Lake Whatcom: For recreation and water source for 100,000 people

WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. -- From the moment boaters arrive at 5,000-acre Lake Whatcom inspections begin.

“We’re looking for any animals, plants, mud, water,” said Teagan Ward, Coordinator the Lake Whatcom’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program.

The program isn’t just inspecting, but educating--part of an aggressive, multi-jurisdictional 10-program plan proactive approach between the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County.

“It’s very unusual with environmental programs to be able to be on the prevention side of things,” says Ward, whose main goal at the lake’s three checkpoints is to keep aquatic invasive species -- like Quagga or Zebra mussels -- out of the water.

“We have boats coming and going at all times and that is one of the primary pathways for invasive species to spread to this lake.”

The species aren’t a problem yet, but an infestation could be costly. Potentially reducing the cost of property values for homes along the water and could create permanent taste and odor issues.

Certainly something the city and county wish to avoid.

“If they were to get into Lake Whatcom they could completely clog our drinking water infrastructure,” said Ward, who says aside from costly, an infestation is never truly able to be eradicated afterward.

Which is why lifelong boaters Ken Rasmussen really didn’t mind a brief delay today.

“I think it’s wonderful that they do the inspections,” said Rasmussen getting his El Toro sailboat off his car and ready to sail.

“Because it keeps the lake clear otherwise you’d have these problems with invasive species,” said Rasmussen who drove to Lake Whatcom from Skagit County.

Preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species in the same location popular for rowing recreation and family outings is part of a multi-jurisdictional approach to keeping the water clean.

"Lake Whatcom is the drinking water source for over 100,000 people. It’s really unique in that we actually let people recreate on this lake."

Lake Whatcom has a ten-program plan in place to protect the lake focusing on things like educating the public, stormwater management to preventing runoff and pollution, the city has even purchased land to prevent additional development.

“Part of it is just the history at this lake and this area," said Ward. “It’s been going on for a very long time but if you go further south down to the Seattle area, you see most of those drinking water reservoirs are completely enclosed so it’s very unique.”