Friday, November 2, 2007

Lake Whatcom Mis-Management Non-Program: It's Time To Get Serious!

It wasn't pretty and it wasn't productive.
Because it wasn't prepared for or planned to succeed.
This charade again demonstrated disrespect for everyone who really cares about preserving Lake Whatcom!
I mean those willing to actually walk their talk.
You know, those who say what they mean and mean what they say.

And, I don't blame staff.
They are doing what they can and are obviously not enjoying being used as human shields.
They ought to get medals, but instead are probably getting discouraged and perhaps a little cynical.
At least, those working for the City still have their jobs.

All during the meeting, our illustrious County Executive kept his head down and uttered nary a peep,
Uttering nary a peep means not caring a bleep!
There was nothing going on at that meeting that he wanted to take credit for, at least not in public.

At least Mayor Tim had the good grace and courage to stand and try putting a good closing statement onto a meeting that had been crying out to be ended for over 2 hours!

Rank amateurs, attending their first meeting and not knowing how to spell RESERVOIR could have done better!
OK, now I've vented.
On to what needs to happen.

First, we need to focus on what this 'program' is intended to accomplish, and what it is not.
I see it as a lasting commitment to a best efforts attempt to address the causes of water supply degradation.
Notice I said 'water supply'.
That means the raw water in the lake that we treat to drink, swim in, boat in, try to fish in, look at, and generally take for granted.
Protecting that raw water is the first step in a whole chain of activities that have to be taken by law to keep people safe from water borne pollution.
And, it is the most important step, because it is the most cost-effective and healthy action possible.
If we can't agree on that, why have a 'program'?

How do we go about figuring out what it is we need to accomplish?
Most of this is already known, and has been since 1992, when the so-called Joint Resolution was signed.
The problem is this was -and is -a statement of Policy, not binding legislation that helps achieve the stated goals.
It is the work of the 'program' and of each jurisdiction involved to enact and enforce those laws and regulations required to make it happen.
This ain't rocket science, folks! It's basic to any set of goals that are meant to be achieved.

The 'program' as it now exists is focused on the qualitative common goals that can be shared and accomplished together.
It is not the answer to everything, although some seem to want that to be true.
We agree on what we are willing to do together, write it down, estimate the cost and time required, fund it and assign staff to perform the work.
It's that simple.
Except one important thing is missing.
Reporting the measurable progress, and the staff hours and money spent at regular intervals, and in a format that is easily understandable and can be kept as part of the public record.
But, measuring stuff is quantitative, which means goals need to be quantitative and capable of being measured!

Is that asking too much?
Most people understand the principle of 'what gets measured, gets managed', don't they?

So, what is the problem with figuring out what can be done with $500,000 per year, equally funded by City & County, then, doing it?
Setting priorities?
That's not rocket science either.
There are already a set of 'Ongoing' Tasks that need to be continued.
What is the price tag on that?
Are there some of these that can be funded and done outside of the 'program' proper?
I'll bet there are!
Figure out what has to be done together, and what can be done separately and shared.
Remember, no one has said that $500 K -equally shared- covers everything, each year.
Heck, the City has been spending twice that amount all by itself every year, not even counting its Watershed Property Acquisitions.
That effort has already cost well over $10 million to preserve about 1300 acres.

Now, who is better qualified to recommend priorities?
Could it be the trained staff?
Let them do it!
My gosh, isn't that what staff does?
Absent any recommendations, what will any legislative body do?
Fumble, bicker, run out the clock, and leave unsatisfied, maybe even angry?
You can't tell me somebody didn't know that would happen!
That would be just too dumb to live.

Recognizing that the County has practically no staff remaining with 'program' experience.
And, that City staff is understandably antsy with election uncertainties.
Why have this meeting at all?
Why have it now?
Why weren't the respective Council Committees with a Lake Whatcom focus not asked to discuss 2008 'program' goals and recommend a few priorities?
So many questions, so few answers!
Again, one has to conclude this meeting was set up to fail.

Of course, there is the question of the Interlocal Agreement that will expire soon.
That hasn't been discussed either.
And, the question of whether the Water District will again be included as a principle player, with veto power.
And, whether the Sudden Valley Community Association will have a bigger voice.
And, who will be serving on the Councils or as Executives next year.
Again, why this rushed and ill-prepared meeting, after 2 years of no meetings at all?
It does seem to take stupidity to a new level, but maybe my expectations are still unrealisticlly high.

Back to the problem at hand.
Once agreement is reached on how to best spend the $500 K per year, the 'program's' measureable goals are set.
That process needs to be repeated every year, not go to sleep for 5 years with essentially no accountability as has been the case recently.
I seem to recall reading that 'unspent' County funds from its apportioned $175 K per year was returned to its General Fund.
Why was that?
No staff left to work on it?
Or, let the City do it?
Any oversight on this from the County Council?
This 'program' seems to be on auto-pilot, left to the discretion of the Executive[s].
That, in itself, is a problem!

See how negativity from past experience keeps dragging down the positive goals we ought to be concentrating on?
Boy, how that thinking can feed on itself!
Kinda like sourdough starter.

After the 'program' is quantified each year, the parties can then focus on how to advance to the next level of policy.
That way, the confusion can be at least partially mitigated.
The next steps should include setting up a more focused and comprehensive management structure that is capable of achieving and monitoring a truly long-lasting PROGRAM that is much more effective than the annual dance we now try to avoid.
If memory serves, the type of structure most likely to succeed will resemble something that has already been tried in Whatcom County.
It was difficult, costly, time consuming, frustrating, and not completed.
But what was achieved does have some lasting value that can be built upon, once we get people elected with the wisdom and courage to see it through.

Shall I whisper the name?
It was called WRIA-1.
That stands for Watershed Resource Inventory Area No. 1.
Never heard of it?
Shhh. It's taking a nap now.

I'm talking about a stakeholder based process that it capable of attracting and holding the attention of everyone with an interest in Lake Whatcom.
Such a process would need to be initiated and established by the County & City, as is currently envisioned.
But, it would not be limited to those entities alone.
It would need to include all of the varied interests which need a voice in the process, including the Water District, Sudden Valley and others, but with a difference.
That difference is that we will need to come to terms with what raw water quality standard must be maintained to insure the long-term needs of our community.
That has to be a quantifiable standard that everyone understands and is responsible for achieving well into the foreseeable future.

That standard is already pretty well known.
It has a lot to do with the Dept of Ecology's TMDL Study, now anticipated as early as February.
Notice I didn't say what year?
The standard will include limits on Phosphorus, amongst others.
The standard is already set for urbanized areas.
The standard is 20 micro-grams per liter of Phosphorus, measured as run-off from an individual property or tributary.
It's time we started measuring what we have, whether the TMDL Study is issued or not!
We know what it will be based upon.
Already known and accepted standards.

But these standards are much lower for rural areas.
So, the County will have to decide which areas will remain rural and which will be allowed to sprawl further and set its standards appropriately.
Then, the standards will need to be monitored and corrective action taken to sustain them.
See how simple this exercise can become?
But, it's really not simple, is it?
It will be work that requires effort, over a long period of time.
And, its work that some people would rather avoid even knowing about.

So, there's a priority!
Tell people why its necessary.
Otherwise forget the PROGRAM and keep the 'program'.
At least until even those in denial are screaming for their local government to do something about it!
Good luck Whatcom County, because you're gonna need it.
Over and out