date have been carefully conducted and evaluated, to establish a standard of scientific credibility and prudently and cost-effectively use public funds.
Competent professional staff and have been hired by both City and County consultants, and charged with water management program responsibility,
Work is steadily progressing on identified tasks which will lead to better understanding the options available to us and their related costs and tradeoffs.
Stakeholders are being involved in each step of these processes to insure as many ideas are incorporated into resulting plans as is fair and possible.
Public information programs are an essential, ongoing, integral part of these proceedings.
The approach being followed is slow, but sure, to maximize prospects of success and minimize setbacks or lack of buy-in by stakeholders.

4. We do listen, we do care:
Very complex, inter-related problems like water quality protection require careful, comprehensive programs to effectively address them. This is being done in a number of venues and methods. We understand people are concerned about the pace at which this work is proceeding; some feel too slowly, others too quickly. We understand citizen concerns about their property rights and freedoms being impacted, and will carefully balance these concerns against those who are justifiably worried about public health and safety matters related to water quality. It is difficult to understand or communicate the mass of information necessary to comprehensively describe the undertaking now underway. We are making steady progress, based on science and Best Management Practices learned elsewhere, while resisting the temptation to waste public confidence and resources on shortcuts and quick fixes. It took a long time to get into this fix, and it will also take time to determine the best ways to extricate ourselves from it, fairly, effectively and in the interests of unborn generations.

As background, and to better understand the nature of what must be accomplished, a fairly comprehensive goal statement for Lake Whatcom is contained in the following Joint Resolution adopted in 1992, 15 years ago. Has our progress been sufficient? I don't think so! How do we get this program shifted into high gear? What is the missing ingredient?

Whatcom County Council No. 92-73
Bellingham City Council No. 92-68
Water District 10 No. 560


WHEREAS, Lake Whatcom and its associated watersheds, is currently the source of drinking water for approximately half the residents in the County; and

WHEREAS, water quality and quantity concerns throughout the county now and in the future will significantly impact the availability of safe, adequate supplies of water for the future; and

WHEREAS, many potential and actual documented sources of contamination exist within the Lake Whatcom watershed with particular concerns associated with development and urbanization within the watershed; and

WHEREAS, numerous studies exist across the United States which document the correlation between urbanization and water quality degradation, and as development increases within the watershed, the probability of adverse water quality impacts increases; and

WHEREAS, the Stormwater Runoff Project conducted by Western Washington University in 1990-1991 provided local documentation illustrating the occurrence of water quality degradation associated with urbanized vs. non-urbanized areas; and

WHEREAS, protection of the resource is in the long run generally less than the cost of treatment or replacement of the supply should it become contaminated; and

WHEREAS, the potential for adverse short and long-term public health impacts is substantially less if protection efforts are given priority over treatment; and

WHEREAS, the adoption of common goals will aid the City, County and Water District 10 in carrying out activities that will protect, preserve and enhance water resources in the Lake Whatcom Watershed.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY OF BELLINGHAM, WHATCOM COUNTY AND WATER DISTRICT 10 that the following general goal statements are hereby adopted, as well as the specific goal statements which are attached hereto:

General Goal Statements:

To recognize Lake Whatcom and its watershed as the major drinking-water reservoir for the County and develop public and private management principles for the lake and watershed consistent with a drinking water reservoir environment. Affirm this goal by establishing the name: Lake Whatcom Reservoir.

To protect, preserve and enhance water quality and manage water quantity to ensure long-term sustainable supplies for a variety of uses, with priority placed on domestic water supply. Management programs and actions will be made in recognition of existing contractual agreements and potential for review and renegotiation in light of these goals.

To prioritize protection over treatment in managing Lake Whatcom and its watersheds. Management actions shall reflect a long term view of replacement or treatment costs.

To manage water quantity to sustain long-term efficient use of the water for beneficial uses within the county that are consistent with a drinking-water reservoir, and recognize the integral link with the Nooksack River and associated water resource concerns.

To ensure that opportunities for public comment and participation are provided in policy and management program development, and to promote public awareness and responsible individual actions.

