Monday, May 27, 2013
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
By all early indications, the election of Pope Francis I is being viewed as a very popular choice that emphasizes humility and the communication of true caring for all humanity.
A very worthy and timely choice, indeed!
Today's Gristle carried this story about the likely Reconveyance vote - before actual results were known.
Last night's County Council meeting was also live-blogged by Riley Sweeney, but, again, terminated before the actual decision was made.
But, this morning The Herald finished the story complete with the final vote.
Who knew that our Whatcom County Council would also tangibly demonstrate its commitment to a higher cause than the politics of division?
Like many others I had faith that the Council would eventually come to the right decision after several years of careful deliberation, but faith is always renewed by good acts that actually come to pass.
And so it was that the long-debated DNR Reconveyance of over 8 thousand acres of forestland around the Lake Whatcom Reservoir came to pass late last night by a recorded final vote of 5 to 2.
Thank goodness for that outcome!
Now, we have added assurance that we are on the right track in preserving a precious natural resource.
And, that future policy is more likely to follow and augment this example of forward-looking leadership, greatly aided and abetted by strong follower-ship by thousands of concerned citizens.
Next, comes a focus on more enlightened land use policies and storm water regulations that support the implicit policy of preservation that underlies last night's Reconveyance decision.
More very difficult decisions will be required to address the severe water degradation challenges identified by DOE's recent TMDL Report.
That means the Lake Whatcom Watershed must be viewed and treated differently than before; no longer to be considered as either an area for affordable housing or luxury mega-home sites for the wealthy, but a place to be respected for its critical importance as our long-term drinking water source.
Fortunately, de-emphasizing development of all sorts fits the idea of allowing this watershed to more closely mimic nature, which is known to be both the most effective and least expensive way to control harmful run-off into the Reservoir. An added benefit could be that additional properties will be made reasonably available for conservation purposes, thereby achieving a further desirable 'tipping point' in public opinion and perception.
I am thankful that the Reconveyance decision has been made, because it helps guide those additional right-minded decisions that must be made in the future.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Several recent events and actions lend credence to concerns by citizens, including these:
• The coal conveyor & access damage at the nearby Westshore Coal Terminal in BC resulting from a late night collision by a large Bulk Carrier vessel with a pilot on board.
• The railroad bridge collapse south of Bellingham on the BNSF main line used by heavy coal trains.
• The derailment of a coal train east of Tri-Cities, spilling 34 loaded cars.
• The protracted delays of traffic in Skagit County due to a stalled coal train with brake problems.
• The unseemly acts by the GPT Applicant to recruit allies to pack public meetings designed to gather citizen concerns.
• The repeated dismissals of legitimately expressed citizen concerns as only NIMBYism by GPT spokespersons.
• The ongoing media advertising campaign designed to influence public opinion during the 120-day EIS Scoping period, which advocates multiple coal terminals -not just GPT- which seems like a concerted effort on behalf of an entire industry. Doesn't that justify a programmatic EIS approach is necessary?
There is likely available statistical information on the frequency and severity of both large bulk vessel and coal train accidents. I request that this information be researched and applied to the rail and marine traffic projected by the Applicant for GPT.
Additionally, the costs to the natural environment, existing businesses, residents, governments services and facilities need to be ascertained for inclusion into the EIS evaluation.
A programmatic EIS appears necessary to include all of the possible impacts, whether to the GPT site or anywhere along the proposed transport routes.
It would also include impacts to the atmosphere, the oceans and inland waterways, the land, human health and impacts to each ecosystem likely to be affected over time.
Friday, August 3, 2012
Most of these recommendations apply to existing Container Port & Terminal facilities as needed modifications; but in the case of new facilities, they should be used as part of the design & operation criteria.
While the proposed GPT is not presently foreseen as a Container Port, but instead a Bulk Terminal for coal, these recommendations would seem to be even more important because of the toxic and friable nature of the coal - which contributes to airborne dust and water-borne pollution.
What a rare opportunity to use state-of-the-art technology and best management practices to begin with rather than waiting for predictable problems to occur!
That kind of prudence is called the Precautionary Principle, first espoused by Benjamin Franklin who famously said that 'a stitch in time saves nine'.
So, in that spirit, why not adopt these prudent recommendations at the very start of any new terminal at Cherry Point?
After all, that would allow both advocates and opponents more confidence and certainty in what is actually being proposed as well as what adaptions will be incorporated into the design and operations as up-front mitigation for known concerns.
Here is a summary of recommendations:
Ports must commit to protect local communities and the environment, not only during expansions but also during regular operations. Following are suggested measures used by select ports worldwide to successfully decrease impacts on local communities and ecosystems. These measures should be employed at all container ports to clean up their operations, and local activists should be aware of these options to advocate for their implementation. Ports should consider the negotiation of new or modified leases as an important opportunity to require a combination of the mitigation measures, such as the use of cleaner fuels and equipment.
- Clean up harbor craft, such as tugboats, through engine repower and retrofit programs.
- Limit idling of oceangoing vessels and tugboats by providing electric power at docks and requiring ships and tugboats to "plug in" to shoreside power while at berth.
- Require ships, including oceangoing vessels, to use the cleanest grade of diesel fuel possible, with a sulfur content of 15 to 2,000 parts per million.
- Where possible, create incentives for, or otherwise promote the use of, emission controls on oceangoing vessels.
- Retire equipment that is ten or more years old and replace it with the cleanest available equipment and fuel choices, preferably alternative fuels.
- Retrofit existing equipment less than ten years old to run on the best available control technology, including diesel particulate filters (DPFs) with lean NOx catalysts (LNCs) and, if not feasible, with diesel oxidation catalysts (DOCs).
- Switch to cleaner diesel fuels, such as low-sulfur fuel with sulfur content less than 15 parts per million and diesel emulsions.
- Create incentive programs that encourage fleet modernization, the retirement of older trucks, and their replacement with modern lower-emitting trucks.
- Offer incentives for the installation of pollution controls, including DPFs with LNCs or, if not feasible, with DOCs.
- Make cleaner fuels, such as diesel emulsions or low-sulfur diesel, available to off-site trucks.
- Minimize truck idling by enforcing idling limits or by installing idle shutoff controls.
- Repower or replace all switching locomotives that do not meet the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tier 0 Standards with electric-hybrid or alternative-fuel engines.
- Install engine emissions controls where possible.
- Require automatic engine shutoff controls to minimize unnecessary idling.
- Commit to using cleaner fuels, such as on-road grade diesel.
- Take principal responsibility, as the general permittee, for preparing a stormwater pollution prevention plan for all terminals.
- Provide guidance to all port tenants for development of model stormwater programs, oversight and inspections of individual terminals to confirm implementation of an acceptable program, and education and training of terminal staff.
- Carefully document and analyze potential water pollution problems, water quality monitoring, and best management practices for the prevention, control, and treatment of stormwater runoff. Other measures recommended include water quality programs; traffic mitigation; land use, light, and noise abatement; improved aesthetics; and other terminal design features.
In addition to the mitigation measures ports should implement on their own, a number of policy and regulatory actions are needed to protect human health and the environment from the large, industrial, and high-polluting operations at marine ports. Ordinarily, such activities would be subject to stringent regulation, but oversight of ports falls between the regulatory cracks, defeated by confusion over jurisdictional authority and the ongoing efforts of a strong industry lobby. While a patchwork of international, federal, state, and local rules apply to various pollution sources at ports, most are weak and poorly enforced.
- The U.S. government should officially ratify MARPOL Annexes IV and VI (an international treaty that prevents sewage pollution and sets emissions standards for ships) and the Antifouling Systems Convention, which bans toxic chemical coatings on ship hulls.
- The EPA should expedite efforts to establish the entire East, West, and Gulf coasts as control zones subject to stricter emission standards under MARPOL VI.
- The EPA should implement a graduated harbor fee system similar to a program in Sweden that requires more polluting ships to pay higher fees upon entering a port.
- The EPA should expedite implementation of stricter emission standards for all marine vessels within two years.
- States and regional authorities should create financial incentives for the cleanup and replacement of older marine vessels.
- States and regional authorities should require ships to plug in to shoreside power while docked.
- States should require that ships use low-sulfur diesel while in coastal waters and at berth (until electric power is made available). In the absence of state action, regional authorities should require this.
- Regional authorities should monitor and enforce ship speed limits.
- The EPA must follow through with full implementation of its 2007 emissions standards for on-road, heavy-duty trucks; its 2008 emissions standards for nonroad vehicles and equipment; and the related lower sulfur diesel requirements.
- The EPA should adopt a series of diesel retrofit rules, similar to those proposed in the California risk reduction program, to establish a cleanup schedule for existing polluting diesel engines. In the absence of federal action, states or local authorities should adopt these programs.
- The EPA should set uniform federal idling limits for all diesel engines. In the absence of federal action, states or local authorities should require idling limits.
- States should provide incentive programs to reduce pollution from heavy-duty diesel engines, similar to programs such as California's Carl Moyer and Gateway Cities; in the absence of state action, regional authorities should sponsor such programs.
