Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lake Whatcom: A Thanksgiving Blessing

Sometimes we take for granted those blessings which are in plain sight.
An example is Lake Whatcom, our municipal water supply and natural reservoir.
It has been known for years that Lake Whatcom is under threat from development pressures, which are prematurely degrading what has been an exceptionally pure source of drinking water.

Despite the actions taken by local and state governments, raw water continues to be degraded, and at an accelerated pace!
This ought to be a clear sign that we need to get more serious about preserving this irreplaceable resource, but still there are those in denial, those without a sense of responsibility or urgency, and those without a clue, who serve as inert deadweights on the efforts needed to correct the situation.

With hard times now upon us, even the City Council -which loudly touts Lake Whatcom as its NUMBER ONE PRIORITY- has proven unreliable when it comes to appropriating sufficient funds for this important work, including critical TMDL study work that we have already waited years to initiate.

Fortunately, the County Council has now found the courage to act, as described below.
Thank you County Council!

Maybe the City Council will take a cue from your action and consider finding better funding for its NUMBER ONE PRIORITY?
Who knows?
Christmas is coming!

The Nov. 25, 2008, THE BELLINGHAM HERALD published a story with this headline;
"County approves property tax increase for flood and water projects"

To help pay for flood-protection and water-quality projects, the County Council - acting in its capacity as the board of supervisors for the countywide flood control district - voted to increase property taxes by 4 cents for every $1,000 of a property's assessed value.

This decision was made by the County Council only after sparring over whether to raise taxes in a faltering economy, by a 4-3 vote, with council members Bob Kelly, Seth Fleetwood, Carl Weimer and Laurie Caskey-Schreiber voting for the increase and Sam Crawford, Barbara Brenner and Ward Nelson opposed.
In recent years, that particular split has become predictable, particularly when it comes to decisions involving Lake Whatcom.

The new taxes are expected to generate an additional $940,000 in 2009 and roughly $960,000 in 2010, about a 31 percent increase in the tax for the flood fund.

To put this into perspective the tax increase means the owner of a $300,000 property would pay an extra $12 a year.

As has become usual in matters of long term importance, many residents, as well as other elected county officials, actually criticized this courageous and badly needed decision!
Think maybe a little political pandering is going on?
Get used to it!

In a county where there are so many legitimate needs, this lack of political courage has become appalling, irresponsible and even bordering on criminal.
Those who claim they are concerned for the taxpayers have actually got it right, but for the wrong reason!
They should be concerned that the taxpayers are not being well represented by do-nothing elected officials who deliberately choose to ignore important issues, or simply not deal with them effectively.

These new monies are proposed go toward everything from Nooksack River flood projects to Lake Whatcom storm-water projects and revising county law to add rules for low-impact development; a long list of badly needed water-quality projects that haven't been funded, even though there is agreement on their importance.

Thank goodness that 4 members of this Council is taking the long-term view and protecting the environment for future generations!
As one advocate put it 'this is a time in our lives when I think we all learned that doing nothing can cost you more in the long run, and that's what we're trying to avoid here."
Amen to that sentiment!

And, thank you County Council.

Actually, the additional funds raised represents only a fraction of what will be needed to complete the countywide water resource planning that was begun several years ago, then halted when certain interests put pressure on officials to delay that effort.
Called WRIA-1 [Water Resource Inventory Area #1], Whatcom County's effort was at the time cited as the leading example of how to structure such a comprehensive planning effort.

One strategy that opponents used to slow and then practically stop WRIA-1 was to question the legality of using the former funding method, the former County 'Flood Tax' for such planning purposes.
Faced with that challenge, an earlier County Council acted to change the funding method -and amounts- to that currently in use.
Once that was done, the County apparently felt more comfortable about its legal footing and made few, if any, additional actions to restore funding for water-related projects, including WRIA-1.
That is why this latest action is notable; it again recognizes the need for critical stormwater and other water projects of countywide significance.

An earlier blog -July 2007- of mine also touched on this subject: