Aug. 12, 2018
UPDATE: Family farmer stops irrigating, diverts well water to help fish stranded in blocked Whatcom stream
Fish rescue operation planned for Monday; family farmers, WFDW coordinating
LYNDEN, Wash. – A family farmer has shut down his irrigation and is instead pumping his well water into a stream north of Lynden where thousands of coho salmon, steelhead, trout and other marine life is stranded after a stream blockage north of the Canadian border.
Twinbrook Creamery owners Larry Stap and Mark Tolsma volunteered to take the water away from their crops and contribute it to the stream after Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said fresh, cool water could help the stranded fish survive until they can be rescued.
WDFW habitat biologist Joel Ingram says he’s coordinating with farmers, the Washington Department of Ecology and others to pull off the fish rescue in an operation planned for Monday morning. Family farmers and other volunteers will use dip nets to catch the surviving fish and bring them to the other side of the stream that’s still flowing.
Ingram says it’s likely a beaver dam that blocked the Double Ditch stream just north of the border, causing downstream areas to run dry, killing thousands of coho, steelhead, trout, crawfish, freshwater lamprey, stickleback and freshwater mussels.
Farmers noticed the stream drying up almost overnight Thursday, and along with Ingram sounded the alarm to try to save the fish. Ingram says immediately removing the stream blockage in Canada could actually kill even more fish, so they’re waiting to deal with that problem until as many fish as possible can be rescued.
Save Family Farming and local affiliate Whatcom Family Farmers will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates as developments occur. We have farmers and other experts available to speak to media upon request, as well as photos and videos of the affected area.
Dillon Honcoop, Save Family Farming Communications Director
Aug. 10, 2018
Family farmers rush to rescue stranded salmon in Whatcom County stream
Stream blockage in Canada threatens fish vital to region’s salmon recovery
LYNDEN, Wash. – Family farmers in Whatcom County are jumping into action after a stream blockage in Canada has left potentially thousands of threatened coho salmon stranded and dying just south of the Canadian border near Lynden.
Farmers are working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to help rescue stranded fish before they succumb to the low water conditions. WDFW habitat biologist Joel Ingram says the stream blockage has already killed at least hundreds of juvenile coho salmon in addition to many other fish species. Ingram continues to work on determining exactly how many fish are affected.
The farming community is currently bringing together the resources needed to assist WDFW with a full-scale rescue operation to bring the remaining stranded fish to safe waters where they can continue their journey to adulthood and the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Specialized equipment is being prepared, and farmers are gathering to help successfully complete the rescue effort.
Farmers are coordinating with WFDW to explore all available options right now, including possibly adding water to the stream that has been drying up due to the blockage in Canada. This may include farmers voluntarily suspending irrigation of crops to contribute that well water directly to the stream that’s been blocked off, giving immediate help to the imperiled fish.
Save Family Farming and local affiliate Whatcom Family Farmers will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates as developments occur. We will have farmers and other experts available to speak to media upon request, as well as photos and videos of the affected area.
Dillon Honcoop, Save Family Farming Communications Director
NOVEMBER 16, 2017
DNA testing shows no sign of cattle contamination in Nooksack River, Bellingham Bay
Officials: improving water quality means Portage Bay shellfish beds could soon re-open for much of the year, other studies also show improving groundwater nitrate levels
LYNDEN, Wash. – A new study from the U.S. EPA and the Lummi Nation shows no evidence that cows are to blame for bacterial contamination in the Nooksack River and Bellingham Bay.
The EPA report says no fecal material from cattle was found in DNA testing of the any of the water samples collected.
In recent years, bacterial pollution had closed the shellfish beds for most months, but the exact source of the pollution was unclear.
Whatcom farmers and the Lummi Nation joined together in 2016 to form the Portage Bay Partnership to push for solutions.
“Water quality is definitely improving, and the results show what we have been saying all along, that the assumption that dairy farms are causing shellfish contamination is simply wrong,” Fred Likkel, Executive Director of Whatcom Family Farmers said.
Also, a new state Department of Ecology study shows improving groundwater quality in northern Whatcom County.
Nitrate levels are declining or remaining steady in all but one of the wells they tested.