- Regional authorities should adopt fleet rules to clean up and require new, cleaner purchases of all heavy-duty engines, similar to those in place in the Los Angeles area.
- The EPA and individual states should consider fees on each container entering a port to provide funding for mitigation of the environmental impacts of moving those containers.
- The U.S. government should adopt and support a sustainable transportation system program, similar to the European Union program, facilitating the shift of cargo transport from more polluting modes (such as trucking) to cleaner locomotive and barge transport.
- The EPA should implement stricter emission standards for locomotives within one year.
- States and regional authorities should also create financial incentives for the cleanup and replacement of older locomotives.
- States should negotiate memorandums of understanding that create incentives for cleaner locomotives. In the absence of state action, regional authorities should pursue this.
- Regional authorities should improve efforts to protect marine habitats from further infill due to port developments.
- Regional authorities should work together with local communities and marine terminals to improve efficiency and land use and to minimize impacts of terminals on local communities.
- Neighboring states should work together in coastal alliances to protect their marine natural resources and to share information on programs and technologies, and they should work together to jointly shoulder the neglected responsibility to neighboring communities and their surrounding environment.
- The EPA should issue effluent guidelines to require a general baseline level of pollutant reduction for port facilities, or for those pollutants typically found in port runoff.
- States should ensure that anti-degradation provisions of federal and state law are fully implemented in stormwater permits.
- States should give special attention to the development of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for impaired waters around many ports.
- Local governments should prioritize port facilities when designing inspection protocols in conjunction with local regulatory programs and implementation of municipal stormwater permits.
- Congress should pass the Stop Oil Spills Act (H.R. 880) to accelerate the phase-in of double-hulled tankers in U.S. waters by 2007.
- Regional authorities should require ports to take steps to ensure that oil pollution does not become part of runoff and that portwide oil-recycling programs are in place.
- The U.S. Coast Guard should finalize mandatory national ballast water regulations as quickly as possible, or no later than the expected summer 2004 completion date.
- States should adopt ballast water regulations, similar to those in place in California and Washington, that ensure a 200-mile buffer from the U.S. coast.
- The EPA must consider more stringent requirements on the dumping of wastes containing oxygen-depleting nitrogen and phosphorous, as well as persistent toxic compounds that continue to threaten marine life.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
But there is also a third thing, that makes it water
And nobody knows what it is.
--D.H. Lawrence, "The Third Thing"
Do you agree?
If water should be priced more fairly, how would you go about doing that? What would you do with the fresh revenue from more expensive water? Is there a way of increasing the price of water without hurting poor people, without increasing the price of every product that reins on water?
When you start to think like we think, you don't see water in the pipes. You see dollar signs. --Eric Berliner, IBM water manager in Burlington, Vermont
#8 Plenty of places in the U.S. have ample water resources. Is there any value in "conserving" water, or creating water awareness, in communities that have abundant water?
How would you make the case for smart water use to citizens in a community where the water supply itself isn't under any pressure?
Are there any other issues besides simple availability that ordinary people should be paying attention to?
"When I came to work here, our attitude was, "Just shut up and turn on the faucet." That was a huge mistake. We were all going to run out of water in 1995. --Patricia Mulroy, water czar of Las Vegas since 1989
Here's a Crosscut blog on this same book.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Here is the comment I posted:
This is a good idea and affordable. To mimic nature is always easier when nature is left to do the job it does. There will always be pro & con arguments, but preserving these steep slopes from clear-cutting has to be a no-brainer! Bellingham & Whatcom County are very fortunate to have such a large and pure reservoir for a drinking water supply, but until relatively recently, understanding what it takes to preserve it has been slow in coming. 1992 was the year that a joint Resolution was signed that identified known problems that need to be faced, with careful thought coupled with effective action, not just talk. Other major cities, like Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Portland, San Francisco, Vancouver, BC, etc had long ago taken steps to ensure the safety of their water supplies, but not Bellingham -which had and has some serious catching up to do!
The Whatcom County government has been very slow in coming to terms with its water policy, and not just concerning the Lake Whatcom Reservoir. It still lacks any meaningful storm water program that has both long term goals and funding. So, this reconveyance can represent a good start, and one that is affordable and effective in mimicking nature on the very steep slopes that need to be kept stable and green, whether one calls it a park or watershed buffer; trees and native plants do the work necessary to hold unstable soil in place. And, since soil is the major source of phosphorus, keeping it out of Lake Whatcom is important if the growing problem of algae blooms is to be curtailed.
Bellingham, by contrast, has focused is watershed preservation efforts on acquiring land more suitable for development, using funds from surcharges on it's water sales as purveyor. Of course, this land is more expensive; it is not often just given away! The point is, that whatever watershed land is preserved -by whatever method- it all contributes to stopping inappropriate development in this stressed and sensitive watershed. Make no mistake about the fact that development -whether housing, clear-cut logging, roads, etc- is the main culprit in degrading this wonderful water supply source! To the extent the DNR reconveyance helps, its good.It's now time for this decision to be favorably made, since the issue has been thoroughly debated for several years, during which almost $400,000 has been already spent by the County to survey and consolidate parcels into the configuration upon which the decision now rests.
Practically every objection raised has now been addressed and reasonably satisfied, except of course for those permanently mired in selfish interest or extreme ideological thinking.
The recent $500,000 contribution through the Whatcom Land Trust to the Mount Baker School District certainly keeps that jurisdiction whole from future timber harvest revenue loss.
Also, scaling back expensive early plans for extensive park development results in far less new revenue demand from the County, which helps both fiscally and in terms of avoiding adverse watershed impacts.
When this DNR reconveyance proposal first publicly surfaced in the fall of 2007, I also raised several concerns, all of which have now been satisfactorily addressed. I hope the County Council -and the new Executive- will allow this idea to go forward and become the reality most residents want and have come to expect.
It will be good for the County, good for Lake Whatcom Reservoir, and it will respect all the hard work, effort and expense it has required to proceed thus far in good faith. All that is left to do is the final approval, which only the Council can decide.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Repeating a phrase from yesterday's blog seems appropriate to this one, too:
The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.
Today's Crosscut article addresses the latest attempt to delay -again- regulations that are more effective for storm water control. This seems like 'deja vu' all over again to me, so I posted this comment from my own experience:
The idea seems ironic to postpone doing something that is good sense just because the 'economy' isn't very good right now. With the historic stand taken by the Building Industry, no new regulations would ever be passed or implemented, particularly if developers are required to pay their 'fair share' of costs borne by all citizens, abide by required rules, or spend time explaining what is planned in return for a permit. That mentality is what got us into the present situation where the very quality of our own habitat is severely threatened!
DOE has a big responsibility and limited authority -or will- to act reasonably and in a timely manner to actually address solving the non-source pollution problem that is so problematic, yet its wings are repeatedly clipped by the slightest resistance to tighter and more effective regulations. Ecology has now developed such a reputation for wimping out and continual delay that, unfortunately, this behavior is no longer a surprise, but a frustration. Can you imagine any caring professional working for an organization like that? It's an unfunny joke, and a gross disservice to the public, which pays for reasonable services to help protect the air, water and soil we all depend upon.
Granted, that DOE can excel at its job if given necessary support from municipalities and the State Legislature, but without that support you can see what happens, repeatedly. The problem is that after-the-fact mitigation is always less effective and more expensive than getting things right from the first; which is why more delay won't help at all, but make the observed problems worse! Of course developers will play the deny, decry, delay game! That simply takes them off the hook and defers liability onto the home owner and municipality -at a higher environmental and social cost.
Several years ago, Bellingham was able to make its Surface & Storm Water Utility more effective by implementing the latest DOE/EPA rules and raising rates to pay for them. That was an understandably painful process, but it now seems to have worked. Guess who led the fight against that change? If you guessed the Building Industry, you'd be right -and that was during an economic boom period of record levels!
In fairness, the Storm Water permitting is often the most difficult to do, and the most expensive and time-intensive. Largely, this difficulty was due to several logical factors, among others; topography and vegetative cover become more important, interfacing with the already-built infrastructure can require ingenuity and expense, treating the storm water for pollutants is necessary, codifying new guidelines takes time and one size doesn't fit every situation. But, what is the excuse for not using the new rules for new development? There, one has a pretty clean slate to actually practice the art of low-impact techniques, thereby avoiding many of the problems outlined above.
In the end, more delay of storm water improvements for the asking doesn't help anyone, except the lobbyists -like the BIA- and that is a short-term, special favor that the rest of us -or our children- must pay for some day, in some way, but well after people forget the linkage to unwanted consequences.
PS. Today's Gristle further illuminates the problem of 'doing the right thing' at it's most basic level; following the existing law! Is there any hope for Whatcom County? No wonder DOE has problems!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I'm just now returning to the present after a short interlude to the past, studying ancient & medieval history.
That was interesting, but I must say we have it better these days, notwithstanding the habitual lying and dishonest posturing on political matters.
