The City of Bellingham began enforcing mandatory water rationing as of 3 p.m. Thursday (July 30). All lawn and landscape watering is prohibited in Bellingham until further notice, a severe blow to gardeners hoping to nurse plants and trees through the record heat spell.
A hot weather algae bloom has so clogged the city's water filtration system that it's "impacting the city's ability to provide water to residents, businesses, and critical facilities, while still maintaining water reserves required for fire flow and emergency services," Mayor Dan Pike told residents in an automated telephone call at mid-afternoon. An announcement posted on the city's web site warns that violators are subject to fines and water service shut off. The web site carries a telephone number for reporting violators anonymously.
Bellingham's municipal water supply, which serves the city of 75,000 and another 20,000 in a suburban service area, is the generally unprotected Lake Whatcom along the city's eastern boundary. The lake features virtually wide open public access. Only recently did Bellingham and Whatcom County agree to curtail housing development within the watershed and begin enforcing regulations aimed at stopping runoff of phosphorous into the lake, which is created from grading by developers and lawn fertilizing by home owners.
The phosphorous and other nutrients feed a wildly growing algae infestation. It's the algae, not a quantitative shortage of water, that has brought the emergency shutdown.
As Crosscut reported last year, the Washington Department of Ecology ordered the city, and county in May of 2008 to enforce draconian measures controlling land development around the lake. The City responded by invoking a moratorium on new housing within the part of the watershed that lies inside city boundaries. However the greatest acreage by far lies in unincorporated Whatcom County, whose officials say they are moving deliberatively to conform to Ecology's demands.