Lake Whatcom is the drinking water source for over 85,000 residents of Whatcom County, approximately half the county's population. It provides drinking water for the City of Bellingham, Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District, several other smaller water districts/ associations, and about 250 homes that draw water directly from the lake.
The Lake Whatcom watershed is a multi-use watershed with a variety of land and water-based recreation uses. As a result, portions of Lake Whatcom and a number of its tributaries are facing water quality concerns caused by pollutants in stormwater runoff from residential development, agricultural practices, forestry practices, and recreational uses.
The ongoing management challenge is trying to determine the extent to which these practices can occur while maintaining safe, clean drinking water. Management is further complicated by shared jurisdiction, state and federal regulations, tribal water rights, and the City's operation of the diversion facility on the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River.
This chart illustrates the general land uses found in the Lake Whatcom watershed. ( Data Source: Whatcom County Assessor 2000 Land Use )
In 1990, the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, and Water District 10 (now Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District) began meeting to develop a joint management strategy for the Lake Whatcom watershed. The resulting Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program guides actions to protect the Lake Whatcom Reservoir as a long-term supply of drinking water for the City of Bellingham and portions of Whatcom County. The program emphasizes protection over treatment in managing Lake Whatcom and its watershed.