Whatcom Family Farmers also supported an independent study of Ecology’s groundwater data.
In a Nov. 8 Capital Press story on the study, an Ecology researcher said this shows manure lagoons and manure-management plans farmer have been using over the last 20 years may be working to improve water quality.
“We hope those continuing to pursue lawsuits and massive new regulations against our dairy farms will wake up to what the data are saying and stop their false accusations,” Likkel said.
“This is very positive, and encourages us to continue and even expand our efforts to be real environmental leaders,” said Brad Rader, president of Whatcom Family Farmers.
More information: http://www.whatcomfamilyfarmers.org/great-news-on-water-quality.html
OCTOBER 16, 2017
Despite one of driest summers on record, Bertrand Creek flows above natural conditions for the first time in decades
The northern Whatcom County fish-bearing stream flow was increased dramatically through conservation, water rights conversions and direct groundwater augmentation
(LYNDEN, WA) The Bertrand Creek in northern Whatcom County flows at rates the salmon-bearing stream hasn’t seen in many years. During the driest months of the summer water in the stream naturally decreased, but those low flows were heightened by legal withdrawals from the streams by farmers for irrigation.
This September, for the first time in decades, the Bertrand flowed with clean, cold water at a rate of six to seven (cfs) cubic feet per second. That translates to more than 3000 gallons per minute or almost four and a half million gallons per 24 hour day. An Olympic-sized swimming pool contains 660,000 gallons, to put that flow into perspective. Just a few summers ago, in 2003, the August flow in the stream was 1.58 cfs, or about 720 gallons per minute and that was during a time of higher rainfall.
What caused this minor miracle of habitat restoration? To understand that, a bit of history is needed. The Bertrand is a relatively small stream that originates in small streams in Canada. North of the border it flows through farm country marked with growing urbanization. It crosses the border northeast of Lynden into the Jackman Ditch. From there it flows by some dairy but mostly raspberry and blueberry farms. For many years, farmers near the stream had legal rights to withdraw irrigation water directly from the stream. Irrigation was needed at the driest times of the summer, in July and August, at the same time that the natural flows were lowest. The result was a decline in flow to the point of harming fish.
In 2004, farmers recognized the problem and formed the Bertrand Watershed Improvement District. This was the first of now six farmer-organized and run government entities designed to address water issues on a drainage by drainage basis. Many farmers were already working hard at conserving water. Marty Maberry, a leading berry farmer and co-owner of Maberry Packing, stated that the micro-irrigation of berries now used by almost all berry farmers reduced the withdrawals for irrigation on a per acre basis in half – from about 900 gallons per minute to about 400 gallons per minute. But as berry acreage increased, this alone did not solve the problem of low flows.
From 2010 to 2016 a number of the farmers who had surface water rights to withdraw directly from the stream began to apply for and were granted the right to withdraw groundwater instead of stream water. Their irrigation water now came from wells some distance from the creek. This made a massive difference in stream flows so that the August flow in 2015 was up to six cubic feet per second or 2700 gallons per minute. At the same time they were doing this, farmers were working on an innovative idea to increase flow even more: augmentation. This involved pumping water from a well located away from the stream and accelerating the natural seepage from groundwater.
They applied for the groundwater permit from the Department of Ecology, and after over two years of delays, were finally granted approval. Pumping began on September 12 and will continue until fall rains take over filling the stream. The flow gauge located on Rathbone Road near where the Bertrand empties into the Nooksack river confirmed that the one cfs flow being pumped well upstream, meant that the flow was maintained all the way to the river.
“Farmers understand this is something we need to do,” said Maberry. “Habitat is only one factor affecting fish, but it is one that as farmers we can address. This shows we understand the need for stream flow, for habitat and we respect and support tribal treaty rights.”
But, he also pointed out that the bureaucratic delays in securing the right to augment the stream are a real hindrance to this kind of project. “The Foster decision of the Washington Supreme Court and Ecology’s position on it of a one to one equivalence of groundwater and surface water for instream flows is not science-based and prevents an awful lot of good work being done,” Maberry said, “including further surface to groundwater rights conversions.”
