Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lake Padden stewardship needed from many to preserve popular park

(Photo: Phil Humphries)
This guest editorial written by Betsy Gross, director of People for Lake Padden (Whatcom County) was published in the Bellingham Herald on Wednesday, February 27.

Two years ago, volunteers came together to study the water quality of Lake Padden and the land use of its watershed, the area whose waters drain into the lake.

With the help of Western Washington University's Huxley College faculty and students and working under the auspices of the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, we completed our lake monitoring project, a fecal coliform study and a watershed analysis.

At this time, Lake Padden's water quality appears to be stable. There currently is no trend towards a worsening of the lake's water quality that we can detect through our study. That good news needs to be maintained by making sure we are good stewards in our activities in and around the lake and its watershed.

Levels of phosphorus, which directly contributes to algae growth, are within acceptable levels except during the fall. High phosphorous concentrations combined with low nitrogen levels have resulted in significant algal blooms in the fall. The growth of algae results in a depletion of oxygen in the lake below six meters in the late summer and early fall and may result in mortality of aquatic life.

Fecal coliform levels in the vicinity of the dog park and adjacent trail areas are very high, particularly in the fall. These levels exceed water quality standards in the stream and in the lake.

Based on these water quality and land use studies, People for Lake Padden recommends the following actions to the city of Bellingham, Whatcom County, residents of the Lake Padden watershed and Lake Padden Park users:

  • Development in the Lake Padden watershed should be carefully controlled. Watershed development typically results in increases in runoff, nutrients and contaminants which will likely further degrade Lake Padden's water quality. This should be viewed, rightly, as a health risk and ultimately a liability for the city of Bellingham and Whatcom County.
  • The county and the city should use clean sand products when sanding streets during snow events, and they should sand only on the steepest streets and intersections. Using clean sand, distributing it only where it is needed, combined with street sweeping soon after snow events and regular catch basin cleaning, will reduce the negative impacts on the lake's water quality.
  • Clean up the dog park area. The city of Bellingham should install a drainage and filtration system by the Lake Padden dog park and creeks, consider restricting the dog off-leash to places without access to the creek, and add more poop bag dispensers and disposal cans.
  • Post a no-swimming or wading advisory in the area where dogs are allowed to enter the water adjacent to the ball park until fecal coliform issues are resolved.
  • The city and the county should develop and carry out a park and watershed education program focused on nutrient and fecal coliform reductions. Such a program should include:
  • Informing park users how to notify the Department of Ecology's Algae Hotline when blooms are noticed, especially if they are near the dog park or the swimming area.
  • Engage watershed residents on reducing and eliminating activities that add nutrients and fecal coliform to the lake.
  • Engage park and lake user on disposal of animal waste and advise against feeding water birds.
  • Engage Wade King Elementary School on using Lake Padden as a focus for watershed education.
  • Initiate a watershed-pledge campaign to engage residents and lake users in water-quality stewardship.
  • Work with dog and horse owners and their organizations to keep the dog park and paths poop-free.
  • Initiate a public health media campaign to make leaving dog droppings on the ground as socially unacceptable as cigarette smoking.
The complete water quality and land use reports, as well as the full recommendations to protect the lake's health, are found here.

Lake Padden is a precious gem in our park system enjoyed by many. We have a responsibility to be its wise stewards. We have an opportunity to take constructive actions while the lake is still healthy. And we can provide a valuable legacy for generations to come.

People for Lake Padden and its volunteers have taken the Lake Padden project this far, and we now turn to the city of Bellingham, which administers Lake Padden Park; Whatcom County, which oversees development in the Lake Padden watershed; and the residents in the watershed and the many users of the park and ask all to work together to maintain the health and vitality of Lake Padden.

Click here for more information on Lake Padden.


  1. Great post, Betsy! I especially love your list of recommended actions. I'd also like to have less parking areas near the lake.

  2. Betsy Gross via an email reports: "On February 25th Betsy Gross, P4LP Director and David Roberts, Science Advisor, briefed City Council's Committee of the Whole on the findings of the several Lake Padden water quality and watershed studies their organization funded these past two years.

    Betsy Gross began with an overview of P4LP: how and why it began, their mission and goals, the partnerships they forged with the city, county, and university, and a brief description of their science and stewardship activities. She expressed her gratitude for the countless hours citizen volunteers gave on behalf of their mission to protect the lake's water quality and preserve it for generations to come.

    David Roberts then gave an overview, with accompanying powerpoint slideshow, of the water quality and watershed land use studies' findings along with overarching recommendations for governments whose respective responsibilities are to ensure this lake/ park's waters remain healthy. His presentation was very well received by City Council, who expressed their appreciation for the work accomplished by People for Lake Padden.

    Darcy Jones of Jones Engineering requested to speak as well. He thanked P4LP for their work but took issue with their findings, stating they were inaccurate as it related to phosporous runoff into the lake emanating from development in its watershed. Mayor Linville then suggested that this topic be offered another venue as a way to provide the opportunity for public input on it.

    Council members inquired of the City of Bellingham administrators in attendance what was being done to remedy the problems P4LP's studies uncovered. Both James King, Parks and Recreation Director, and Ted Carlson, Public Works Director, responded the City had already been briefed by David and Betsy and were underway with addressing their organization's recommendations."


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