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Lake Whatcom gets dedicated pollution-fighting funding

posted Aug 9, 2019, 10:26 AM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Aug 19, 2019, 1:23 PM ]
The Whatcom County Council just made a crucial step to reducing pollution in Lake Whatcom, the drinking water source for the majority of people in Whatcom County.

On July 23rd, the Council finally approved a fair, equitable method for funding pollution prevention measures — like more stormwater filtration along roads and helping homeowners install pollution filtration. The method is based on someone’s level of contribution to pollution. Creating the Lake Whatcom stormwater utility rate structure took nearly two years of drafting and happened largely thanks to community feedback!


The City of Bellingham has had fees (Stormwater Utility Fee and Watershed Fee) to finance Lake Whatcom for years, paid for by people living in the Lake Whatcom watershed and throughout city limits. Now, everyone living in the lake’s watershed helps fund pollution prevention regardless of city limits. 

How the fee structure works

The more impervious surface (like pavement, which prevents water from filtering through) on your property, the more you pay. When water flows unfiltered, it takes any pollutants it has picked up from roads, grassy yards, driveways, and phosphorus-based fertilizers and carries them straight into 100,000 peoples’ drinking water source. Stormwater with excessive phosphorus allows large amounts of algae to grow,  making it difficult (and expensive) to treat the water so we can drink it. Too much algae is also harmful to aquatic life like trout and kokanee, because decomposing algae uses up the lake’s dissolved oxygen. 

This level of protection is very affordable. Beginning in 2020, the average property will contribute about $5 per month to the utility. Revenue generated from the utility will be used for education and outreach, stormwater improvements along roadsides, and the Homeowner Incentive Program (HIP).

One of the key reasons the County needed to create the utility was to have a consistent, dedicated revenue source for reducing pollution in Lake Whatcom. Since 2014, the County has pulled funds from the County-wide Flood Fund for Lake Whatcom programs. The Flood Fund has traditionally funded programs with County-wide benefits, such as flood protection, water quality projects in the Nooksack River basin, and some water supply programs and projects to improve streamflows. It did not make a lot of sense for people in Ferndale pay for water quality improvements for a water source they don’t add pollutants to, or use to drink. Additionally, the Flood Fund reserve — the County’s flood response fund — has been shrinking since 2014 when the County dramatically increased its investment in reducing pollution to Lake Whatcom. Until now, the County had been depleting emergency money for flood response to deal with pollution — which was not a practical or long-term solution. 

Our work on Lake Whatcom doesn’t stop here. While there may be a plan to reduce phosphorus pollution, the plan needlessly sets the pollution reduction goals 50 years in the future, which is difficult to fathom! Logging and timber harvests continue to add huge amounts of phosphorus pollution despite the Lake Whatcom Reconveyance in 2013, which transferred some state logging lands to Whatcom County for the creation of a park. And most noticeable of all are motorized boats on our drinking water, adding fossil fuel-derived pollutants. 

Keep following us as we continue our efforts to protect and restore Lake Whatcom. Sign up for email alerts if you haven't already!

Contact: Karlee Deatherage, Clean Water Policy Analyst | karleed@re-sources.org