For example, I'm pleased that another local blog, Latte Republic, published a document -plus responses to it- entitled
25 REASONS WEIMER, CASKEY, MANN* & MCSHANE* HAVE FAILED THE CITIZENS OF WHATCOM COUNTY.
The original list of '25 Reasons' purports to support 4 brand new candidates for County office by trying to smear 4 other candidates, three of whom have actual experience in that office.
[Note McShane has been out of office since 2007 and Mann has never held elected office]
Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the 25 'reasons' are bogus and don't hold water, but since several are on the subject of water, I'll get back to that.
Anyway, this particular political piece ends this way:
Please ask your friends, families and neighbors to review this list. All of these statements are factual. Make sure everyone you know understands that the current County Council has lost sight of what is important to the people of Whatcom County. The 'Gang of Four' (Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan) must be removed from office.
And finally, this admonition:
We Must Support Kathy Kershner, Mary Beth Teigrob, Michelle Luke, and Bill Knutzen!
Note that none of these favored four have any experience at all in public office, which is being touted as a virtue.
Instead, their clever handlers are speaking for them by using this poorly aimed broadside.
A fitting, and more likely result will be actually to turn the 'favored four' into political cannon fodder, a hard lesson for not being careful with the truth, or with whom you let speak for you!
This reminds of a quote nearly 60 years old: 'The GOP would do well to remember the warning of Maine Republican Margaret Chase Smith, who worried in 1950 that her party was trying to achieve victory on "the Four Horsemen of Calumny -- Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear."'
Guess we could also add simple lying and deliberate misinterpretation of facts.
Of the 25 'Reasons' several are related to important water issues, so this piece will focus on them.
1. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan advocated for, and voted to raise taxes without offsetting the net cost to the taxpayer. This has not otherwise occurred in the 14 years Executive Kremen has been in office. Carl initially advocated for more than double the increase that was finally passed by a slim Council majority.
Carl's response: This refers to the increase in the Flood Tax which amounted to less than $1/month on the average house. This small increase was needed to start to implement the Lake Whatcom stormwater plan, meet other mandated water quality issues, and shore up the flood fund that was dipping below what has historically been the level set to meet emergencies. Luckily this increase happened when it did because the January 2009 flooding required a big chunk of this emergency money.
My response: This 'increase' actually was a partial restoration of funding necessary to accomplish water related work considered vital to this entire county. Formerly, the so-called 'Flood Tax' was used to fund the WRIA1 Program [Water Resource Inventory Area #1], a comprehensive planning effort supported by 5 'Initiating Governments', Whatcom County [Lead entity], City of Bellingham, PUD #1, Lummi Nation & Nooksack Tribe and several stakeholder groups. About $4.5 million was expended in this effort over several years, before the effort was undermined by those -including the development community- who felt threatened by it; quite possibly by some of those who are still attempting to discredit water planning as a necessary task.
Whatcom County retains the serious, legal responsibility for providing water-related services, and to give these priority without providing the necessary funding would be irresponsible, thereby inviting costly legal actions the County would likely lose.
2. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan increased the taxes to pay for pet projects, one of them directly benefitting a friend and campaign advisor. This of course was for the "Shellfish Bed Inventory" portion of the designated uses for the Flood Tax increase. Geoff Menzies will assist in this work, and gain financially.
Carl's response: This again refers to the increase in the Flood Tax ($12/year for a $300,000 property). The rest of the statement is a bald faced lie. There was no money included for anything like a “shellfish bed inventory,” or anything that Geoff Menzies would have in any way been paid for. There was money for shellfish closure response plans for Birch Bay and Chuckanut Bay because the pollution in those areas have closed shellfish beds and we are required by state law (and it’s the right thing to do) to develop recovering plans in such circumstances. We also enhanced the Flood Fund with $500,000 from the REET fund. Here are the ways that money was targeted.
• Increased Flood Planning, Implementation, and Response $555,000
• Shellfish Closure Response Plans (Birch Bay and Chuckanut) $70,000
• Code revision to add appropriate Low Impact Development standards for county roads, other developments $60,000
• Design and engineering for Lake Whatcom sub-basin natural drainage retrofit - $150,000
• Stormwater Low Impact Development Pilots for existing homes (Lake Whatcom) $120,000
* CAO/Shorelines Education and Enforcement (PDS) Additional FTE $85,000
• Enhance implementation of shoreline, salmon, marine restoration, and shellfish recovery plans $50,000
• Lake Whatcom Stormwater capital projects planning and construction per Lake Whatcom Stormwater plan $390,000
• Lake Samish stormwater plan development $110,000
My response: Drayton Harbor has a terrible problem related to high levels of fecal coliform that is evidenced particularly at low tide. As a historic shellfish habitat, addressing this problem and restoring a healthy shellfish production was considered a worthwhile task of the former WRIA1 program, and remains so.
The attempt to characterize this effort as personal and political is bogus and gratuitous. In other words, a lie!
4. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan are strong advocates to create a gigantic park around Lake Whatcom, rather than allowing for an environmentally, responsibly, and economically-managed (by DNR) undeveloped forested landscape to be maintained around the lake. While this removes revenue to the County, it adds a huge future cost-liability to the taxpayers with no other foreseeable reimbursement.
Carl's response: This refers to the proposal to reconvey about 8000 acres of DNR land around Lake Whatcom back to the County to set it aside as a low impact reserve. Yes some hiking will be allowed in the area, but those impacts will be minimal compared to the impacts associated with road building and logging. New studies have recently been released, and more are on the way, that show pretty clearly that logging in the watershed has a much larger impact on phosphorus loading to the Lake than previously acknowledged. While it is true that DNR does a better job than most private forest operations, in the Lake Whatcom watershed we need to get into place more stringent control on all logging if we hope to restore the lake. It should be noted that DNR recently increased their forest practice regulations, and the Dept. of Ecology has just started a huge process to address the scientific evidence which shows that the much touted Forest and Fish law is not adequate to protect water quality in general, and certainly not in the Lake Whatcom watershed.
My response: My position is clear from previous blogs, and can be briefly summarized as follows. Protection of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, the sole water supply for half of Whatcom County, is important, and minimizing development and land/vegetation disturbance is critical. To the extent the County can fund and carefully manage the reconveyance of 8400 acres of forest lands around Lake Whatcom, the proposed reconveyance may be helpful, notwithstanding the loss of revenues from timber harvests. To date, I have not seen the land use plans nor the longterm funding source that would give me confidence this will work as anticipated. But, the potential for protecting the Lake and its watershed are considerable.
5. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan led the charge to create a costly and inefficient homeowner septic inspection program. Under this scheme, the property-owners of Whatcom County pay millions per year for needless inspections, with well over 90% of the results being 'everything's fine'.
Carl's response: The state legislature passed a law requiring counties to institute a system for the inspection of septic systems. The local Health Department estimates there are 30,000 septic systems in the county, although they don’t have any records for a third of those systems. That equates to somewhere in the area of 30,000,000 gallons of human sewage in the county that no one knows where it is, or if the systems are functioning properly. What we do know is that every stream in the lowland parts of the county are failing to meet federal water quality standards for fecal coliform pollution (the measure of sewage in the water). Sophisticated DNA testing in area streams shows that this pollution is coming mainly from livestock and to a lesser degree septic systems. The regulations we passed require an initial inspection by a professional so we can get a clear baseline of where all the septics are and how well they are working. After the initial inspection most systems can then be inspected by the homeowners themselves on a regular schedule after they take a class from the Health Department. The first year of data indicates that about 5% of the systems inspected so far a failing outright, and about 20% need maintenance. If these types of numbers hold for the rest of the county it would mean somewhere in the area of 1500 systems are failing county-wide (1,500,000 gallons of human sewage), and as many as 6000 systems need maintenance to keep from failing. The cost of an inspection is between $200 - $300 which is still a bargain compared to what people in the cities pay for sewer annually. The County is working on a low cost loan program for people who need to do expensive repairs to their systems The Council has also made it clear that once the initial baseline inspections are complete we will look at the data to decide whether it makes sense to then relax the inspection interval to even further lower the cost.
My response: What is it that is so hard to understand about following State law? The County's responsibility includes public health & safety. Get serious!
6. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan came up with a scheme to remove the authority of the County Executive to veto tax increases in one of the County funds. They did this to insulate the Council from veto, and it was this very fund that a slim majority of Council members ended up increasing.
Carl's response: This is referring to the Flood Tax again, and is not at all accurate. The Flood Control Zone District (FCZD), which sets the Flood Tax level, is set up in state law as a separate municipal entity from the County. Currently the FCZD Board and the County Council are one and the same, but under statute it doesn’t necessarily have to remain that way. There was an audit finding in the 1990s that pointed out that the County was incorrectly mingling the functions and money of the FCZD with that of the County. Correcting this error has been in the works on and off for years, and the need to do this surfaced again a couple years ago. The County Prosecutor, Council, and the Executive all agreed this was needed. Part of that separation of functions was to follow state law in the operations of the FCZD, which would not allow the Executive to veto the decisions of a separate municipal entity (the FCZD), just like he is not allowed to veto the decisions of the City of Bellingham. Another example of this incorrect intermingling was that the interest off the Flood Tax was being directed into the County’s General Fund instead of accruing for Flood Fund purposes. This intermingling still has not been completely fixed, but is in the works.