To promote learning, research, and information opportunities which better our understanding of the watershed system, the impacts of activities, and the benefits and potentials of policies implemented.

[The above resolution was signed by Bellingham Council President on November 30, 1992, Whatcom County Council Chair on November 30, 1992 and by Water District 10 Commissioners on December 11, 1992.]

Goal Statements for the Lake Whatcom Program

The following 21 goals were adopted as an attachment to the 1991 Joint Resolution signed by the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, and Water District 10 legislative bodies.

Public Involvement and Education:

(1) Goal: To develop and incorporate mechanisms which:

* provide information regarding individual actions which can reduce or mitigate urban impacts;
* provide educational formats for describing water quality and quantity issues;
* provide opportunity for public participation in developing the management program and policies for the lake; and
* utilize enforcement actions as opportunities for education and learning.

Watershed Ownership:

(2) Goal: To pursue public ownership and protection of the watershed whenever possible through public/private partnerships, tax incentives, transfer of development rights, land trusts, grants, etc.

Information/Data Management:

(3) Goal: To coordinate with appropriate agencies to maintain and expand a data base sufficient for detection of trends, assessment of problems, evaluation of actions, and forming management decisions that ensure protection and enhancement efforts are achieved.

Water Quality Protection and Enhancement:

Forest Practices

(4) Goal: To promote low impact forest practices in the watershed over residential development while working to ensure that forest management practices are conducted in harmony with the principles of a drinking-water reservoir.

* pursue zoning and development incentives to retain lands in long term forestry; and
* develop and maintain a comprehensive watershed forest management plan which minimizes cumulative impacts on the drinking water reservoir.

Hazardous Materials

(5) Goal: To ensure that potential for water quality contamination associated with the use and transport of hazardous materials in the watershed is minimized.

* restrict and/or designate the route of transport for certain kinds of hazardous materials within the watershed;
* implement a hazardous materials spill prevention program involving improvements in road design, traffic speed modification, and hazardous material transportation routing restrictions;
* develop an identification and reporting system consistent with state and federal guidelines; and
* coordinate information sharing among agencies, citizens, local government, and emergency responders to optimize response time to water quality threats.

(6) Goal: To reduce adverse water quality impacts from storage and handling of hazardous materials within the watershed.

* identify the various sources and areas of concern (i.e., auto wrecking yards, underground storage tanks, etc.);
* evaluate effectiveness of existing regulations and policies to adequately address concerns;
* recommend and implement additional actions as appropriate (i.e., restrict or condition certain types of activities); and
* educate users on hazardous materials alternatives, use, and disposal with an emphasis on avoidance of use of hazardous materials in the watershed.

Nutrient Loading and Other Potential Threats:

(7) Goal: To identify other sources of nutrient loading and other threats and implement measures to minimize impacts on the lake.


(8) Goal: To allow recreational opportunities which do not adversely impact the watershed or water quality while finding appropriate ways to reduce impacts of existing activities.

Solid Waste:

(9) Goal: To ensure that the generation, handling, storage, or disposal of solid waste does not degrade water quality.

* Prohibit the development of landfills within the watershed;
* Direct the Health Department to assess the ‘Y’ Road landfill contributions to water quality degradation;
* Prohibit the on-site burial of waste within the watershed [state regulations currently exempt single family residences and single family farms engaged in on-site solid waste handling]; and
* Promote education efforts directed at the proper disposal of waste, and use of the household hazardous waste facility.

Spill Response:

(10) Goal: To ensure that spill prevention and response programs adequately protect water quality.

* Improve spill response program to ensure that a communication network associated with spill occurrences is clearly defined, tested and implemented.


(11) Goal: Prevent water quality degradation and water quantity impacts associated with stormwater runoff.

* Adopt and implement stormwater management standards and maintenance practices that include control of off-site impacts, the use of source control and treatment, Best Management Practices (BMPs), erosion and sediment control, and operation and maintenance (O&M);
* Control development density and location;
* Phase in a stormwater management program for existing development, including treatment of discharges;
* Evaluate options which can be applied to both existing and new development to reduce impacts on water quality, including vegetation management, education, and cost incentives; and
* Require maintenance of stormwater treatment devices and facilities.


