WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. — Local farm advocacy group, Whatcom Family Farmers, announced Tuesday, June 6th, they had sent letters (PDF) the day prior to Washington state, tribal and Canadian officials expressing concern over what they see as “a troubling trend of worsening pollution in water coming into local streams from north of the border.”
The Washington State Department of Agriculture as well as Whatcom County government conduct routine water quality testing on streams as they enter the US from BC, and that testing has revealed bacterial pollution levels in the Canadian water as high as 260 times the allowable limit.
“State and local officials have been aware of this cross-border contamination issue for some time,” the letter says. “We are writing because it is essential to farmers and our entire community that this be addressed soon.” Whatcom Family Farmers (June 6, 2023)
On the same day the group’s letter went out, a group of local, state and US officials calling themselves “Whatcom Clean Water Program Partners” also released a memo (PDF) addressed to the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Puget Sound Partnership echoing similar concerns and providing water sampling data across 2022.
The Technical Collaboration Group (TCG), a 3-year partnership between B.C. and Whatcom County staff to improve water quality in watersheds that originate in Canada and flow to Whatcom County shellfish growing areas, ended in July 2021. Since then, a lack of resources for water quality efforts in B.C. have led to declining water quality results documented at the border over the last two years, most notably in the winter.
Since December 2022, Whatcom Clean Water Program (WCWP) partners have documented extremely high fecal coliform counts entering Whatcom County from British Columbia, specifically Pepin Brook (also known as Double Ditch in the US). These samples appear to indicate that a new or repeated discharge of pollution is large and ongoing. The source of these discharges is not known.
These sampling events indicate that there is a noticeable and alarming downstream effect even after joining and being diluted by water meeting water quality standards. Pepin Creek flows south from the Canadian border before joining with Fishtrap Creek and then the Nooksack River.
This issue was observed over the winter of 2021/22 indicating that there is a pattern of high winter spikes with an unknown source. It is also important to note that it is not the only transboundary collaboration need. High counts have been documented in Bertrand Creek during winter, another subwatershed originating in B.C. and flowing into Whatcom County and the Nooksack River watershed. Canadian partners have also documented and shared high results from a stormwater outfall in the Little Campbell River, very close to the mouth of Drayton Harbor and the Semiahmoo Spit, historically a culturally significant harvest site for the Lummi, Nooksack, and other area tribes to harvest shellfish. These varied sources highlight the need for a collaborative process, partnership, and resources to address this issue
The Center Square reported Governor Jay Inslee’s Communication Manager Mike Faulk told them policy staff planned to schedule a meeting with the letter’s authors to discuss the issue.
“We share the concerns about high levels of fecal bacteria in the Nooksack River Basin and how that’s affecting water quality, shellfish, and the broader river ecosystem,” he wrote. “The Whatcom Clean Water Program partners have been working hard with landowners to control fecal bacteria pollution sources in Whatcom County for many years.”
He added: “Our Department of Ecology, working with Whatcom Clean Water Program partners, is currently engaged with the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy on how to continue partnership on this important issue.” “Washington farmers blame Canada for contaminated water” – The Center Square (June 9, 2023)