My response: It's good that some discipline has been imposed on the County in its accounting practices. Those who complain are being either ignorant or disingenuous at best! One of the reasons the County failed to continue diligent pursuit of its WRIA1 Program was the threat of legal challenge over legal use of its funds. Now, at least part of that is fixed.
8. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan championed one-size-fits-all shoreline regulations which require limiting or eliminating uses, such as homes and driveways, within 150 feet of the shoreline, with no supporting evidence whatsoever that somehow this would afford environmental protection.
Carl's response: There is tons of evidence (I have it) that impervious surfaces like homes, driveways, sidewalks, etc have a significant negative impact of our shorelines, fresh water, and ultimately Puget Sound. Most all of these studies show impervious surface totals in the 5-15% range have significant impacts on water quality. Saying over and over again that there is “no evidence” doesn’t make the evidence go away, although it may make people who do not want to have to adopt reasonable stewardship practices believe it.
My response: The Shoreline Management Program recently updated by Whatcom County is considered as an excellent effort by the Dept of Ecology and others knowledgeable in such matters. By its nature, the SMP must be fair and consistent to everyone. It's very hard to teach 'supporting evidence' to those who are being paid not to learn!
11. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan are currently advocating and promoting an elaborate and costly stormwater-tax scheme for many areas around Bellingham and Ferndale.
Carl's response: This refers to a proposal that is being developed by the Executive’s Public Works staff to create a Stormwater Utility in the urban areas of Bellingham and Ferndale that are outside of the city limits. Much of the impetus for this is to create a dedicated funding source to address mandated water quality issues around Lake Whatcom (NPDES, TMDL). The creation of such a stormwater utility would help start to shift the cost for such programs to those that are for the most part creating the problems or will benefit from the programs (people who live in the watershed or drink the water), instead of requiring people that are not the cause of the problems, or people in Cities already paying stormwater fees, to subsidize the cleanup.
My response: Stormwater and its potentially harmful effects are well known and regulated. Not only erosion and flooding are the problem, but also chemical contamination going into our lakes, streams, estuaries and bays. The City of Bellingham had pass new stormwater rates in 2001 to support a number of mandatory program elements, including stormwater treatment -in perpetuity. The County is required to do the same, beginning with those areas adjacent to urban areas and critical water resources. Because we are all living in watersheds, there is a necessity for a cooperative effort, with each participant paying their fair share of costs.
12. through 25. SKIP
Now, returning to the author(s) of the '25 Reasons', and the request to potential supporters of their anointed acolytes;
Please ask your friends, families and neighbors to review this list.
All of these statements are factual.
Make sure everyone you know understands that the current County Council has lost sight of what is important to the people of Whatcom County.
I hope folks do review this list, because that could be a valuable lesson in what passes for political discourse in a significant portion of our population.
But, also review the responses, and also ask a few questions of your own, because that is how the truth gets known.
I don't believe a majority of the current County Council has lost sight of what is important to the people of Whatcom County at all.
Quite the contrary!
But those who believe that all the '25 reasons' are factual, do have a problem!
Accepting any of these statements as true without questioning does not serve anyone's best interests -including those who think they might benefit from it.
Candidates with integrity and competence always need to protect those valuable traits against such temptations!
I hope they will.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
'The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a big matter- it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.'
The recent consideration of a Stormwater Management District for Birch Bay by the Whatcom County Council has renewed the local 'debate' about the difference between 'taxes' and 'fees'.
I believe the Council is now being given accurate advice about this distinction, as well as its appropriate applicability to the measure being considered.
That is so largely because a previous iteration of the County Council was bullied into revising its use of the former Flood Taxes for County-wide water planning by a lawsuit filed by those against such planning efforts.
But, in retrospect, that lawsuit was probably as justified as it was instructive in helping the County determine the proper use of such funds, as well as learn about some other funding mechanisms available for its future needs.
One of those 'future' needs has become a current one - the very Stormwater Management District now being proposed for Birch Bay.
And, of course its appropriate to revisit what has been learned, even if some here remain in denial that any difference exists between taxes and fees.
A Google search of 'taxes versus fees' resulted in a total of 8,820,000 different results in only 0.15 seconds!
Since that number is far more than I needed to get a fair idea of the arguments, I decided to look at only the first ten references on page one.
Here's a brief synopsis of some Fees vs. Taxes findings, bearing in mind there are differences in State Laws.
First, from the website of organization below:
The Orange County Taxpayers Association (OCTax) likes fees better than taxes. We prefer that the users of a service, rather than the general public, pay for the service.
• Fees are paid only by users of a service. Examples are toll roads, permits, licenses, public parking, small claims court, entertainment. Motor vehicle fuel “taxes” which are spent on roads are actually fees; motor vehicle fuel taxes that are diverted to general governmental services are true taxes.
• Taxes are paid by the general public for general governmental services, provided for the general public’s benefit, and for which it is infeasible for the users of the services to pay. Examples are jails, police and fire protection, municipal and superior courts, voter registration and elections.
Here is a summary of the differences between a tax and a fee in 5 different ways.
1. Tax: Pays for any government service. Nexus between payer and service not required.
Fee: Pays for a specific service,to regulate payer. Nexus required.
2. Tax: General public gets the primary benefit.
Fee: Payer gets the primary benefit.
3. Tax: Payment is mandatory.
Fee: Payment is contingent on use of service, or choice to engage in regulated activity.
4. Tax: May be levied in any amount.
Fee: Covers only cost of the service: construction, maintenance, regulation, permitting, inspecting.
5. Tax: Levied equally on all similar payers.
Fee: Levied in proportion to impact or extent of activity.
Next, from this website:http://everything2.com/e2node/Tax%2520vs.%2520Fee
Tax vs. Fee
You may opt not to require a fee. You must pay a tax.
tax: A contribution for the support of a government required of persons, groups, or businesses within the domain of that government.
fee: A fixed sum charged, as by an institution or by law, for a privilege.
Within the state of Utah, it is illegal for municipal governments to levy taxes without the approval of the state legislature, or a ballot initiative.
Thus, every city in Utah has a proliferation of "fees" to meet budgetary needs. Within the development process, this includes fees for plat approval for subdivisions. Legal trials have been brought on the basis that such fees are taxes and thus illegal. However, their constitutionality has been upheld because the choice to subdivide is "voluntary" exercise of a privelege, and as such subject to fees.
The same thing applies to cell phone bills. Because cell phone companies cannot tax their users, they instead institute "variable fees", which are in effect taxes that have been enabled by your voluntary agreement to be party to the cell-phone contract.
From yet a third website:http://www.jointventure.org/PDF/taxworkbook.pdf
These folks don't care what name is used, they just want to know why its needed and whether the measure is effective and fair. [A pdf report]
From a fourth source in Topeka, KANSAS, the THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL:
Semantics: Tax vs. fee
The state's most aggressive anti-tax organization Thursday defined a provision in a Republican-backed coal bill as nothing less than the three-letter word dreaded by politicians anxious to win re- election.
"It appears it would be appropriately framed as a tax," said Alan Cobb, Kansas director of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.
He referred to a bill passed Thursday night by the House 78-46 that served as companion to a measure allowing expansion of the coal- fired electric plant in southwest Kansas. This side bill requires all Kansas utilities to pay the state 2 cents a month for each commercial or residential electric meter. Legislators suspect the additional cost would be passed to customers, but lawmakers disagreed on what to call the new assessment.
Republicans in favor of the proposed $3.6 billion coal-fired plant at Holcomb prefer the terms surcharge or fee, while Democrats opposed to the utility development like the word tax.
In this instance, however, Democrats had an unusual partner.
"If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is a duck," Cobb said.
NOTE: This tells me that this word game can be played by either side, depending upon whether they FAVOR a measure!
What does that do to objectivity?
Next, from the same arch-conservative group that advocated for the Kansas measure abstracted above!
Rain taxes? Really?
Website of "americansforprosperity.org"
Governments often turn to “fees” in order to avoid the stigma of tax hikes or to circumvent restraints on their ability to raise taxes, but the savvy taxpayer can easily distinguish between a legitimate “fee” for a defined quid pro quo and a “tax.”
If citizens can opt to not pay the fee, and forgo the service provided for that fee as a result, it would appear to be a genuine fee. A fee is charged for a privilege that you can start or stop at will, whereas a tax is a contribution for the support of a government required from those who live within the jurisdiction of that government.
The latest outbreak of these pests to spread across the country are stormwater run-off fees, or as I like to call them, rain taxes. The eruption of these new taxes stems from stormwater management programs required by the EPA as a result of the Clean Water Act. These ridiculous newly-enforced regulations require small and large municipalities to process “non-point source pollution,” or in other words the water that spills off of your car, house, lawn, parking lot, property, etc. when it rains. Communities of 50,000 or more must create programs to address stormwater, but rain taxes will soon even be falling in less-populated towns.
