Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lake Whatcom: Possible City Club Questions

Someone called me recently to inquire as what questions might be appropriate to ask each of the three panelists, who have been invited to the next City Club meeting, Wednesday, August 27 at Northwood Hall.

That started me thinking, and here's what I've come up with so far:

For Steve Hood, the Washington State Department of Ecology's co-author of the recently issued DRAFT Total Maximum Daily Load [TMDL] Study:

1. This sounds like our Reservoir has a serious problem that has gotten worse over the 9-plus years it has taken to write this report. Has it? If so, please share your opinion about what must be done immediately by the jurisdictions with responsibility for preserving this valuable public resource.

2. Are there measurements that can be periodically made which will give us a good indication of the pollutant loads -including Phosphorus- that are coming into the Reservoir from tributaries and other stormwater out-falls, including shoreline parcels? What are the main measurements -including suggested limits- that are needed, and what must be done to facilitate this data gathering? Will additional funding likely be required?

3. What effective steps can citizens and watershed residents take themselves -without waiting for government action- to minimize pollutant generation and run-off into the Reservoir? How can we get these citizens engaged?

For Pete Kremen, Whatcom County Executive and key member of the Lake Whatcom RESERVOIR Watershed Management Program:

1. About three years ago, at a Joint City/County/Water District review meeting, you made the statement that Whatcom County would take the lead in reducing the Phosphorus load going into the Reservoir. What has been done to accomplish that goal? Is there any data to support that this is an active and effective program?

2. According to your recent statements, Whatcom County is experiencing a shortfall in its revenues that may necessitate staff reductions and program curtailments. On top of this, the County Council is considering increasing the 'level of service' related to a number of water programs that are currently insufficiently funded. What will you do to insure the level of staffing -including the proposed Joint Watershed Manager position- and funding for the Reservoir is available, adequate and stable so that Phosphorus reduction becomes more than an empty promise?

3. You have been a vocal advocate for the reconveyance of about 8400 acres of Department of Natural Resources [DNR] forest lands in the Reservoir Watershed to Whatcom County for the purpose of becoming a Regional Park. How much funding will be lost and how will these lost revenues be replaced, given the financial plight the County finds itself facing? What assurances can you provide that any such reconveyance will actually benefit Reservoir protection efforts, given how popular Parks can be? What proportion of any reconveyed forest lands will protected -in perpetuity- by conservation easements or equivalent methods to insure only passive use?

For Dan Pike, Mayor of Bellingham and key member of the Lake Whatcom RESERVOIR Watershed Management Program:

1. In anticipation of the TMDL Report, the City of Bellingham imposed a 'moratorium' on all non-vested building in the City's portion of this watershed. What proven and effective actions are expected to be proposed and put in place prior to this moratorium being lifted?

2. The City has undertaken discussions with the Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District with the objective of consolidating operations in the watershed to minimize the likelihood of future spills, realize potential savings to customers and provide better availability of resources. Where does this initiative stand now? Have any insoluble problems been identified? When do you expect a resolution?

3. The City has acquired to date, over 1200 acres of watershed property to help preserve water quality and help protect against unmitigated development. Future acquisitions are also planned. How does the City plan to manage these lands in the future? Has a response to the Watershed Acquisition Board questions on this issue been prepared? Is there a possibility that a joint City/County plan might be employed on some of this property?

To all three PANELISTS: How can we best get a serious Phosphorus Reduction Program up and running without further delay, equivocating and finger pointing?

I'm sure there are many other questions that can be asked, but we probably ought to leave some time for the answers, don't you think?