Maberry pointed out that original versions of the “Hirst Fix” bill stalled in the state legislature included a Foster fix. “Fixing Hirst and Foster is very high on the list of priorities for our state and those Democratic leaders opposing it need to understand the harm being done by those terrible court decisions to the environmental restoration work we are trying to do. Since this involves fish habitat and tribal treaty rights, we would expect our friends and neighbors in the tribes to be fully supportive.”
According to Maberry, the Bertrand augmentation project is just a start. “We see many opportunities to improve habitat with this kind of farmer-led approach,” he said. “But we also look for more support from our government leaders including tribal leaders for help in securing the long delayed water rights that will allow us to continue to farm.”
Stream Flow Augmentation Presentation to Baker to Bay Symposium
Charles S. Lindsay, L.G., L.E.G. L.Hg.,
Senior Principal Hydrogeologist
Associated Earth Sciences Inc.
On Whatcom Family Farmers homepage
Whatcom Farmers Initiate Water Quality Source Monitoring Test Program Using Latest DNA Technology
Pilot project underway near Lynden with possible expansion based on
new state funding for DNA testing
(Lynden, WA) The six Watershed Improvement Districts in Whatcom County, represented collectively by the Ag Water Board, announced that they have begun to use the latest DNA testing technology to help in identifying sources of bacteria contaminating water in the Nooksack river watershed. Exact Scientific Services of Ferndale, Washington has been contracted to conduct water source testing at a number of locations on Scott Ditch south of Lynden.
Scott Ditch drains much of the farmland and some residential areas east of the Guide Meridian, south of the Nooksack river and north of Wiser Lake. It flows into the Nooksack River south of Lynden. It was chosen as the study area in part because of the dairy farms in the area combined with other uses including semi-urban residential, hobby and part-time farms, as well as a small wildlife reserve area. Scott Ditch is in the South Lynden Watershed Improvement District, one of six watershed improvement districts formed by farmers in the past few years to address water issues in the farmland of northern Whatcom County.
The $18,000 pilot project was funded entirely by the six Watershed Improvement Districts. In addition to the pilot project, Whatcom Family Farmers encouraged the local Washington legislative delegation to support this effort. The operating budget for Washington state included $250,000 for DNA water quality source testing, half of it designated for Western Washington.
“This is an important step for us as only through more precise identification of the sources of pollution can we do a better job of eliminating it,” said Fred Likkel, a water quality consultant with N3 Consulting as well as the Executive Director of Whatcom Family Farmers. Likkel pointed out that the closure of Lummi Portage Bay shellfish beds have contributed to community-wide concern about bacterial contamination.
“Some initially blamed the closure on dairy farmers and while a few still persist with this accusation, water quality monitoring shows that contributions from sources such as stormwater runoff, septics, Canadian sources and others are having a greater impact.” Likkel said. He also noted recent water quality test results near the Portage Bay shellfish beds show improving levels of water quality. “Progress is being made toward our goal of improving water quality,” Likkel said. “This project will only help us to further that progress.”
Even though there is much broader recognition of the limited role dairy farms play in water quality problems, many still assume that fecal coliform, the bacterial standard that is tested and used to regulate shellfish, only comes from cows. However, fecal coliform includes many different bacteria that come from many different potential sources, including on-site sewage systems, sewage treatment systems, cows, horses, sheep, pets, and wildlife.
“Farm fields are full of migrating wildfowl during the rain-heavy winter seasons,” explained Ed Blok, president of the South Lynden Watershed Improvement District and a leader in this effort. “The large flocks of swans, geese and ducks turn grass fields to mud and of course leave their waste behind. A single swan can leave about two pounds per day, and we have thousands of them. With soggy fields that waste is easily carried into streams. Cow manure on the other hand has to be carefully contained and managed.”
Blok also noted that dairy farms have come a long way in reducing their bacterial contributions to our waterways in Whatcom County. “This improved source testing will help everyone involved better understand what their bacterial footprint is, and help us direct resources to manage contamination where it will do the most good – both on and off the farm,” Blok commented.