Finally, from this lengthy, boring, but factual take at: www.nrdc.org/water/pollution/storm/chap4.asp
FUNDING AND GAINING SUPPORT FOR STORMWATER PROGRAMS
The best-designed stormwater pollution management plan will flounder without sufficient community support and funding. Community support is often necessary for official government support, although in many of the cases studies the government took the lead and the broader support followed. A major aim of many public education programs (and a critical task for local community and environmental organizations) is to build this political support. An equal emphasis is needed to establish a stable source of funding to keep a program moving forward, once implemented. While the two often go hand-in-hand -- adequate funding almost always requires political support and, conversely, a healthy community consensus on the need for runoff pollution control will generally lead to sufficient funds -- the traditional funding mechanisms available to local governments demand continuous political support, which can be difficult at times. Nonetheless, there are several approaches a municipality can take to establish a dedicated funding source. This chapter describes one of these approaches -- stormwater utilities -- and discusses the authority of local governments to implement them.
Traditional government funding sources may prove problematic for stormwater pollution program. Grants for water pollution from the federal government are far smaller than in earlier years. Low interest loans from the federal/state revolving loan fund many not be attractive, especially for the non-capital elements of a stormwater pollution program. Allocations from local taxes may be an unreliable means of generating revenue: though essential for ecological and public health reasons, community leaders are hard-pressed to divert adequate funds from general municipal budgets for stormwater pollution control, because the money comes from the same pool as more politically popular uses.
In light of these difficulties of traditional grant, loan, and tax funding, many local governments have successfully turned to alternative funding strategies. Local governments have funded stormwater pollution measures through charging inspection and permit fees, collecting dedicated contributions from land developers, taxing new development at an increased rate, forming regional stormwater management districts, and creating stormwater utilities. NRDC's research collecting these case studies, as well as work with specific municipalities on water pollution issues, suggests that one of the most effective and equitable funding mechanisms, and yet one of the least well-known, is the use of stormwater pollution utilities that operate stormwater measures entirely through self-funding entities.
The Utility Structure
Stormwater utilities are a well-established, efficient, and feasible financing option that provides a dedicated revenue source for stormwater management.
1 A stormwater utility operates similarly to water, sewer, or fire districts, which are funded through service fees and administered separately from the general tax fund, ensuring stable and adequate funding for these public services.
An EPA study identified three major advantages of stormwater utilities over funds generated through property tax revenues:
(1) increased stability and predictability,
(2) greater equity, and
(3) the opportunity for incorporating incentives for implementation of on-site stormwater management.
2 As of 1996 almost 300 stormwater utilities were in operation in at least 20 states. (By contrast, there are thousands of water, sewer, and irrigation districts in the country that work under a similar framework.) Experts now estimate that there are more than 500 stormwater utilities in communities through the country. These stormwater utilities serve cities with populations ranging from under 5,000 to over 3.5 million.
3 NRDC's survey found stormwater pollution utilities in localities of all sizes and types; however, utilities appear more prevalent in growing communities in metropolitan or suburban areas, where changes to the landscape and hydrology are occurring.
Stormwater pollution utilities differ from most other utilities such as power or drinking water utilities because consumers often do not see an immediate benefit from paying their fee. Since most consumers want, for example, electricity, they are willing to pay in advance to receive it on demand. On the other hand, stormwater ratepayers are being asked to pay to prevent something they don't want, water pollution. If residents have never thought about stormwater, they probably will not recognize or appreciate the benefits of preventing stormwater pollution, and therefore will not want it in the same way as a power utility. This will likely affect their willingness to pay. Moreover, there is less an individual can do to change the magnitude of the fee. Improving the public's knowledge and understanding of the benefits of stormwater pollution prevention can go a long way to increasing their acceptance of a stormwater utility. Nonetheless, these problems are even greater with respect to taxes, and can be minimized (and explained) by linking the fee to a property's contribution to stormwater pollution and by quantifying to the extent possible the benefit that the ratepayer derives from the improved stormwater management.
Creating a Stormwater Pollution Utility
Generally a municipality enacts two ordinances to create a stormwater utility, one to establish the various components of the utility and the other to determine the rate structure. Forming the utility through two separate ordinances allows the flexibility to alter the rate structure at a later date without having to revise the ordinance governing the basic structure of the utility. The components of a stormwater utility will often include administrative, planning, and programmatic elements:
1. An administrative structure to collect fees and implement stormwater pollution prevention measures.
2. Development of a stormwater pollution prevention plan and related ordinances.
3. Erosion and sediment control requirements and related inspections or enforcement programs.
4. Detection of illicit connections to storm sewers.
5. Water quality monitoring and/or treatment.
6. Maintenance of stormwater drainage systems.
7. Public education.
8. Flood protection.
The first ordinance may also include a statement of the goals of the utility, discussing the benefits of stormwater pollution prevention. The second ordinance tries to structure the service charges to create a logical and equitable relationship between the amount, and perhaps quantity, of stormwater leaving a property, the benefits received by the stormwater system, and the amount assessed.
From the above excerpts, the semantic 'debate' picture is somewhat clarified.
There are essential, objective differences between Taxes and Fees, although both do cost the public something.
While it is always useful to have debate about fees and taxes, these discussions are dumbed down by the silly rhetoric that seeks to appeal to emotions, and only follows the wishes of whatever party is for or against the main issue at hand!
Our government, at all levels, is there because we need it, established it and have voter control over it. So, let's not pretend its there because of any other reasons. If our elected officials do things that are contrary to good sense, then our remedy is to vote for others who will carry out this task better.
But, to simply seek to paralyze government from taking those actions that are prudent and necessary, serves no one's interest well.
The ones who will most benefit or suffer from poor government decisions- including non-decisions- , are those who are too young to vote, or have not yet been born!
Please, let's keep that in mind.
Laws too gentle are seldom obeyed; too severe, seldom executed. - Benjamin Franklin
Conservatives define themselves in terms of what they oppose. - George Will
"You can't teach what you don't know, and you can't lead where you won't go" - Jesse Jackson
"Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome." – Samuel Johnson
"Those who would give up quality of their environment to purchase a little temporary 'good business climate' deserve, and will get, neither."
- Benjamin Franklin
"The purse of the people is the real seat of sensibility. Let it be drawn upon largely, and they will then listen to truths which could not excite them through any other organ." -- Thomas Jefferson
Sunday, May 11, 2008
The Whatcom County Council will be taking action next Tuesday, May 13th on funding an entire spectrum of water programs that are essential to citizens.
Many of these programs are already legal obligations that must be acted upon by the Council and Administration.
Others represent a range of essential needs, both current and anticipated, which would greatly benefit from prudent action, rather than more expensive -and less effective- postponed action.
The Council is fortunate to have already had extensive briefings on this subject from its well-trained professional staff, in particular the County's Public Works Assistant Director, Jon Hutchings.
Mr. Hutchings has brought new energy and dedication to his duties in summarizing the extensive range of water programs the County has considered or undertaken, prioritizing them and estimating their respective costs over the next 20 years.
As with any program real progress can only be achieved if -and only if- actual funding commitments are made!
Otherwise, all the talk and resources spent in determining what is needed is mainly wasted effort.
But, just trying to describe all of the programs needed and how they would be implemented in a single public session is a challenge, which is why the Council members have already had extensive discussions about why the various programs are needed as well as relevant information about them.
The meeting on Tuesday is basically the decision time for approving the incorporation of anticipated program costs into the County's budget for the next 2 years.
The time is now to call your County officials and ask them to approve water project funding!
Below is a synopsis of the six basic options being considered, with each choice containing several distinct programs that together represent a 'LEVEL OF SERVICE' ['LOS].
Each successive LOS progressively adds programs to the previous LOS, until LOS #6 contains all of the water programs considered necessary.
Note, the Level of Service #3 is sufficient to meet the County's strict legal obligations, and as such probably should represent the MINIMUM funding to be approved.
But, there are other programs known to be important, too, and have already been 'approved' without funding.
Many of these have been on the “To Do” list for years, including protecting drinking water, salmon, Lake Whatcom, shellfish, water for farming, and reducing stormwater pollution and flood hazards, among many others.
Other programs may also become mandatory, making it prudent or critical to also consider funding them now.
These are included in LOS #4, #5 and #6.
If the Council should decide to provide funding for ALL of the already 'approved' water projects, they will vote for Level of Service #6.
LOS #6 is what I recommend, but this would likely require 5 Council votes to override any veto by the County Executive.
The higher the LOS, the better! That is the reason citizens can make a difference by contacting County officials and allowing their voices to be heard.
Currently, County expenditures on these water programs is exceeding its revenues, and it is still not meeting its legal obligations.
Unacceptable! This already been allowed to become a problem that must be fixed!
