Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Thinking outside the H2O Box

The City of Bellingham currently provides water service for an estimated 95,000 City and County residents.

Studies have shown that water quality in Lake Whatcom, our primary source for drinking water is deteriorating. Both the City and the County have hit hard times financially, (as has the nation) and it's doubtful that either entity will be able to find funds to address local water quality issues in the near future.

So, what are our options in regards to developing other sources of drinking water? Let's take a look at a few options that may be politically, economically, environmentally and legally available for our community.

In a 1999 article in DJC, MARC BUEHRER, of 2020 Engineering, tells readers that "Rainwater harvesting through a collection system demonstrates a simple application of sustainable design. Such a system is independent of any centralized water system and helps to foster an appreciation for water as an essential and precious resource." The cost of installing a rainwater catchment system, he says, is similar to the cost of drilling and installing a well.

Why rainwater? Marc tells us, "Rainwater is one of the purest sources of water available. Precipitation in the form of rain, snow, hail or sleet contains very few impurities; it's virtually sodium free as well as being the softest naturally occurring water available. However, once precipitation reaches the earth's surface, there are many chances for minerals, chemicals, bacteria, organic substances and other forms of contamination to enter the water. Water problems have been traced to sewage and wastewater sources that carry synthetic detergents and pathogenic microorganisms. The widespread use of pesticides, fertilizers, insecticides and industrial and medical chemicals, has renewed interest in the quality of water.

In addition to growing concerns about the quality of our drinking water sources, there is now a realization that the amount of water being removed from these sources is also causing problems. Withdrawing excess quantities of groundwater can significantly impact groundwater supplies. In areas where the groundwater tables are lowered due to well pumping, intrusion of salt-water can contaminate the aquifer." The entire article can be read here:

What other alternatives exist to provide a safe, clean source of drinking water for Whatcom County?

We could construct a Water Reservoir to capture abundant, clean water during high flow events, provide off stream habitat for fish and wildlife during low flow months and store water for agricultural, residential and commercial use during low flow summer and fall months.

In fact, the Whatcom County PUD 1 did a preliminary study on building a reservoir while we were drafting the WRIA 1 Watershed Management Plan. Many Pacific Northwest communities depend on reservoirs to provide a clean an reliable source of drinking water.

Wikipedia tells us, "A reservoir is, most broadly, a place or hollow vessel where something
fluid is kept in reserve, for later use. Most often, a reservoir refers to an artificial lake, used to store water for various uses. Reservoirs are created first by building a sturdy dam, usually out of cement, earth, rock, or a mixture. Once the dam is completed, a stream is allowed to flow behind it and eventually fill it to capacity. When such a reservoir is predominantly man-made (rather than being an adaptation of a natural structure) it may be called a Cistern." More information about the construction and world-wide use of water reservoirs can be found here:

What Does Building a Water Reservoir Look Like?

Jeanie Burget, Public Information Officer (PIO) for the City of Portland, tells us, "Many Portlanders have seen our water reservoirs -- maybe you're one of them? Pehaps you've taken a walk through Washington Park and notice these majestic, man-made bodies of water tucked quietly into our city? And while it is fairly easy for those of us who have not actually experienced one of Portland's reservoirs to imagine what they look like, it is much harder to imagine what building these giant structures looks like.... especially what it looked like in the late 1800's.

Pictured is an 1894 construction crew working on Mt. Tabor Reservoir 1, which was built as an upgrade to the city's first water storage system. Reservoir 1 was built as a four-part upgrade to the system, along with
Mt. Tabor Reservoir 2 and Washington Park Reservoirs 3 and 4.

This major project was done under the recommendation of James D. Schuyler, a consulting engineer who the Water Committee of 1893 brought in to assess the water system before it "went live." Upon seeing Bull Run for the first time, Schuyler remarked, "The adequacy of the supply can scarcely be questioned...and so long as this watershed is kept from settlement, and the forests free from devastation by fire or sheep, the flow will never be diminished."

We could import water from Canada: This alternative would involve constructing a pipeline along I-5 to bring water to Bellingham and Whatcom County. Point Roberts imports water from Canada.

Or, we could combine a combination of alternatives, including drilling new wells in our largest groundwater aquifers, to provide a safe, renewable, clean source of drinking water for our community.

Does this mean we abandon Lake Whatcom? Of course not. The federal Clean Water Act will require action on the part of the city and county in order to reduce phosphorus loading and dissolved oxygen, regardless of our source of drinking water. But the costs for remediation should be borne proportionally by the city and county, once we have acquired the scientific data we need to determine the various sources of phosphorus loading in Lake Whatcom. Other communities have discovered that spending money without taking the time to document sources of phosphorus and prioritize remediation projects may do more harm than good.

Unfortunately, the TMDL Draft Study does not provide the community with the information it needs to create a viable treatment plan for reducing phosphorus loading in the Lake Whatcom Watershed.

Have thoughts or suggestions about how we can get outside the H2O box? Please feel free to submit comments or guest articles to Latte. Let's try to keep the discussion positive and do our best to focus our attention on solutions.

I've had enough of the blame game.

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