PRESS RELEASES ON ACTION TAKEN AGAINST WHATCOM DAIRY FARM
WHATCOM FAMILY FARMERS
WHATCOM FAMILY FARMERS
UPDATE: This version includes information about commercial milk production corrected on May 1, 2017
April 28, 2017
Dairy farmers are upset and disheartened by conditions found on a non-commercial farm producing dairy products and fully support actions taken against the farmer
Actions by authorities against Snookbrook Farms near
Birch Bay fully supported by Whatcom Family Farmers
(LYNDEN, WA) Whatcom Family Farmers leaders were informed of animal care and manure contamination action taken by authorities against Snookbrook Farms, LLC. According to these authorities, 21 dairy cows and two pigs were rescued from the farm in starving condition. Eleven unburied cow carcasses and a pig carcass were also found on the farm.
Snookbrook Farms has not sold milk commercially since mid-2016 and stopped producing any milk earlier this year. After stopping commercial shipments, the small herd produced milk used exclusively for the farm’s private artisan cheese operation.
“We are disgusted and heartsick that any farmer, even a part-time farmer, would operate in such an irresponsible and careless manner,” said Fred Likkel, Executive Director of Whatcom Family Farmers. Likkel also noted that several local dairy farmers had visited the farm over the past few years and attempted to encourage the farmer to improve his operation. While finding serious problems with farm operations, they did not observe animal abuse issues at that time. Likkel also reported that the farmer had received offers to purchase the farm but those offers were met with the same negative response that farmers attempting to assist the farmer had received. “Farmers are increasingly aware that it is not only our duty to operate with a high degree of responsibility and care toward the environment and our animals, but we have an obligation to help all farmers achieve this or help them get out of the farming business. We are grateful for those farmers who reached out to Snookbrook over the past few years attempting to do just that.”
In addition to the animal care action, the Washington State Department of Agriculture is taking enforcement action against the farm, which had previously received several enforcement actions including penalties. The action is related to manure contamination in violation of the state’s strict Dairy Nutrient Management Act enforced by the Agriculture Department. The Washington State Vet is also participating in the investigation. The situation has been referred to the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s Office for possible criminal prosecution. Whatcom Family Farmers fully supports these actions of the authorities and will assist in any way possible.
Ed Blok, one of the local dairy farmers who visited with the farmer on a few occasions commented, “We strongly encouraged the farmer to improve his operation and offered our assistance. His initial response was negative and not encouraging, but the last time I visited him he indicated an understanding that his practices were unacceptable and showed willingness to improve.” Blok noted that the farmers did not observe the animal care problems at that time but did observe problems with manure management.
“To me personally and all our dairy farmers this situation is just sickening,” said Rich Appel, dairy farmer and vice president of Whatcom Family Farmers. “I don’t believe there is a single one of our almost 100 commercial dairy farmers that wouldn’t have reached out to save these animals from the suffering they experienced if they had known. This is the first time in my memory that anything like this has happened on one of our farms. This is not how we do things. It violates everything we stand for as farmers in caring for our animals.”
Whatcom Family Farmers is a farmer-led organization providing a unified voice for all family farmers in Whatcom County. It was organized in 2015.
Whatcom Family Farmers
Dairy Farmers of Washington
DAIRY FARMERS OF WASHINGTON
April 28, 2017
Washington Dairy Community Condemns Conditions at Farm
The Dairy Farmers of Washington (DFW) and the entire Washington dairy community are outraged and heartsick by the alleged animal cruelty case at a Whatcom-area dairy farm. The Dairy Farmers of Washington support the actions taken by the Whatcom County Human Society and the ongoing investigation by law enforcement.
Snookbrook Farms LLC, a small farm located in Whatcom County, Washington is currently being investigated by the Whatcom Humane Society for conditions well below any industry standards or acceptable practices, including a number of deceased animals and other cows and pigs in starving conditions. The matter has been referred to the Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney.
In addition to the Humane Society, The Washington State Department of Agriculture provided veterinary consultation services to Whatcom Humane Society, Animal Control for the county’s investigation. DFW trusts that authorities will continue to aggressively investigate this matter and take appropriate actions, if justified. The animals have been rescued by the Whatcom County Humane Society and are under veterinary care.