Here are basic descriptions of the Level of Service (LOS) options being given to County Council, along with tax implications:
LOS #1 - This level of service actually decreases the amount that would be spent on water programs to help balance the Flood Fund budget which has been spending more than it is bringing in for the past few years (approximately $43/year on a home valued at $300,000).
LOS #2 - This level of service would increase the county-wide Flood Tax by about $14/year on a $300,000 home (total $57/year) to maintain services pretty much at the current level of spending. In other words not moving the hundreds of projects forward or addressing Lake Whatcom.
LOS #3 - At this level of service the County would be able to meet our legal obligations to come into compliance with stormwater and NPDES permits, and start some planning for stormwater outside of the Lake Whatcom watershed. This could be accomplished by creating a Stormwater Utility in areas developed to urban densities outside of the city limits (Mainly around Bellingham and Ferndale) and charging people in those areas $120/year in stormwater fees.
LOS #4 - At this level of service the County would start chipping away at many of the important projects in the existing plans. We would move beyond just legal obligations to start addressing land acquisition to protect water, restoration of shorelines, low impact development regulations, enhanced efforts in shellfish protection districts and marine resource areas, and increase flood hazard reduction projects. This would be accomplished by increasing the county-wide Flood Tax by $33/year over current levels on a $300,000 house (total of $76/year), and charging the $120/ year fee in the new stormwater utility area.
LOS #5 - At this level of service the County would accelerate implementation of all of the above, plus be able to increase culvert replacement for salmon, and support in-stream flow setting activities and monitoring. This would be accomplished by increasing the county-wide Flood Tax by $56/year over current levels on a $300,000 house (total of $99/year), and charging the $120/year fee in the new stormwater utility area.
LOS #6 - At this level of service the County would be able to accomplish most everything in all of the approved plans over the next 20 years. This would be accomplished by increasing the county-wide Flood Tax by $107/year over current levels on a $300,000 house (total of $150/year), and charging the $120/year fee in the new stormwater utility area.
As can be seen above, for the County to even meet its legal obligations at almost any LOS, taxes will likely need to be raised.
Of course, some in County government think this idea to be so unpopular, they can't find the courage to risk making that kind of decision.
Instead of exercising their elected duty, they wish to bring the matter to another consolidated 'vote'.
There is nothing wrong with another 'vote', except the Council has already 'voted' to put these projects on the 'TO DO' List, but conveniently forgotten to FUND them!
But, now is when the rubber meets the road, and now is the time some seem very willing to renege on their former 'commitments'.
The County's reluctance to actually fund what has already been considered necessary and prudent presages at least a couple of problems, not the least of which is it could further delay any action on water projects because County budget deadlines are near at hand.
Also, any 'vote' to not adequately increase funding will mean the County won’t even meet its legal obligations, on plans that have already been approved by County Council and have been vetted by the community!
Just to put this in perspective, Whatcom County right now has over 40 'approved' water plans, which include more than 400 'approved' tasks, which would require more than $250 million dollars to implement over the next 20 years!
If the Council does not approve an enhanced level of service in the next few weeks they will not be included in the budget, and the programs will once again become "shelf-art.”
Such an outcome would be irresponsible!
So. be advised! On Tuesday May 12 at 10am, the County Council will meet in Council chambers and be asked to decide on what level of service will be funded.
Please contact your elected County Officials [e-addresses below] and tell them why you care about water issues in Whatcom County and suggest which level of service you support:
County Council Members:
Seth Fleetwood firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward Nelson email@example.com
Bob Kelly firstname.lastname@example.org
Laurie Caskey-Schreiber email@example.com
Sam Crawford firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Carl Weimer firstname.lastname@example.org
Barbara Brenner email@example.com
Pete Kremen firstname.lastname@example.org
Public Works Assistant Director:
Jon Hutchings JHutchin@co.whatcom.wa.us
Friday, August 24, 2007
It will be interesting to see what happens, how soon, and how the County decides to pay for it.
With that introduction, here's a little history on the subject of Stormwater and Lake Whatcom:
On May 1 2002, I answered a Herald 'Hot-Seat' question from Gary Reid, then President of the BIA, with the following:
"That development is a primary cause of water quality degradation is generally true for any watershed, not just Lake Whatcom. This conclusion is rooted in widely accepted knowledge, based upon the extensive research of qualified experts. Our Lake Whatcom is special not only because it is the public water supply reservoir for over 85,000 people, but because it is a rarity in nature – a large lake of exceptional purity.
What a blessing it is for any community to have such a pure source of water! Many other cities, like Seattle, Tacoma, Everett and Portland, have chosen long ago to protect their essential water supplies against the risks of contamination and future unnecessary clean-up costs, by severely restricting uses in their reservoir watersheds.
The City of Bellingham and Whatcom County are only now becoming fully engaged in facing the serious problem of ensuring the sustainability of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir for future generations. It is the duty of these governments to tackle this task and to develop a sensible, effective approach that fairly takes into account the concerns of all potentially affected interests, most importantly citizens.
The so-called “Entranco Report” is one of the tasks identified in Phase I of the Lake Whatcom Comprehensive Stormwater Plan, and currently remains a work in progress, although an early draft was circulated for comment on November 22, 1999. Both City and County are working to improve stormwater runoff issues in this watershed, without waiting for this particular report to be finished before taking action."
ENTRANCO, a Bellevue based consultant with good credentials for stormwater work - but with minimal experience in working with public water supplies, like Lake Whatcom - was the firm selected for this work. So, predictably, the initial draft issued lacked adequate consideration of that essential point, and even seemed biased toward denial that the primary use of Lake Whatcom was as our source of drinking water!
The entire report is lengthy, now outdated, and was redone -after a 3-year delay- after peer review. Since that time, little has changed regarding actual progress on a County Comprehensive Stormwater Plan for Lake Whatcom.
Anyway, in late 1999, I did take strong exception to ENTRANCO's draft report, and my initial comments, submitted on 12/4/1999, are listed below. Later, I reviewed this report in much greater depth to see what might have been the motivation for the short-cuts that were being touted, and that was most revealing! Those comments are also posted below.
My apologies -again- for the reference to a lengthy document that is not immediately accessible. Despite that, these comments do reflect some very specific concerns that may not require reading of the Draft Report to understand.
1. No new "solutions", data or conclusions have been offered. This seems merely a $35,000 summarization of existing reports for someone's convenience of review. Is this what was intended?
Additionally, summary comments like these two, found on page iii of the Introduction, seem particulary inane, misleading and out of place in view of the non-comprehensive scope of this work:
"Based on our work, there have not been any notable trends in water quality over the last ten years."
"Although scientists have agreed to disagree on the dissolved oxygen trends in Basin 1 of Lake Whatcom, we do not think it would be productive for the scientific community or the public to continue the dissolved oxygen debate."
Frankly, I'm disappointed that no real expertise or advice over what has already been heard is being offered by the consultants. This may be due to a combination of factors, including
(1) initial limitation of scope and budget (who wrote it? & who decided the budget?),
(2) a measure of timidity in the face of a politically charged atmosphere surrounding the Reservoir,
(3) a failure to identify persons with the right training & experience (relating to drinking water source protection) to
(a) analyze the problem in depth,
(b) write the scope/approach required,
(c) estimate the costs,
(d) get all the necessary funding,
(e) select & supervise the consultants and
(f) interpret the results correctly.
2. The Bellingham community wants and deserves a much more comprehensive study approach, oriented toward preserving our resource, not just continuing to test the water and eventually having to recommend expensive actions to fix problems that we know are occurring now and will continue to occur at an accelerated pace with more development.
This study limits itself to a business as usual approach in primarily addressing only structural remedies, which are always more costly and less reliable than non-stuctural methods. It seems the essential cost/benefit analysis of alternatives will have to be done without the possibility of comparing the least expensive and more effective choices! This approach makes no sense at all and deserves to be called stupid and shortsighted.
Why is the Lake Whatcom Management Team continuing to take this easy, short-term approach despite the growing concern of the 66,000 citizens dependent on the lake for their drinking water, who are demanding a more effective program to be conceived, funded and carried out?
3. Like the recently issued DOE report, which used the words "Drinking Water" in its title, this report makes the same mistake of comparing Lake Whatcom's watershed to other "Urban Watersheds" and not other Drinking Water Reservoirs!
Why does this mindset persist, despite repeated requests for this specific comparison? DOE water standards have little to do with drinking water standards, except as a first line of defense in the potable water supply.
Drinking water standards are administered by the Dept of Health, and their importance is never mentioned in this report.
A big part of the problem might be that between the DOE & DOH standards lies a big, expensive "gray area" called a water treatment plant, which the City had to build in 1968 and subsequently upgraded at a cost exceeding $50 million, paid for by taxpayers and water drinkers.
Many who live in the watershed or own property there, do not participate in this expense, and therefore may not see it as their problem, preferring to "externalize" it to the City. Accountability for the water quality entering this plant is therefore lacking.
