Meeting on Birch Point water drainage study draws crowd


About 45 community members gathered at the Birch Bay Village (BBV) clubhouse or tuned in remotely to hear preliminary results from a Birch Point water drainage study during the Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resources Management (BBWARM) District meeting on January 18. Tetra Tech principal engineer Jerry Scheller showed the community the initial findings of how water moved through the area, areas of concern and potential improvements to mitigate flooding. 

In July, Whatcom County Council approved Tetra Tech, a consulting and engineering firm, to conduct a Birch Point subwatershed drainage study for nearly $75,000. 

“We’re looking at the November ’21 flood, the affects of climate change, the impacts of future developments on flood levels in the area and coming up with solutions to resolve the flooding,” Scheller told attendees. 

The 1,600-acre study area encompasses four subwatersheds in the Semiahmoo Uplands, Birch Bay Village, Rogers Slough and Shintaffer areas. There are four drainage outlets for the land, which is about 40 percent housing development. 

In the BBV area, flooding was predicted at Bay Ridge Drive and Birch Point Road every two years, Bay Ridge Drive and Selder Road every 10 years, East and West Shoreview every 10 years and at the BBV golf course ponds every 10 years. In the Shintaffer area, flooding could be expected at Birch Bay Drive and Deer Trail every two years, Richmond Park every 25 years and Shintaffer and Anderson roads every 100 years. Flooding was also predicted to overflow from Birch Bay Drive onto Salish Road every two years.

BBV removed a tide gate last November to help the drainage system. Bill Reilly, chairperson of the BBV Lakes and Drainage Committee and the former stormwater manager for the city of Bellingham, said after the meeting that removing the tide gate has already mitigated flooding impacts. In addition to removing the tide gate, BBV purchased a large pump to remove flood water and is considering installing pipes from Birch Bay Drive to Kwan Lake and then to the bay.

Preliminary study results show the need for replacing and adding culverts, improving ditches and adding pipeline in areas of Beaver Creek, Bay Ridge Estates, Salish Road and Birch Bay Drive, and near Richmond Park and Deer Trail. Early estimates show improvement costs could range from $3.6 to $7.5 million. 

“There’s a lot of talk about infrastructure money. I haven’t been able to find any so ultimately what we’re looking at generally is some BBWARM funds, county funds and road funds,” said Kraig Olason, Whatcom County stormwater program manager, at the meeting. He later added that BBWARM hasn’t raised rates since 2009. 

The presenters said they’d be looking at the most critical areas first, such as the Rogers Slough and Richmond Park.

Tetra Tech will now start to consider future development and how those developments will impact the proposed improvements, Scheller said. The finalized findings and recommendations will be presented during a meeting this spring.

Bruce Ansell lives at Deer Trail and Birch Point Road. From his house, Ansell said he sees flooding from Deer Trail, water from Rogers Slough emptying into the bay and king tides reaching near the edge of Birch Point Road.

“I thought they did a good job presenting the complexity of the problem; how big it is and how expensive it will be,” Ansell said. “Like everything in the county, it’s in need of funding. I’m afraid the problem will get significantly worse before they can take care of the problem.”

BBWARM’s project schedule is full right now, which means they would need to get additional help, Olason said. 

“Even if we had everything in place, it’s probably at least two years from now before we could get all of the permits and get to most of the projects listed, with the exception of some ditch cleaning,” Olason said. “It’s not going to be tomorrow for sure. And again, it’s also going to involve funding determinations and how we’re going to pay for things.”


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