The alleged conditions in no way reflect the animal care practices of the hundreds of hard working dairy farm families throughout Washington or across our nation. America’s dairy community is proud of the care they provide to their animals spanning many generations of dedicated dairy farmers.
Michelle Schilter, DFW Board Chair and dairy farmer from Chehalis, Washington says, “The Dairy Farmers of Washington takes any claim about animal mistreatment very seriously,” stated Schilter. “Our farmers practice high standards of animal care and reports describing alleged conditions on this farm are not representative of the high standards we insist on here in Washington. The dairy community never tolerates animal abuse and we fully support this investigation.”
The Dairy Farmers of Washington organization leads statewide advertising and public relations programs, hunger relief initiatives, retail promotions, and nutrition education. Dairy farmers in Washington State fund DFW.
Dairy Farmers of Washington
HEAVY RAINS CAUSE MANURE STORAGE MISERY FOR WHATCOM DAIRY FARMERS
PRESS RELEASE April 7, 2017
Public support sought to secure funding to help solve dilemma of manure storage
Since the beginning of farming, weather has been crucial to farmers. But modern farming brings it own special challenges. The exceptional rain and snow this year in Whatcom County is causing a serious manure storage problem. Heavy rains last October and well into spring means that storage lagoons are full to capacity putting farmers in a no-win situation.
Manure lagoons are an essential part of contemporary dairy farming because they allow the manure their dairy cows produce to be applied safely. Whatcom dairy farmers first started installing lagoons in the 1970s, before even the effects of too much nitrogen on crops or bacteria runoff into streams was really understood. Saturated fields or application during rains can make it easy for fecal coliform to runoff into ditches and streams that flow into the Nooksack river. Now we also know that when nitrogen from commercial fertilizer or organic fertilizer – manure – is applied beyond what the crops can take up, it can accumulate in the soil and then leak into groundwater through heavy rains or irrigation. This extra nitrogen, combined with nitrogen naturally in the soil or from other sources such as septic systems, converts to nitrate. The EPA limits nitrate in drinking water to 10 parts per million for public health reasons – although the health risks of nitrate at this level is increasingly being questioned by current science studies. As long as it remains the federal standard, it is very important to farmers to apply their nutrients at what’s called an agronomic rate – that is a rate that does not exceed what the plants can absorb.
This means that manure needs to be applied as fertilizer during the growing season but is accumulated year round. Manure lagoons allow manure to be stored until the right time to apply. Grass is a major feed crop for dairy cows and it typically starts growing in early spring and then into mid to late October. Farmers store the manure through our wet winters, then start applying when the grass starts growing. To prevent runoff into streams and ditches, they avoid applying in rainy conditions or when fields are soaked or flooded. Failure to do so can result in citations and fines through the rigorous dairy nutrient management regulations.
The problems really started last October. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that rainfall at the Clearbrook station near Sumas was 10.7 inches in October 2016. That’s more than double the average of just under 5 inches and well more than double the 4.21 inches the previous year. To make certain there is plenty of room for manure over the winter, a lagoon must be emptied or near emptied by the end of October. But little manure could be applied in that exceptionally rainy month.
Worried, farmers watched lagoons fill during the winter and waited for early spring hoping to be able to apply early. Instead, we have had one of the wettest winters and early springs on record. This creates an impossible dilemma. Should they wait until the lagoon overflows, possibly breaching berms and causing a major spill? Should they apply during the rain and when fields are still soaked knowing that this violates regulations and is harmful to water quality?
Even the most conscientious steward would struggle with this difficult dilemma.
There is no easy, short term solution to this situation. One temporary solution that some farmers are using is to haul manure from filled lagoons to any available empty lagoon that can be found from former dairy farms. The manure then has to be hauled back for application. But this can cost thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars and is not sustainable financially. Other farmers have opted to apply some of the manure to the driest fields and portions of fields.
