Updates to Whatcom County’s rural land use policies could force Birch Bay Water and Sewer District (BBWSD) officials to jump through more hoops in order to build additional water transmission lines between Blaine and Birch Bay.
The policy in question would require district officials to justify that extending water lines larger than eight inches in diameter into rural areas would be necessary “to protect basic public health and safety and the environment.” These changes are part of a larger overhaul of Whatcom County’s rural land use regulations, which the state growth management hearings board declared out of compliance with state law in January.
The hearings board ruled the county’s existing language would have allowed urban-level development in rural areas.
Senior county planner Gary Davis said the new language would prevent urban sprawl by placing stricter requirements on extending utility services into rural areas.
However, BBWSD attorney Robert Carmichael told district commissioners at their June 28 regular meeting that the new language could also make it more difficult for the district to build additional water transmission lines between Blaine and Birch Bay. Such lines would have to cut across rural areas to reach Blaine’s water sources.
“Our main concern is getting water transmitted from one end of the district to another,” Carmichael said.
BBWSD officials will eventually need to run more water lines from Blaine to supply enough water to accommodate Birch Bay’s growing population. These lines would not service any homes in rural areas and would not, as Carmichael sees it, contribute to sprawl in rural areas.
The district is planning four water line projects that could be affected by the new rules, assistant district manager Dan Eisses said. The first would start in 2014 or 2015 and will build a 16-inch water line underneath Blaine Road from Birch Bay-Lynden Road north to Loomis Trail Road. Eisses said it would take between three and four 8-inch water lines to equal the capacity of a 16-inch line.
“A 16-inch line can carry a lot more water than an 8-inch line,” Eisses said.
Part of Carmichael’s issue with the county’s new policy language is that it doesn’t distinguish between water transmission and water distribution lines. Water transmission lines, such as the Blaine Road project, send water from one point to another while distribution lines supply water to customers, Eisses explained.
“We’re trying to get water from A to B versus distributing [water] to our customers,” he said.
Whatcom County Council had previously approved the district’s water system plans that include prospective transmission lines larger than 8-inches through rural areas.
Carmichael said the county should not make these lines more difficult to build with new language in its rural policies.
The question of changing the proposed policy language to address Carmichael’s concerns will hinge on whether county officials consider distribution water lines an urban service, Davis said.
Sewer lines are most definitely an urban service because they are extended to serve additional residential or commercial developments, he explained.
“It’s a little bit of a grey area with water systems,” Davis said.
BBWSD commissioners gave Carmichael the OK to send a letter addressing his concerns to county council and county planning staff. County council members were set to vote on the new rural policies at their July 10 council meeting, but this decision has been postponed to a later date.