Big News But Not Good News / Facebook post, Whatcom Hawk, Wendy Harris

Lake Whatcom Water Quality15 hrs November 23, 2015  Wendy Harris

Behind our back and without any public input, the county renegotiated some of the terms of the Lake Whatcom TMDL, and DOE submitted this for EPA approval. In essence, DOE agreed to give up some of its normal regulatory authority if the county implements storm water standards. It is unlikely this will have a positive impact on the dismal results of city and county efforts to improve the lake to date. The city and county like to point to all the actions they have taken to improve water quality, but then fail to mention that those efforts are undermined by additional actions that degrade the lake further. First and foremost, the city and county’s interest is in ensuring more watershed development.

Go to the bottom of this page and click on the link for Lake Whatcom Total Phosphorus and Bacteria TMDL Clarifications: Mutually agreeable clarifications on TMDL implementation.

The “clarifications” as I understand them, are a misnomer as this negotiates substantive terms. It is all very technical and difficult to follow, but my best interpretation follows. First, elements of the 2015-2019 Lake Whatcom Management Program will be accepted as the TMDL plan. This management program has never been successful in improving water quality standards as it lacks quantifiable standards and defined timelines and is fails to incorporate baseline standards.

DOE has agreed to revise its modeling data based on new information presented by the county. “Whatcom County has requested an opportunity and Ecology has agreed to allow the County to present revised models and results prior to the 2023 deadline. Ecology will incorporate the results of new modeling data and information into the TMDL process and revise the Waste Load and Load Allocations based on the updated models within one year from the date the information becomes available.”

Here is the important part of the that agreement, “The reassessment
process will also evaluate the feasibility of meeting TMDL targets using planned stormwater treatment technology and best management practices appropriate to site and watershed conditions. Also to be evaluated is the ability to meet Waste Load Allocations and Load Allocations, and the TMDL’s assumptions about practices based on the updated models, completed and planned implementation activities, monitoring, and other relevant information.” In other words, it is official, despite everything we know about landscape based ecosystem approaches, the county and state plan to engineer their way to clean water.. a concept that defies everything we know about restoring impaired watersheds.

The DOE has agreed not to expand its NDPES permit boundaries under certain circumstances. For example, “The County’s Municipal Stormwater Permit coverage/boundary area will not be expanded beyond the current Municipal Stormwater Permit coverage/boundary area to implement the TMDL if Whatcom County applies equivalent levels of control to the non permit areas. For non-point sources outside of the Municipal Stormwater Permit
coverage/boundary area, the County is implementing equivalent levels of control by implementing the low impact development phosphorus neutral design standards contained in the Lake Whatcom Watershed Overlay Ordinances (WCC 20.51); Illicit Discharge, Detection and Elimination Ordinance (WCC 16.36); and Outreach and Education measures.” These are fancy terms for things such as detention ponds that will not be inspected more than once every 18 months.

And the county will not be held responsible for phosphorus run off from the forested area as long as it does not allow more than passive activities… however, those “passive activities” appear to include existing logging roads, plus a new picnic and restroom area and a parking lot roads near the shoreline. And even if development does occur in forested areas, it just needs to be built to “phosphorus neutral” design standards, i.e, more detention ponds.

It is unclear to me why DOE would agree to this on the eve of the new DOE storm water standards that require on site full infiltration design. I hope that someone with better technical expertise can provide more insight to the rest of us on this troubling matter. In particular, I am concerned that public comment and input, a major part of the TMDL process, is being overridden by these parlor tricks.

Read Wendy’s post on the Whatcom Hawk Facebook page here.

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