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Op-Ed: It takes a team effort to keep Whatcom County’s water clean

posted Jan 8, 2018, 1:18 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated May 14, 2018, 8:59 AM ]
By Ander Russell, Clean Water Program Manager. Published in the Bellingham Herald on September 15th, 2017.

Clean water defines who we are in Whatcom County – from the streams running clear and cold off of Mount Baker to the Nooksack River and its life-sustaining salmon runs to the rich tidelands of the Salish Sea. It is the foundation of our economic prosperity. It is the source of enjoyment for thousands of county residents who fish, hunt, swim, go boating or paddling, or simply walk along shore to enjoy the views. Water is simply part of the fabric of Whatcom County life. This is what we celebrate each year during Whatcom Water Week.

In Whatcom County, we have learned the hard way that we can’t take our good fortune for granted. From the efforts to restore Bellingham’s waterfront, you know that the cost of cleanup far exceeds the cost of prevention. You also know that declining water quality in Lake Whatcom, the drinking water source for 100,000 residents, gets more and more expensive to treat – a cost ultimately borne by you and me. We’ve seen what happens when pollution fouls rivers and streams, killing fish, closing shellfish beds and contaminating the water you and I drink. And we know that once it’s polluted, it is costly and difficult to clean up – more costly than doing what’s required to keep it clean in the first place.

To keep Whatcom County special, we need to be vigilant. We need to be careful. And we need to take action when pollution does taint our precious waters. That is RE Sources’ job, and we’ve done it for 35 years – upholding standards of respect, integrity, and always keeping an eye toward the future we are creating for our grandchildren. They deserve a future in which a prosperous community and clean water continue to coexist.

Economic stability and environmental protection

Too often the job of protecting clean water is presented as a false choice between economic stability and environmental protection – but the two are actually intertwined. RE Sources doesn’t believe our economy and our way of life could possibly thrive without clean water. And we’re not alone.

In the BlueGreen Waterfront Coalition, we work alongside labor and social justice groups to advocate for a waterfront that is free of toxic materials, provides good jobs and boosts our economy. We sit down every month with tribes, farmers and scientists to plan for restored shellfish harvests in Portage Bay. And in the Whatcom Food Network, we are building partnerships with other groups that are committed to making Whatcom County a shining example of how to create a just, coordinated and thriving local food system. We work together because we all agree on this one thing: healthy people, clean water and economic prosperity are inseparable.

Lummi Nation fisher Candice Wilson shared this lesson learned from being stewards of their homeland since time immemorial: “We are Lhaqtemish. We are people of the great Salish Sea, since time immemorial – water is everything to us. It is vital for our existence in who we are and where we come from, for each and every one of us. That is why it is essential that we have clean water. The quality of water impacts our way of life, from the streams, creeks, watershed, sea to table. We believe when the tide is out the table is set. When our quality of water is healthy and vibrant we all benefit with a prosperous environment. It is our responsibility to preserve, promote and protect what we have inherited from our ancestors, so that we may pass on our teachings for generations to come. Hy’shqe!”

Connection of clean water and prosperity

Our business leaders recognize the connection between clean water and prosperity as well. Where would Whatcom County be without our farms, our fish companies, our breweries and restaurants, our shellfish harvesters, our recreation and tourism businesses? Our economy could not exist without clean water – it’s the backbone of who we are.

As Jack Lamb of Aslan Brewing Company told me, “Without clean water, our business would not exist. All of the breweries in Whatcom County, as well as those across the rest of Washington state, rely on consistent, fresh water in order to make the quality beer that can compete in this booming craft beer industry. Our region is known for its fresh water and therefore fresh beer. If that was compromised, many jobs and businesses would be at risk.”

It takes a team effort to keep Whatcom County’s water clean. Sometimes we disagree about the best way to achieve this goal. But we are committed, along with our many members, friends and neighbors, to work through our differences for the good of the place we call home.

This week, residents, businesses, schools, tribes, and community groups like ours celebrate the importance of clean water by sharing information, offering opportunities for stewardship, and expanding awareness of the role water plays in every facet of our lives. As you enjoy the 19 events offered during Whatcom Water Week – from habitat tours to drought talks, to beach clean-ups, and seafood sampling – I hope you’ll take a moment to ponder what will happen if we residents are not vigilant in our efforts to keep Whatcom’s waters clean. And I hope you’ll consider what you, by yourself, or linked up with RE Sources and others, can do to keep pollution out of Whatcom’s waters.

The Whatcom Water Week website says it well: “From Mount Baker to the Salish Sea, Whatcom County’s beauty and vitality is found in our forests, pastures, rivers and streams and the places we work and call home. This beauty and vitality exists because of one of our most treasured resources – water. Water is critical to our environment, economy and our cultural well-being. Without plenty of clean water, we stand to lose many of the things in life we value. Water – it’s everybody’s business. Let’s celebrate it!”