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Department of Ecology News Release - April 11, 2016
BELLINGHAM – After two decades of research and study, a plan to restore the health of Lake Whatcom and protect the drinking water for nearly 100,000 people became a reality last week after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officially gave its stamp of approval.
The Washington Department of Ecology finalized and submitted the plan to EPA in November 2014. EPA officially approved the plan on April 7, 2016, giving the state the state authority to limit the amount of phosphorous entering the lake.
The plan, called the Lake Whatcom Watershed Total Phosphorus and Bacteria TMDL (total maximum daily load), addresses an elevated amount of phosphorous, which causes excessive growth of algae blooms and low dissolved oxygen levels in the lake. In recent years, the city has dealt with increased costs at the water treatment plant due to the algae blooms.
“EPA’s approval gives us the certainty that we’ve done our homework and have a clear path forward,” said Steve Hood, water quality engineer at Ecology. “The stormwater work that local governments have been doing over the last 15 years will be a model for what will continue to happen over the next 50 years.”
The approved plan identifies the reductions in phosphorus and bacteria loading needed to restore the health of Lake Whatcom. It also establishes a link between increasing phosphorus levels and urban development. Undeveloped areas filter out excess phosphorous better by allowing stormwater to slowly seep into the ground before it reaches the lake.
The plan says that 87 percent of the developed area around the lake needs to store and filter water like a natural forest. Deciding how to make that happen will be up to Whatcom County and the city of Bellingham through their implementation actions. A TMDL work plan, including a budget and timeline, is due to Ecology within six months.
Ecology has been working closely with local jurisdictions, and much of the planning has already been completed in advance of the deadline established by EPA’s approval.
“Strong partnerships and commitments from the city and county have given us a head start,” said Hood. “We’re proud of the city and county for the many actions that they’ve already undertaken to restore the lake, before it even became a requirement.”
The city and county weighed cost and urgency and chose a tentative maximum timeline of 50 years with an approximate budget of almost $50 million in the first five years.
Reducing stormwater runoff, the primary vehicle for phosphorous to flow into the lake, will continue to be at the forefront of their cleanup strategy. Stormwater and land preservation programs will incur the biggest costs.
In 2018, Ecology will issue the new municipal stormwater permits that will incorporate the targets set forth by the TMDL work plans.
Krista Kenner, Ecology communications manager, 360-715-5205, @ecynorth
Steve Hood, Ecology water quality engineer, 360-715-5211
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