Without appreciating the necessity for the water to be anything other than "treatable", we have created a problem that will continue to escalate. Indeed, we could design a plant to produce drinking water from sewage, but costs would be astronomical (as in NASA). The Navy & Saudi Arabia both produce their drinking water from seawater, also quite expensive. Other exotic treatment methods also exist, all proven but expensive.
But, with a wonderful natural freshwater source like Lake Whatcom, who in their right mind would willfully (or even unwittingly after knowing the "lake" is actually a "reservoir") pollute it, risking health & ecology in the process and ultimately condemning the citizens to paying for expensive, and largely avoidable, treatment?
DOE is not enforcing its mandate of keeping the lake "fishable & swimmable", which in itself would go a long way toward meeting drinking water reservoir standards. At the high fecal coliform levels now in the lake, children and immune-deficient people are already in particular danger. Also, according to DFW, the two native trout species are near extinction due to lack of the habitat necessary for species to reproduce naturally. Run-off from dumps, development, recreation activities & impervious surfaces is adding nutrients, metals & other toxics to the lake every day, further accelerating degradation of the waterbody. And yet, this report is able to conclude:
"Based on our work, there have not been any notable trends in water quality over the last ten years."!
I wonder just what "work" this is based on, other than a review and regurgitation of previous, inadequate reports?
Its very difficult to see any real value to the community added by this exercise, especially since it blatantly ignores
(a) the fecal coliform 303(d) listings,
(b) recent mercury findings in fish tissues,
(c) imminent listing of fish species specific to Lake Whatcom,
(d) the revelation that between 600 and 7500 new homes are apparently expected to be built in the watershed during the next several years,
(e) near passage of Proposition 1, which would have raised $4 million/year for 20 years to purchase land in the watershed as natural buffer, eliminating development,
(f) Dr. Robin Matthews' recent study showing an unusual jump in oxygen depletion levels in Basins 1 & 2,
(g) the real possibility of losing or lessening the Middle Nooksack Diversion flow for ESA purposes,
just to name a few "notable" events happening recently.
Is it possible these are indicative of a "trend"?
Is it possible that Lake Whatcom is not getting the attention it deserves because Bellingham is not yet a city of over 100,000 and does not have sufficient jurisdictional control over protection of this resource? That seems to be EPA's guideline.
But, to complicate things further, EPA then delegates its Clean Water Act responsibilities to DOE and its Clean Drinking Water Act responsibilities to DOH. Where do these different responsibilities recombine?
What is the County Health Department's role?
Perhaps our Lake Whatcom Reservoir is such a unique watershed, already complicated by "multiple uses", that our Federal/State agencies are confused over who does what & what to do? As tempting as it is to blame these remote government agencies, the real responsibility for demanding proper attention is with us, the local community, both citizenry and County & City governments, to first recognize the true nature of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir problem and then to comprehensively initiate the necessary studies and require the necessary actions be taken, preferably before really bad things do happen. This takes political will, leadership and informed action, despite vested interests who might prefer not to hear about potential problems or participate in their solution for the benefit of future public health.
The Olympic Pipe Line Disaster should have already demonstrated to us what can happen if ignorance, complacency and lack of adequate regulations & enforcement persist too long! It also demonstrates what power the local community has to effect change, when it is clearly needed.
4. Future study work should undoubtedly include modelling, which can be an effective tool for predicting future water quality effects resulting from increasing use of the watershed for human activity. But this modelling itself must be based upon enough data to comprehensively characterize the watershed! For such a model to be fully effective, proper non-structural elements, such as zoning & land use parameters, buffers for critical areas, stormwater performance standards and the like, need to be put firmly in place.
Where will this additional data come from?
Who will define it, develop it, pay for it, use it?
How long will it take to put an effective watershed plan into practice?
These are the questions our community is expecting to have answered. Please tell us what it will take to get these questions answered! If the expertise to obtain comprehensive answers to these important technical questions is not available locally or in Seattle, then let's search for professional help elswhere.
The Lake Whatcom Management Team needs to recognize this as a top public health priority and give it the attention and funding it deserves! In the mean time, time is passing....
Entranco Report - Additional Comments
I have now studied this report and watched the video of the 11/17/99 public meeting. Here are additional comments to complete my initial feedback to this report. Although the report does pull together diverse information of interest, particularly on applicable regulations, its overall added value to the LWM Program remains problematic and marginal in my view. The results of the Peer Review Committee [PRC} review process will be of major interest.
1. My expectation (and apparently that of others, per Chris Spens' comments at the meeting) was that ALL prior data, covering decades, would be reviewed, not just the last 10 years as stated by Dale Anderson. Who decided only one decade would be considered instead of several?
2. I believe it is necessary to scrupulously separate fact from opinion, and carefully define what is meant by "notable" trends. Something that might not show a definite trend over 10 years, might well show a "notable" trend over several decades (like HODR calculations-see below).
3. Regarding the statement regarding "disagreeing scientists" and whether "debate" over HODR levels/trends is important. I believe this is critically important for the same reasons cited on page 23 of the report:
a) It is the basis for DOE's 303(d) listing of the lake, demonstrating a clear trend toward accelerating eutrophication, an early indication of water degradation in Basin 1, violating of DOE's "Antidegradation Policy".
b) If degradation is established, then:
• "beneficial use" may be considered impaired;
(note Entranco interprets this as NOT directly prohibiting pollution discharges and NOT meaning observed changes in concentrations of particular parameters indicative of water quality, but that 'impairment' must actually be proven to occur! Should the burden of proof of actual impairment be on water drinkers, swimmers and fish? I don't think so! This is why a comprehensive EIS approach is needed to wisely guide future activities in this uniquely valuable watershed. If DOE has reason to conclude that impairment is happening (as indicated by the HODR trend) then we need to listen to them! This type of trend would not likely be apparent to anyone but experts who have long term experience in testing Lake Whatcom, and we should be glad to have an early warning of accelerating eutrophication in Basin 1, whether this can be proven as indicative of the entire lake's condition or not! )
• evaluation and implementation of all reasonable options are required to prevent deterioration of water quality;
• activities causing pollution in the watershed can be regulated and prohibited if not found to be in the public interest.
This appears to be a very high stakes game! Perhaps we should change the game and raise the ante by getting another impartial opinion from an acknowledged expert from outside the Northwest with this expertise, if one can be found.
4. It is readily apparent that much effort has been devoted to discrediting or discounting the DOE 303(d) listing based on HODR trends in Basin 1, to the point that I am reminded of the Shakespearean phrase "methinks she doth protest too much". I plotted the data shown in Appendix B myself. Here are my findings:
a) Based on conventional arithmetic graphing, followed by averaging of DOE & Envirovision calculation results and visually plotting a trend line, a definite UP trend is indicated, approximating 5.8 HODR units per year.
b) I plotted both sets of data on semi-log graph paper. Slight trends could be noted visually in both cases, using data taken over the last 10 years, however, because of the small scale used and data scatter, accurate visual trend determination was difficult.
I re-plotted the data, using data reciprocals (1/x) and was able to see more clearly slight trends in each of the data sets, which appeared to agree fairly closely with each other. This encouraged further examination.
c) I then tried a computerized graphical technique in use for years for evaluating and forecasting stock trend data like sales and earnings per share over time. This technique uses 10-year historical data to forecast future values based on extrapolation of least-squares trend lines on semi-log paper. (abscissa = year; ordinate = values)
Both DOE data and Envirovision data were plotted side by side for comparison. The resulting plots further confirmed the prior visual observations, and also assigned per cent "growth" values to each of the trend lines based on their respective slopes.
The DOE data showed +2% per year historic "growth" over the years 1988-1997. Using the "Rule of 72", it would take 72/2 = 36 years for the 1997 HODR calculation to double in value (415 to 830), assuming this "growth" trend continues that long.
The Envirovision data showed +2.5% per year historic "growth" over the same period. At this continued rate of "growth", about 28.8 years would be required to double the 1997 HODR value (347 to 694). Compounding 2.5% "growth" for another 7 years (total of 35.8) on 694, results in a total of 825, very close to the 36-year total projected for the DOE data.
This indicates that both sets of data agree closely in their respective 36-year projections. I would welcome verification of both the technique used, results obtained and their interpretation by those more knowledgeable in these areas.
5. The HODR question won't just go away despite any debate. Does HODR show a measurable change from natural conditions or not? (per page 24) If meaningful trends can be determined by this method, or another, as an early warning, so much the better. We know that even pristine lakes undergo natural degradation, but this process may require a thousand years or more. We also know that this process is accelerated greatly by development. The point is, let's find out as soon as possible, the rate of degradation happening in Lake Whatcom, basin by basin, so that we have a better chance of arresting this slow degradation and sustaining beneficial uses. Future loss of the Nooksack Diversion would only exacerbate the situation by reducing turnover substantially.
Additionally, Lake Whatcom may be a truly unique, "atypical" water body, given its rare combination of hydrology and beneficial uses which include drinking water supply. What other lakes have been identified that truly compare in all these aspects? Who has actual experience in protecting these? What methods are most effective, both in terms of water quality and costs? How could a program be instituted here to insure a safe and sustainable water source for our chidren and beyond?
