Local water quality groups reach out to property owners in Terrell Creek watershed

Published on Wed, Jun 13, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Property owners in Birch Bay’s Terrell Creek area can now take a personal approach to help improve Terrell Creek water quality.

Landowners in the Terrell Creek watershed can request free home visits with Rachel Vasak, the executive director of the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement, to learn what resources are available for improving Terrell Creek’s water quality. The program is a joint effort of NSEA, the Chums of Terrell Creek and the Whatcom Conversation District.

“What I’m doing is focusing on person-to-person outreach,” Vasak said. “I’m hoping word of mouth will spread a little bit.”

The outreach program is part of a larger effort to reduce the source of bacteria that flows out of the creek into Birch Bay. The state department of health closed a 670-yard area around the mouth of Terrell Creek in 2008 to commercial shellfish harvesting due to unsafe levels of fecal coliform bacteria.

Vasak will be promoting measures that will help property owners in reducing or eliminating pollution from the land.  Through an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant the Whatcom Conservation District obtained, homeowners are eligible for a $100 rebate on septic system inspections, Vasak said. Malfunctioning or poorly maintained septic systems are a major source of fecal coliform bacteria, Vasak explained.

Property owners can also receive free and reduced cost plants and labor for restoring creek banks on their property, Vasak said. Landowners who maintain small-scale farms can receive help in developing farm plans that improve both animal health and runoff water quality, she added.

All the efforts will be done on a strictly voluntary basis. Vasak said she’ll encourage landowners to make decisions that eventually improve water quality, but added she’s uncomfortable with increased regulation forcing a given property owner down a certain path.

“I believe voluntary compliance is a great way to tackle most of the problems,” Vasak said. “Because, really, who am I to say what’s right for me on my property will be right for you on your property?”

The methods Vasak is using are based on the efforts of Dory Belisle, co-owner of Bellewood Acres, in the Ten Mile Creek watershed in Ferndale.

From 2003 to 2006, Belisle and other volunteers were able to collect funds and work with local property owners to improve the water quality of Ten Mile Creek. Belisle started her work at the grassroots level and eventually was able to decrease bacteria levels in the creek, Vasak explained.

Vasak said her goal is to talk to 300 property owners in the Birch Bay area and help organize 30 owner-initiated projects to help improve water quality.

The EPA grant timeline ends June 2014, but Vasak said she’s confident the Terrell Creek program can achieve real results by that time.

“It’s a pretty long timeline,” Vasak said.

To learn more about the program or to schedule a home visit, call 715-0238 ext. 108 or visit  www.chumsofterrellcreek.org.