(12) Goal: To design and develop transportation and traffic systems within the watershed to minimize the impacts on water quality.

* Promote the development and use of mass transit, and other alternative transportation systems that minimize detrimental impacts of traffic within the watershed;
* Design major routes and transportation lines so that they are not located adjacent to the lake or in a location/design that does not allow for adequate treatment prior to entering the lake;
* Ensure road drainage systems for existing and new roads minimize water quality impacts;
* Evaluate and implement actions which minimize the number and use of roads which lie adjacent to the lake (i.e., reduce ‘through traffic’ by making appropriate road dead ends); and
* Provide ongoing evaluation of effects of transportation on feeder streams, surrounding wetland and the lake.


(13) Goal: Prevent water quality degradation associated with development within the watershed.

* Review and recommend changes in zoning and development potential that are compatible with a drinking-water reservoir environment;
* (In addition to zoning) identify and promote other actions to minimize potential for increased development in the watershed (i.e., land trust, development rights, cost incentives, etc.);
* develop specific standards which reduce the impacts of urbanization, such as minimal lot clearing; clustered development to reduce infrastructure; collection and treatment of stormwater before entering the lake; and
* develop appropriate interlocal agreements with governing agencies to prohibit the potential for additional development once an agreed upon level is set.

Wastewater Systems (Sewer and On-Site Waste Systems):

(14) Goal: To prioritize the utilization of sewers over on-site systems in a manner consistent with management principles for a drinking-water reservoir environment.

(15) Goal: To ensure that sewer systems promote, improve and protect water quality without promoting growth.

* Prevent direct discharge of sewage from sewer systems; and
* Review appropriate sites and promote extension of sewer systems into areas with septic system problems.

(16) Goal: To ensure that accidental or intentional discharges of hazardous materials and other contaminants to septic systems serving domestic and commercial facilities do not adversely impact water quality.

* Establish a complaint response system that would prioritize action on complaints within the Lake Whatcom watershed;
* Develop and implement an operational permit system for all septic systems within the watershed;
* Conduct a more intensive survey at the older seasonal residences as recommended in the Septic System Survey conducted by the Health Department in 1990;
* Encourage proper use and maintenance of systems through public education, system monitoring and regulation enforcement;
* Eliminate the use of hazardous septic system cleaners in the watershed; and
* Identify existing and potential new commercial facilities within the watershed that use hazardous materials and evaluate, recommend and implement management plans to prevent impacts on water quality.

Supply/Quantity Management:


(17) Goal: To promote the wise and efficient use of water through conservation for domestic, industrial, and commercial users.

Diversion Operation for Reservoir Management

(18) Goal: To manage or reduce the diversion of water from the Nooksack River and Lake Whatcom in a manner consistent with water resource laws and to the extent possible, minimizes impacts on beneficial uses within the Nooksack Basin, with a particular emphasis on fisheries.


(19) Goal: Where it does not conflict with water quality goals and objectives, identify and promote beneficial recharge practices within the watershed and assist in maintaining supplies for all beneficial uses (e.g., stream buffers, encouraging minimum impervious surfaces within watershed, etc.).

* monitor stream quality, flow and fisheries as a method of early detection of impacts to water quality.


Distribution/Availability within the County

(20) Goal: Given the importance of Lake Whatcom and its Middle Fork Diversion as a source of water supply, and the limited availability of alternative sources to support anticipated growth in the county, establish a process to determine the extent to which the Lake Whatcom reservoir water should be made available beyond the Bellingham Urban Area.


Fish and Wildlife

(21) Goal: Promote actions and programs that protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat to include:

* design culverts and bridges over streams which do not prohibit passage of fish;
* promote and encourage actions to correct areas where fish passage problems are already existing;
* maintain, protect and re-create stream buffers; and
* regulate stream flow to reduce scouring and sediment deposition.