EPA grant to fund Birch Bay watershed education

Published on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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Birch Bay residents and landowners will soon receive advice and education on how their actions affect the Birch Bay watershed thanks to a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA has awarded the Whatcom Conservation District (WCD) $772,570 to inform Birch Bay landowners of agricultural and development practices that will reduce impacts on the watersheds.

George Boggs, the executive director of the Whatcom Conservation District, said the most immediate goal of the grant-funded project is to allow the nearby shellfish beds to be reopened. The $772,570 is one of two grants totaling almost $1.5 million the WCD has recently received from the EPA.

“This speaks well of the conservation district attracting two grants of this magnitude,” he said.

Boggs said the WCD will work with landowners along Terrell Creek in Birch Bay to identify possible sources of bacteria flowing into Birch Bay.

The grant will also allow the WCD to work with willing landowners in the area to create wetlands that would treat contaminated water, he said.

Many of the recommendations on low-impact practices came from a study conducted on the Birch Bay watershed in 2009, said Peter Gill, a senior planner for the Whatcom County planning and development services. The study was a combined effort among multiple agencies, including the EPA and the Washington State Department of Ecology, and sought to identify areas in the Birch Bay watershed that would be most sensitive to development, Gill said.

The study and the Birch Bay watershed project are important because they are examples of remediation that needs to be done in numerous areas on Puget Sound, Gill said. What’s learned in Birch Bay will most likely have effects on how many other wetlands areas are developed, he said.

While the conservation district and the county are focused on two different aspects of the study, Gill said it is in everyone’s interests for the two groups to work together. Whatcom County planning and developmental services primarily deals with future land use and development, while the WCD works to improve land owner stewardship of undeveloped land, he said.

The county is focusing on two main aspects as recommended by the 2009 study: What individual Birch Bay wetlands would benefit the most from increased conservation efforts, and how future development projects can be designed to have the least amount of negative impacts on the surrounding watershed.

Gill said any development near wetlands needs to obtain several different permits. One of the county’s goals is to streamline the permit process so low-impact development can grow quickly and in a way that’s not detrimental to the environment.

“The regulators are a little behind the science,” he said.

Birch Bay’s growth over the last few years has necessitated the efforts planned for the area, Gill said. Studies focusing on what can and cannot be developed near wetlands are important because many of the dry areas in Birch Bay have been used up.

“Birch Bay is full of wetlands,” Gill said.

Figuring out how landowners who do not want their land developed can reduce their negative impacts on the environment is where the WCD comes in.

 The WCD is tasked with deciding which areas in the Birch Bay watershed need more protection and which areas are too degraded to save, Boggs said. The results of the 2009 study and the recent EPA grant will allow the district to develop tools for landowners that will aid in those decisions, he said.

 “We’re pretty excited about the opportunity to address the concerns of Whatcom County residents when it comes to the environment,” Boggs said.