County officially sides with BBWARM in national stormwater permit issue

Published on Thu, Jul 12, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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A Whatcom County official has issued a strongly worded letter to the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) decrying the agency’s decision to include Birch Bay in the county’s national stormwater permit.

As I reported here, the DOE has issued a preliminary decision to include the Birch Bay urban growth area (UGA) in Whatcom County’s national stormwater permit. The permit currently dictates how stormwater practices are managed and regulated in three other county UGAs.

The DOE’s determination came after Bellingham-based RE Sources for Sustainable Communities submitted a petition to the DOE requesting Birch Bay be added. The requirements for Birch Bay, if it stays included, would go into effect August 1, 2013.

In a July 10 letter to Bill Moore, DOE water quality program manager, Whatcom County assistant public works director Jon Hutchings said the state  DOE analysis of the six petition factors, how the DOE made its decision to include Birch Bay, contains “factual errors and poorly founded assumptions.” Hutchings also said extending the reach of the county’s national stormwater permit requirements into Birch Bay would “jeopardize the community-based funding mechanism for the Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resources Management (BBWARM) District.” (See the entire letter posted below).

The six main requirements of the permit are public education, looking for illegal connections to stormwater drainage, construction and post construction stormwater management, pollution prevention and operations and maintenance. County stormwater staff makes sure these requirements are met for the UGAs included in the permit and would do the same for Birch Bay if it is eventually included.

Hutchings agreed with a few basic tenants of DOE’s reasoning, namely that Birch Bay is indeed a sensitive water body and stormwater runoff from the community is a source of bacterial pollution, but said most others were inaccurate. For instance, Hutchings maintains DOE researchers did not use the most current data in determining levels of bacteria pollution in Birch Bay. Hutchings wrote that the most recent water quality monitoring data for the bay show decreases in bacteria levels that DOE officials did not take into account.

Hutchings also agreed Birch Bay has experienced a high rate of growth in the mid to early 2000s, though any conclusions reached regarding Birch Bay’s growth rate into 2020 are nothing more than speculation. The nearly 70 percent increase in Birch Bay’s population as of the 2010 census was one of RE Source’s reasons for seeking the community’s inclusion in the county’s national stormwater permit.

“Given the current economy, the slow rate of development, and the seasonal nature of Birch Bay’s population, it is difficult to accurately project Birch Bay’s future population,” Hutchings wrote.

The national stormwater permit requirements for Birch Bay would also put a burden on already taxed county stormwater staff, Hutchings wrote, possible lessening the effectiveness of stormwater practices countywide. In sum, Hutchings maintained the efforts of BBWARM staff and volunteers have been effective in dealing with stormwater issues and should be given more time to improve the bay’s water quality.

“[DOE’s] staff recommendations seeks to impose a new administrative burden on the State of Washington, Whatcom County, and the community of Birch Bay, in the presence of a commensurate local program, and at the risk of jeopardizing countywide water quality programs,” Hutchings wrote.
I'll try to get some input from both sides of the issue for a more complete report in next week's issue of The Northern Light.


Whatcom County Response to WA DOE Regarding Birch Bay NPDES Issue
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