The Lake Whatcom watershed is a unique resource for Whatcom County. Because people live, work, and play in the watershed, our everyday actions can dramatically affect the streams and Lake Whatcom — Bellingham’s source of drinking water.
Although the sources of pollutants are varied, the major factors affecting changes in the watershed streams and the lake are a result of human activities. Nutrients, sediments, bacteria, and other pollutants can enter our storm drains and streams and cause degradation of the lake’s water quality.
In this section, you will learn about water quality concerns in the watershed’s streams and lake. This section also provides links to stewardship tips you can use to help protect the lake. For a brief introduction to each of these challenges, see the descriptions below.
Stormwater: Stormwater runoff is often the culprit in transporting nutrients, sediments, bacteria and other harmful substances into streams and Lake Whatcom leading to degradation of water quality. The ability of land to absorb stormwater runoff and naturally filter impurities decreases as more development occurs in the watershed. Addressing stormwater runoff from properties and from the roads in the watershed before it reaches Lake Whatcom can help prevent further water quality degradation.
Dissolved oxygen: Low dissolved oxygen levels have been identified in the bottom waters of Lake Whatcom. Low dissolved oxygen (or anoxic conditions) threatens fish and other aquatic life, can lead to the release of nutrients and metals from the lake’s sediments, and can lead to taste and odor issues. (more information)
Nutrients: Nutrients are essential for plant and animal growth, but in excess amounts they can have a negative affect on water quality. Excess nutrients, particularly phosphorus, lead to an increased rate of plant growth and lake eutrophication and can affect dissolved oxygen levels. (more information)
Bacteria: Fecal coliform is an indicator species associated with waste from humans and other warm-blooded animals. When this indicator bacteria is present in water samples, there is a potential for other pathogens to be present as well. (more information)
Sediment: Sediments or soil particles can erode from streams banks, land disturbed by construction and forestry activities, or other areas of exposed soil. In addition to creating cloudy or turbid waters, other pollutants are often attached to sediment particles. (more information)
Metals: Metals can be found naturally in our environment, but in concentrated quantities they can adversely affect water quality, be toxic to aquatic life, and cause human health concerns. (more information)
Pesticides: Pesticides (including herbicides and fungicides) applied to your lawns to rid them of unwanted pests or weeds can harm water quality. These chemicals can be washed into our streams and the lake during rain events. (more information)