Tell Whatcom County Council: I support safeguarding our valuable shorelines from climate change and haphazard development, because functioning shorelines protect us from storms, flooding, and pollution, and provide habitat for important salmon and herring populations. 

photo by Buff Black
Dear Whatcom County Council,

Our valuable shorelines — which oysters, clams, herring, salmon, and even orcas rely on — are economically and ecologically critical for our North Sound way of life. However, these shorelines are in urgent need of protection. 

Climate change is triggering fiercer storms and rising sea levels that endanger coastal shorelines (like the storm event that damaged Birch Bay Drive and the Bay Breeze Restaurant in December 2018). Contaminants from stormwater runoff, invasive aquatic plants and mollusks, and toxic algae blooms threaten our drinking water and are destroying important freshwater shorelines and fish habitat. The threat of more overwater structures like docks, piers, wharfs, floats, and ramps would also affect eelgrass and kelp beds that provide shelter for juvenile salmon and herring (the smaller fish they eat) — damaging habitat needed to support the food chain that orcas depend on.

The periodic update of the Whatcom County Shoreline Management Program (SMP) is your opportunity as decision-makers to make vital revisions and reduce the impacts of these threats, many of which we’re already seeing. The latest science needs to be taken into account as the threats of climate change to our region accelerate.

Below are the topics and issue areas we urge you to include in your resolution of scope for the periodic update of the SMP:
  • Cherry Point: please consider the following to protect the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve:
    • Ensure conditional use permits are required for changes of use.
    • Define existing uses specifically.
    • Prohibit new piers, docks, wharfs, and wings at Cherry Point.
  • Prohibit new oil or gas pipelines from crossing rivers and lakes.
  • Lake Whatcom: 
    • Prohibit the following in order to protect our drinking water from pollution from oil from boats: dredging, new commercial development, new in-water structures, and prohibit new piers, floats and pilings.
    • Include language in the SMP about the importance of Lake Whatcom as the source of drinking water for most of the County and the water quality improvement plan (TMDL). The City of Bellingham did that for their SMP and the County should follow suit.
  • Prohibit overwater structures, piers, docks, wharfs over salmon and forage fish habitat.
  • Require the restoration of native vegetation and vegetation conservation standards (lawns and turf are prohibited) for any new building permits, expansions or change of use in the following areas within 50’ of the Ordinary High-Water Mark (OHWM): 
    • Lake Whatcom
    • Fish-critical tributaries on the Clean Water Act 303(d) list for Temperature impairment.
  • Climate change:
    • How has the OHWM changed on shorelines as a result of sea level rise since 2007? Shoreline maps should be updated to reflect any additional areas that are now considered within the 200’ of the OHM as a matter of shoreline jurisdiction.
    • Storm surges, highest observed water levels, and flooding for marine and freshwater shorelines: how can the SMP protect, reduce, and/or plan for these impacts that will become more frequent?
    • Given the impacts of sea level rise on property and life, please prevent construction in areas that will be underwater in the next 30 years. The Washington Coastal Hazards Resilience Network has the best available science on this with various sea level rise projections depending on various greenhouse gas scenarios.
  • Prohibit gravel bar removal (also known as river bar scalping) in creeks and rivers.
  • Consider the loss and disconnection of wildlife habitat as a result of shoreline development and actions. Shorelines often serve as wildlife corridors and should not be disconnected.
  • Permit bulkheads only as a last-resort option. Prioritize natural, living shorelines to reduce the impacts of flooding instead of bulkheads that damage salmon and forage fish habitat. Additionally, all property owners seeking to construct a bulkhead on the shoreline of their property must receive Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife per 2SHB 1579 starting July 1, 2019.
  • Our shorelines and natural areas functions are not keeping up with the “no net loss” requirement. Please consider ways to encourage net-gain of shoreline and natural area functions and values.
We, the undersigned, thank you for your consideration.