Longer term, the answer is to increase the amount of storage space so that the variations in weather can be accommodated. But for dairy farmers deep into a multi-year market recession with no end in sight, investing in a hugely expensive new lagoon is simply not feasible. Add to that the attacks from anti-farm activists – including some in our own community – who pressure regulators to require synthetic lagoon liners. Current lagoons lined according to the standards published by the Natural Resources Conservation Service are very effective at protecting water quality. The nation’s top agricultural scientists agree that synthetic liners are unnecessary. Large dairy farmers in Eastern Washington have been forced through litigation and threats of federal action into installing these extremely expensive liners. They report costs that would bankrupt the majority of dairy farmers. Facing increasing uncertainty from new regulations such as the recently published Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation permit from the Department of Ecology and the continuing threats of lawsuits from Oregon attorneys, farmers are understandably hesitant to make major investments.
Whatcom Family Farmers will work with other farm groups such as the Washington Dairy Federation and the Washington Farm Bureau to encourage cost-share funding from federal and state sources to assist in this problem. All those eager to see Whatcom County continue as a great place to produce great food – including dairy products – are asked to help support this effort.
LYNDEN CITY COUNCIL APPROVES INCENTIVES TO IMPROVE WATER QUALITY
March 31, 2017
Financial incentives offered to encourage homeowners to eliminate septic systems within the Lynden city limits
Whatcom Family Farmers are cheering the decision of the Lynden City Council on March 6 that could substantially improve water quality in and beyond the city of Lynden. Ordinance 1526 amends current laws to provide a financial incentive by waiving certain fees to encourage homeowners with existing homes served by onsite septic systems who agree to physically connect to the city’s sewer system and decommission their septic systems. The City would waive the normal $6682 General Facilities Charge and provide regular sewer service in the interest of expanding its customer base where service is available and improving water quality.
Leaders of Whatcom Family Farmers and the Portage Bay Partnership discussed water monitoring results with city officials on a couple of occasions.
“We’ve known for some time that urban stormwater runoff and old septic systems within our urban areas are significant contributors to the fecal coliform contamination that has kept the Portage Bay shellfish beds from re-opening,” said Mitch Moorlag of Edaleen Dairy, one of the Partnership’s farmer representatives. “We met with the Mayor and city officials in 2015 to discuss the water quality monitoring data and the Mayor made it clear he was very interested in doing what he could to address Lynden’s contributions. We’re very pleased that the City Council has taken this action. We see it as support for our joint efforts with the Lummi Nation to address all sources of water quality.”
“Farmers and tribal leaders coming together to work hand-in-hand to address the multiple sources of contamination is an inspiration to all of us concerned about doing the right thing,” Mayor Korthuis said. “We are very pleased with this action and are confident that as our homeowners respond it will result in measurable improvements in water quality.”
Beginning in mid-2015 Whatcom Family Farmers documented that the accusations against dairy farmers as the sole or primary cause of contamination that closed the shellfish beds were inaccurate. The data showed that water flowing into Lynden through the Fishtrap creek which runs from Canada through an area featuring a number of dairies was typically cleaner than the water flowing through and out of Lynden. There are over 200 septic systems within the city limits of Lynden and many of them are quite old. Lummi leaders, while initially focusing on dairy farm contribution, came to understand that there are multiple sources, including city stormwater runoff, septic systems and major contamination coming from Canada.
The City of Lynden’s decision to encourage residents to get off old septic systems could have a positive impact on water quality. This can be seen in what happened in Drayton Harbor. After being mostly closed since 1995, the Drayton Harbor was recently reopened to shellfish harvest. An article published by Puget Sound Institute of the University of Washington showed how important addressing septic systems along with farm pollution was in this process:
“The prospects for recovery were bleak. A 1998 pollution survey revealed a 21-percent failure rate among the septic systems near the shore. Breaks in aging sewer lines also were identified as a problem, as was the nearby marina where some boaters apparently were dumping human waste. Besides septic systems, sewer lines and boats near the harbor, pollution was coming in from Dakota and California creeks. These streams were contaminated from failing septic systems and poor livestock practices throughout the 36,000-acre watershed. As more and more sources of pollution were identified, a solution seemed almost out of reach.”
The article noted that of the 400 septic systems in the Drayton Harbor drainage, 128 were found to be defective. Fixing these was likely the most significant improvement. At the same time, the growing awareness of farmers and the passage in 1998 of the Dairy Nutrient Management Act resulted in significant changes in farm operations that also improved water quality.
