Stewards of the Lake
A Guide to Living in the Lake Whatcom Watershed
Lake Whatcom is a point of pride for city and county residents alike. Its stunning wildlife and scenery, recreational amenities and supply of drinking water inspire residents to do all they can do to take care of this invaluable resource. The Lake Whatcom Management Program published Stewards of the Lake: A Guide to Living in the Lake Whatcom Watershed in 2020. The purpose of this guidebook is to provide you with the information and resources you need to protect water quality and watershed health. This page offers links to additional information on topics from the guidebook. Information is organized to match the guidebook sections.
Lake Whatcom is a special place
Drinking water reports
Visit our water quality page to learn more about drinking water quality and access current drinking water quality reports.
Parks and recreation
Learn more about the watershed's parks, trails and ways to enjoy your local public spaces.
Fish and wildlife
Visit our fish and wildlife page for a list of the numerous species of fish, amphibians, birds and other wildlife that call the Lake Whatcom watershed home.
Learn about the history of Lake Whatcom and its surrounding watershed from 1850 to 2007.
Lake Whatcom faces significant challenges
Sources of Phosphorus
Excess nutrients, specifically phosphorus, is a major water quality concern. Excess phosphorus causes algae to grow. Algae blooms remove dissolved oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to live. The phosphorus entering Lake Whatcom comes from a variety of natural and human sources.
Lake Whatcom water quality monitoring reports
Western Washington University's (WWU) Institute for Watershed Studies (IWS) conducts long-term water quality monitoring in cooperation with Lake Whatcom Management Program partners.
Visit our Water Quality page to learn more and access water quality monitoring reports.
Lake Whatcom tributary monitoring reports
The Lake Whatcom Management Program conducts tributary monitoring to assess the water quality of streams flowing into the lake.
Visit our Water Quality page to learn more and access the latest tributary monitoring report.
Lake Whatcom cleanup plan
In 1998, Lake Whatcom was placed on Washington's 303(d) list of polluted water bodies because it failed to meet state water quality standards for dissolved oxygen. As a result, the State Department of Ecology completed the Lake Whatcom Watershed Total Phosphorus and Bacteria Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) water quality study and improvement reports. These TMDL documents inform our current cleanup plan for Lake Whatcom.
Visit our Water Quality page to learn more about the TMDL process and the Lake Whatcom cleanup plan.
Our government is protecting the lake
Lake Whatcom Management Program
In response to declining water quality, Whatcom County, the City of Bellingham, and the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District created the Lake Whatcom Management Program to cooperatively manage and protect Lake Whatcom. Explore this website to learn more about the Lake Whatcom Management Program.
Visit our Management Program Areas page to read about our 10 program areas and read the current work plan and accomplishments report.
Aquatic Invasive Species Program
The Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) program was launched in 2012 to prevent the introduction of harmful zebra mussels, quagga mussels and other invasive species to Whatcom County waters.
Stormwater Management Programs
The federal Clean Water Act requires cities and counties to manage stormwater runoff within their boundaries to protect water quality. The City of Bellingham and Whatcom County have comprehensive stormwater management programs designed to reduce impacts from stormwater runoff entering our our local streams, lakes, and bays.
Land Acquisition and Preservation Program
In 2001, the City of Bellingham began the Lake Whatcom Property Acquisition Program to purchase available land in the Lake Whatcom watershed. Land purchased is preserved as forest or restored to native forest to protect water quality in Lake Whatcom. Forests soak up and naturally filter rainwater, reducing impacts to the lake from high flows and pollution.
You play a crucial role in helping the lake
On the lake: protecting our resources
All watercraft are required to be inspected and permitted before launching in Lake Whatcom to prevent the introduction of harmful invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels. Boat owners do their part by getting their watercraft inspected and by taking an online Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) awareness course. AIS program staff conduct thorough inspections at a variety of locations throughout the watershed. Permit types and fees vary.
Get the details and take the online course at the Whatcom boat inspection program website.
Invasive plants and animals
Learn more about which species are harmful to our lake and its watershed.
Visit the Whatcom County noxious weed program pages to learn which plants are on the noxious weed list and get help controlling them.
Use the Washington State Department of Ecology's online lake database to search for available data by water body.