6. Assignment of specific "Issues & Problems" to each of the three "Beneficial Uses" (pages v, vi, vii/viii) needs additional explanation. In reality, I suspect these may be interrelated in varying degrees. For example, Eutrophication and HODR issues are assigned to the beneficial use of Recreation. Is this specifically correct or somewhat arbitrary to simplify presentation of data? In a multi-use lake, where all uses are considered important and interrelated, substantial overlap of "Issues & Problems" seems likely. In this respect I can visualize using three circles, labelled A (Drinking Water Supply), B (Recreation) and C (Fisheries & Other Aquatic Life). Each circle, containing its own quality criteria, overlaps the other two to some extent. Where all three circles commonly overlap should define the area of main interest and criticality, like a syllogism in logic. If such a holistic approach makes better sense, then let's use it to guide our future efforts.
7. Now that reasonable funding has been made available for two years and assignments like this water quality assessment are finally getting done, efficiency seems important and it is, providing we're doing the important things correctly and in proper sequence.
However, accountability is even more important since this is necessary in assuring the very credibility of the work done to the public. To date, I feel there has been a lack of accountability to either the public or those of us in elected office in disclosing the overall efficacy of the program we are pursuing.
While the tasks and objectives shown in the annual work plan generally follow the goals of the Joint Resolution, it is not clear that a long term course of action is in place that clearly prioritizes prevention/protection over structural remedies and institutionalizes the path toward preserving our most valuable water resource.
If the program visualized is believed to be truly comprehensive and likely to be effective, why the continued reluctance to open the decision-making sessions to the public? Many in the community who would like to be more a part of this are being systematically excluded from the process and find this increasingly troubling. In a situation this important, sensitive and politically charged, it would seem prudent to let this process be done in daylight. That also happens to be State Law.
8. Water Supply System (pages 5-21)
Thanks for including this section. It's nice to see this summarized in one place.
A few questions & comments:
• It would be particularly valuable to see what changes in conditions occurred before 1968, when building the City's water treatment plant was justified at major public expense.
• Same comment regarding Water District #10 water treatment plant.
• The JMM 1986 Study made comparisons of Lake Whatcom raw water with several other UNTREATED water supplies on the West Coast. This is a meaningful comparison basis and should be done in every case.
• It is troubling to read on page 8, 1st paragraph, that "Impacts are not based on the changes of concentrations of contaminants within Lake Whatcom (source water), but rather on whether a particular beneficial use is impaired." and, "It is understood that the goal of the water purveyors and their customers is to prevent any degradation of the drinking water or to have water that imparts no or minimum risk." This means that its the PURVEYOR's problem if raw water is degraded! Is that correct? Where's the teeth in PREVENTION!
Even worse, "...water quality for the purveyors is compared to existing regulations, rather than anticipated future regulations." This seems to mean purveyors can't do anything but react to changing conditions, after they have occurred, and at their cost! Incredible!
• The discussion of MCL's and their enforceability is both interesting and frustrating.
For example, on page 9 last paragraph, reads: "We apply the MCL to samples collected in Lake Whatcom, for comparison purposes only, because the level of a contaminant in the source water does not relate to the concentration in the treated water." This seems to confirm that any escalation in source water contaminant level must be duly noted by the purveyor, who then must adjust its treatment technology accordingly. Again, where's the teeth in prevention of pollution? It seems the DOH is only there to monitor and advise the purveyor when its in trouble.
• Page 12 notes that the WWU monitoring program focusses on parameters that are not regulated by primary or secondary drinking water standards, and that none which have associated MCL's showed exceedences. Is this why the HODR "debate" is not considered important?
• The section on Pathogens is not comforting. What it says is that we are at risk for anything chlorination can't kill. No more sewage overflows!
• Regarding who pays for degradation effects, the principle should be "he who pollutes, pays". No subsidies by taxpayers or ratepayers for polluters! LID-type permit & latecomers fees.
• Example from California per 12/9/99 San Francisco Chronicle article:
New Los Vaqueros Reservoir, north of Livermore- (restricted use/no development)
20,000 acres vs 31,500 acres in Lake Whatcom watershed (63.5%)
100,000 acre-feet vs 774,000 acre-feet in Lake Whatcom (13.5%)
400,000 ratepayers vs 65,000 in Lake Whatcom (615%)
320 gpd average daily use vs 236 gpd in Lake Whatcom area (136%)
$42/month average water bill vs $18.50 in Lake Whatcom area (227%)
$10-$12/month = portion of water bill attributed to reservoir cost (23.8% to 28.6%)
$450 million = cost of 1988 bond issue (12 years to construct dam + pipeline & pumps from Central Valley + environmental mitigation + management of 20,000 acre watershed (ongoing)
9. Recreation (pages 21-41)
• It is interesting that this particular beneficial use was given this much space, and that this is where coverage of DOE's antidegradation policy, State Water Quality Standards & HODR is given. Is this because recreation uses cannot depend on a treatment plant for purification?
• The arguments given on page 29-41 seem to do more than report standards; they appear to be arguments to strongly support a position. Is this true? Why?
• Why is it preferable to base calculations on "...mean epilimnetic values ...rather than the ranges or individual samples of extreme concentrations or samples collected throughout the water column."? Is this for convenience or custom in characterizing a large water body? Is it meaningful to average values, even though the lake's known morphometry clearly shows distinct divisions, like Geneva & Strawberry Sills separating the basins?
• Comparisons now seem to shift to other lakes that are not water supply reservoirs. Is this true? Why? Are we mixing and matching data fairly?
• The conclusion at the bottom of page 33 states: "...there is no indication of a trend in trophic parameters." Does this include HODR trends or only Chlorophyll a, Total Phosphorus & Secchi Depths? See paragraph 4, above.
• Figures 10, 11 & 12 show "Temporal Trends in Trophic Parameters". Can we also focus on data records by month over time to check for seasonal temporal trends in a chronological format?
• Page 35, last paragraph: has Entranco checked for HODR trends in Basin #1? (see P4. above)
Figure 16 on page 36 is a straight arithmetic graph, using data from 11 of last 15 years.
Why is it so important to prove Robin Matthews views toward HODR & its trends wrong?
• page 37: Explain why increasing detention time (hydraulic residence time) would not be a problem. The statement regarding fecal coliform destruction due to exposure to sunlight may be correct. However, it seems dilution in mid lake would largely mask this contamination.
• page 38: 2nd paragraph, re estimates of detention time, this reasoning needs to carefully explained in context, much better than the over simplified version stated quickly. Updates of morphometry will HELP explain water distribution and movement, but I fail to see how this will resolve anything, in and of itself.
• Regarding fecal coliform sampling: it seems too few samples are being taken at too infrequent intervals to provide reliable background data. Plus, when testing is being done, samples are being taken at the wrong places! What good does an average result do when it represents occasional mid-lake conditions? While water skiers and some others are in the water at mid-lake, a far greater number of people (and most children) usually swim at beaches or nearer shore. Are continuous (or semi-continuous) sampling devices or techniques available for use at public outfalls like Park Place Drain and Silver Creek and the public beach at Bloedel-Donovan Park? In examining King County's program in north Lake Washington, one has to be on one's toes to capture fecal coliform data during periodic "spikes". What is anticipated from discussions with the Bellingham School District? Funding? How frequently does the County Health Dept. look at this problem or post warnings? Would more citizen complaints help?
10. Fisheries (pages 41-46)
• Inclusion of data and associated interpretations from recent DOE Report seemed perfunctory and not completely integrated into this report. Statements like the last paragraph of page 45 seem to have been made without much thought, almost discounting the potential importance of this new data. The summary of toxic-related water quality problems based on the DOE report were exceedingly terse, failing to point out that this was the first time excessive levels of mercury were ever found in Lake Whatcom fish! One composite fish tissue sample IS important, precisely because it is an average of a toxic, bio-accumulative substance ingested by aquatic life that represents life in many parts of Lake Whatcom over years!
• 2nd bullet at bottom of page 41 estimates 2000 to 10,000 moralities (mortalities?)
• Loss of natural fish habitat due to practices causing silting, loss of cover, blockage and addition of toxics is a no-brainer. WDFW has been telling us that for years. HODR could also be an indicator of fish mortality or change in habitat. After all, bubbling air through aquariums is standard practice for those who want their fish to live for a while.
• Protection of fish species, in general, would be an ideal practice to prevent degradation of water quality. (Witness current ESA for salmon, etc) G-P and other industrial plants with effluent discharges routinely use "fish tests" to check for residual toxicity before releasing waste water into the environment. (canary in the mine)
• In some respects it seems the presence and use of fish hatcheries to reproduce fish serves the same purpose as a water treatment plant. That is, to give society a short-term reason not to abide by good rules to protect natural sustainability of resources.
11. Causes of Water Quality Problems (pages 47-55)
This short section adds little to what is already been said and, predictably, relies on future studies. There is no question that future study is needed, but I am more convinced than ever that a much more comprehensive program is needed in the interest of future generations.