BBWARM to hold meeting on proposed rate increases


Update: As of January 16, BBWARM will hold the rate study presentation only on Zoom at 6 p.m. Wednesday, January 17 due to forecasted inclement weather. BBWARM is rescheduling the in-person BBWARM Advisory Committee meeting to a future date. More information on the rescheduled meeting can be found at 

The Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resource Management (BBWARM) District announced it is seeking public input regarding an ongoing rate study and the possibility of the district increasing service charge fees for the first time in its history.

A preliminary meeting to inform residents about the study, and to hear feedback from the community is scheduled for Wednesday, January 17 at 6 p.m. at 5280 Northwest Drive in Bellingham. The meeting will also hold remote viewing, and can be joined via Zoom at

BBWARM, which advises the Whatcom County Public Works Department on Birch Bay’s watershed, was formed in 2007 as a subzone of the Whatcom County Flood Control Zone District (FCZD) to manage stormwater in Birch Bay. The first service charges were enacted in 2008, and have gone unchanged for over 15 years, but could be going up due to infrastructure needs, the district wrote in a statement released January 3. 

“Due to the long list of stormwater improvement projects needed in Birch Bay and rising construction costs, it has become clear that a rate study, and likely a service charge increase, is warranted,” the district wrote in the statement.

Some of the specific infrastructure improvements were laid out in the FCZD’s six-year water resources improvement plan, which estimates which projects – and how much money – is needed across the county.

Birch Bay currently has 10 projects on the list, ranging from $220,000 to $2.85 million in total expenditures by 2029.

For Birch Bay, the most expensive projects are estimated to be stormwater improvements at Richmond Park and Roger’s Slough, each projected to cost over $2 million in expenditures by 2029.

Currently, the BBWARM service charge depends on the amount of developed land on a given property, and whether the property is zoned for single-family residences, duplexes or higher-density properties like apartments, condominiums or commercial and industrial businesses. Properties without impervious surfaces (no concrete foundations, rooftops, parking lots or gravel driveways) are not charged a stormwater fee.

State law does not consider the service charge as a tax, but rather as a user fee, and thus does not require a vote, according to its website. It also allows the district to charge public properties, churches and public schools that all use the stormwater service.

The service charge, which currently raises roughly $740,000 annually, amounts to roughly $75 per year for a single-family residence. The rate of growth in Birch Bay over the past 10-15 years has resulted in more new development, and a higher strain on the area’s drainage system, according to the district.

Holly Faulstich, a natural resource specialist for Whatcom County Public Works Department, told The Northern Light that residents in Birch Bay shouldn’t expect any clear answers by the upcoming meeting, and that more public input will be needed as the rate study process continues.

“[The public meeting] is more of a head’s up that a financial analysis and rate study for BBWARM is underway,” Faulstich wrote to The Northern Light. “They are not at the point of projecting any future rates yet; that will be the subject of the April 17 meeting.” 


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