Birch Bay watershed study commences

Published on Thu, Jun 23, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Crews from a Seattle-based engineering firm have begun taking an inventory of drainage ditches and pipes in north Birch Bay in attempt to improve stormwater management for the entire area.

Whatcom County contracted with Tetra Tech, Inc., to complete a comprehensive study of six specific regions in the Birch Bay watershed.

The regions, or subwatersheds, stretch from east Birch Point through the uplands of Cottonwood Beach to Blaine Road.
At the June 15 Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resources Management (BBWARM) advisory committee meeting, Tetra Tech project manager Jerry Scheller explained how the work will identify where water flows when it rains and pinpoint deficiencies in Birch Bay’s stormwater management system. The methods Tetra Tech uses to study the six subwatersheds could eventually be expanded to the entire Birch Bay area.

Kraig Olason, a senior planner with the county public works stormwater division, said many undocumented, unconnected drainage systems have been built in Birch Bay.

Tetra Tech will help figure out where these drainage systems are and how they interact with the subwatersheds’ other stormwater management systems.

“The way they’re configured and connected is quite entertaining,” Olason said.

The results of Tetra Tech’s work will be collected into a Birch Bay watershed master plan, which will outline needed improvements to stormwater management systems in the area. BBWARM plans to hold future public meetings with updates on the progress.

Though the goal of the study is to identify future stormwater management improvements, some at the meeting doubted whether the county has the money to make those upgrades.

BBWARM committee member Don Montfort expressed concern about acquiring private easements for stormwater improvements. Easements, or permissions to do public work on private lands, make up some of the initial monetary costs of some public works projects.

Montfort asked if Tetra Tech will help in acquiring additional easements if they are required for the stormwater improvements.
Scheller said his firm’s first approach is to propose improved drain ditches or pipe through existing easements, but if that’s not possible, they will identify what the needs are and estimate how much a new easement would cost.

Any suggested stormwater improvements would play a role in determining how the area can be developed, Olason explained. The rain-flow models created with the data will also help predict the routes stormwater will take if or when major development happens.

The Birch Bay Comprehensive Stormwater Plan, completed in 2006, identified the areas under scrutiny as desirable for development because of the sub-par quality of the wetlands there, Olason said.

The area is zoned UR-4, which allows four homes per acre.

For more information on Tetra Tech’s work, call Olason at 360/715-7450 ext. 50782 or email at,
or click here.