“What happened in Drayton Harbor, like what happened at Bayview in Skagit County, shows that a community-wide concerted and collaborative effort is needed,” said Larry Stap of Twin Brook Creamery and one of the seven farmers to sign the partnership agreement. “The Portage Bay Partnership provides an important vehicle to help make that happen and the City of Lynden is showing the kind of leadership we need to see across our community.”
NEW PRESENTATION IDENTIFIES SOURCES OF BACTERIA CONTAMINATION IN WHATCOM COUNTY WATER
Release Date: June 14, 2016
New Presentation Identifies Sources of Bacteria Contamination in Whatcom County Water
Portage Bay Shellfish Beds Remain Closed Part of the Time Due to High Levels of Bacteria Contamination
Whatcom Family Farmers has published a thirteen minute video addressing potential sources of bacteria contamination in Whatcom County streams and rivers. The presentation shows that there are many sources of contamination with urban storm water runoff and high levels of contamination flowing south from Canada as significant contributors. Agricultural areas are playing a smaller part than in the past.
“Media reports placed blame on dairies,” said Fred Likkel, Executive Director of Whatcom Family Farmers. “But we knew that practices mandated by the 1998 Dairy Nutrient Management Act were continuing. Farmers didn’t just quit following regulations and recent inspections have documented that this is indeed the case.”
A closer look at population data says that growth in the more rural areas of Whatcom County has been particularly strong, with Ferndale and Lynden areas growing seven times the rate of Bellingham. Much of that growth comes in the form of development into former farmland where septic systems are required. Septic systems are one likely source of bacterial contamination and the video presentation shows 1355 septic systems location in the North Lynden watershed, as well as locations of known failed septic systems that contribute bacteria to water. “Water quality data shows that urban storm water runoff is of particular concern,” said Likkel. “Plus, it is very clear that the sometimes large contamination coming from Canada is directly affecting the bacteria counts resulting in the closures.”
Urban stormwater runoff, population growth, and bacterial contamination in watershed areas are linked according to multiple sources. Since half of the Bertrand and Fishtrap Creek watersheds are in British Columbia, and the data at border stations shows increased bacterial contamination, it is important to analyze what is happening in these areas. The percentage of paved and developed areas in the Canadian portion of the Bertrand watershed has more than doubled in the past 50 years, and the paved percentage of Fishtrap watershed in Canada is even higher, at double that of the Bertrand.
Likkel pointed out that solving the water quality problems would be much easier if there was a single source to focus on. With multiple sources, it will take a community-wide effort and beyond. “Both Whatcom County and the City of Lynden are recognizing the issue and are really working at addressing it. We’re also grateful that the Washington State Department of Agriculture and our County Executive Jack Louws are working to get cooperation from the BC government. Without addressing the Canadian contamination, we are simply not going to be able to address the problem in the basin.”
A number of state and local agencies monitor water quality along with citizens groups, farmers and Lummi Natural Resources staff. The Washington State Department of Health monitoring charts on the Nooksack river show that in the mid to late 1990s, bacteria counts in the river were very high which resulted in shellfish bed closures during that period. In 1998 the Washington State legislature passed the Dairy Nutrient Management Act which specified how and when dairy farms could apply manure to fields. The regulations proved effective and water quality improved significantly from about 2003 through 2013. But in late 2013, bacteria counts began to increase and by late 2014 had increased to the point where shellfish beds were once again closed at least part of the year.
The Washington State Department of Health establishes acceptable levels of bacteria in water. If the standards are exceeded, shellfish beds and swimming areas can be closed. The Portage Bay shellfish beds on the Lummi reservation have been closed conditionally since September 2014. Shellfish are particularly susceptible to bacteria because they filter water to feed and accumulate contaminants. The Portage Bay beds are located near the mouth of the Nooksack river.
The presentation can be viewed on the Whatcom Family Farmers website at www.whatcomfamilyfarmers.org.
Whatcom Family Farmers is the unified voice of farmers in Whatcom County led by a board of eleven family farmers with their primary income coming from farming.