Water quantity, quality in north Whatcom County the focus of new study

A graph depicting the city of Blaine’s projected Max Day Demand (MDD) through 2060. Blaine will need to obtain additional water rights to meet MDD by 2047. Illustrations courtesy of the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District

By Stefanie Donahue

A study released by the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District (BBWSD) in February gives new insight into the quantity and quality of deep aquifer groundwater found in the Blaine Groundwater Management Area (BGMA). The results highlight the potential of the BGMA to supply water to other parts of Whatcom County.

In December 2015, BBWSD received a $700,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) to conduct a phase one study. Spurred by a growing demand for water supply in Whatcom County, the study examines the prospects of enhancing water supply in portions of Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 1, the Nooksack River basin and the Cherry Point industrial area.

“The catalyst for this evaluation is the need, as identified in the Whatcom County Coordinated Water System Plan (CWSP), for additional water supply due to many issues, including the need for additional rights, water quality and instream flows,” according to the 230-page study. BBWSD general manager Dan Eisses said it marks a big step forward for the district’s long-term effort to improve water management. First and foremost, he said, “Our job is to make sure there is enough water in Blaine and Birch Bay, forever.”

According to the study, the city of Blaine is projected to have adequate annual water supply through 2060, but will require additional water supply on days when water use is high, such as the Fourth of July, by 2047. The “conservative” projections are the first of their kind for the city and the district, since both agencies’ comprehensive plans only forecast water supply and use through 2037.

“This tells me, with current water rights, we have concern for 2047,” said Blaine public works director Ravyn Whitewolf. However, “there’s a lot of things behind the scenes to mitigate that,” she added.

The Blaine Groundwater Management Area (BGMA), highlighted above.

BBWSD hired crews to drill three exploratory deep groundwater wells within the BGMA in areas served by the district, including the city of Blaine, Ferndale and Lynden. Each well was drilled into a deep aquifer, which contains groundwater that is protected by a permeable layer of rock. The deep aquifer contains bedrock and extends from southern British
Columbia to Birch Bay.

Samplings revealed that water in the eastern portion of the aquifer contained higher levels of chloride due to trapped seawater in the bedrock. Eisses said chlorides have also been found in a deep aquifer that runs through Lynden.

In addition to chlorides, the study identified high nitrate levels – which can be caused by runoff from barnyards or feedlots – at the Delta Water Association in Lynden, Rathbone Park Water Association in Ferndale and Rader Farms labor camp in Ferndale. According to the study, several other systems with high levels of nitrate are located around the Delta Water Association, immediately west of Lynden.

Using conservative estimates, the deep aquifer examined in BBWSD’s study contains a yield of 8,000 acre-feet per year (AFY) with the city of Blaine being its largest user; currently, the city owns the rights to 3,500 AFY of the aquifer’s yield. According to the study, approximately 4,000 AFY remains available to other parts of the county. In all, the city of Blaine holds claims, certificates and permits granting it water rights to a total 6,551 AFY. The city has submitted 15 applications for additional water rights within the BGMA.

In addition to the BGMA’s deep aquifer, the study notes the potential for additional water supply from Blaine’s Lighthouse Point Water Reclamation Facility and BBWSD’s water treatment plant. This option requires a higher population to ensure reclamation and distribution system efforts are economically viable.

Moving forward, BBWSD will need to obtain funding to continue the study, which is still in its preliminary stages, Eisses said. Right now, the district is gathering feedback from stakeholders, such as the city of Blaine, Lynden and Ferndale. “It’s a resource that takes a lot of capital to get to,” Eisses said. Whitewolf added, “We need people to come to the table.”

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