Use the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's aquatic invasive species database to search by species name.
The U.S. Geological Survey has an online Nonindigenous Aquatic Species database of invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants where you can find additional information by species name.
Invasive species reporting
Keep a lookout for any unusual plants or animals along the shoreline. If you see something, report it.
Report invasive species sightings to the Washington Invasive Species Council.
On the lake: having fun
Fish consumption advisories
Some types of fish in Lake Whatcom contain elevated levels of mercury.
To protect your health, look up current fish consumption advisories from the Washington State Department of Health.
Boat rules and safety
Boating is a popular activity on Lake Whatcom. Remember to follow some basic rules while out there having fun.
At home: finding and reporting spills
If you observe a spill or polluted water entering a waterway, report it to protect water quality in Lake Whatcom. If there is an emergency, call 911.
City of Bellingham spill reporting
If the spill is within city limits, call the stormwater hotline at (360) 778-7979 or use the City of Bellingham's online reporting tool.
Whatcom County spill reporting
If the spill is outside of city limits, call Whatcom County Public Works at (360) 778-6210 or visit their website for more information.
If you are not sure where the spill is located, call either number. City and county staff can help determine the location for you.
What to do if you cause a spill
If you spill oil, paint or other materials, it is important to take steps to contain and clean the spill to limit environmental damage.
At home: working in your yard
Natural yard care
Building healthy soils and reducing watering and yard chemicals are key to protecting Lake Whatcom. A variety of natural yard care practices are available to help you keep your yard—and the lake—looking good. Visit these website for helpful tips and information.
Watershed gardening guidance
Lake Whatcom Management partners developed a list of recommendations for gardening in the Lake Whatcom watershed.
Homeowner Incentive Program
The Lake Whatcom Homeowner Incentive Program (HIP) helps homeowners design and pay for projects that beautify yards and protect water quality. Over 150 homeowners have participated in HIP to date! Depending on your property location, projects may include native landscaping, underground pollution filters and rain gardens. The program is currently only available for properties in basins 1 and 2 (north end of the watershed), but we plan to expand to include the entire watershed in 2021.
At home: working on your home
Special regulations are in place to protect water quality in Lake Whatcom. These regulations apply to many different types of home improvement and landscaping projects. Before starting any home improvement or landscaping project, contact one of the permit centers listed below to determine if your project requires a permit.
City of Bellingham Permit Center
If your property is located in within city limits, contact the City of Bellingham Permit Center or call (360) 778-8300.
Whatcom County Planning and Development Services
If your property is located outside city limits, contact the Whatcom County Permit Center or call (360) 778-5900.
Visit the county's watershed regulations page to learn more.
Septic system maintenance
Septic system owners are responsible for evaluating and maintaining their systems, which keeps sewage out of the lake and avoids costly repairs. Whatcom County offers financial and technical assistance to help homeowners take care of their septic systems.
Visit the county's Septic System Maintenance and Evaluation website to learn more and get help maintaining your system.
At home: managing household chemicals
Whatcom Med Return program
Learn where to get rid of your old medications quickly, safely and easily.
Disposal of Toxics Facility
The Disposal of Toxics Facility accepts household hazardous waste, including oil-based paints, solvents and automotive fluids such as motor oil. Before making the trip, check their website for a list of updated products and hours of operation.
Whatcom County Health Department
Are you wondering where to dispose of cleaning products, electronics, construction waste and other solid wastes? The Whatcom County Health Department offers ideas for environmentally-friendly disposal.
At home: maintaining your vehicles
Fixing car leaks
Cars, trucks and other vehicles can contribute pollutants to Lake Whatcom. Remember to check your vehicle for leaks and repair leaks quickly.
Whatcom Smart Trips program
Reduce your motor vehicle trips to help protect water quality. Smart Trips provides resources and rewards to help you shift your transport mode to walking, biking, and taking the bus.
WTA bus schedules
Trying to reduce your motor vehicle trips? Check out the Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA) trip planner for bus options in your neighborhood.
At home: caring for your pets
City and county pet waste programs
To protect family and lake health, scoop your dog’s poop, bag it and put it in the trash. City and county programs are in place to support your efforts to scoop the poop.
Living with wildlife guidance
Wildlife such as deer, raccoons and geese can negatively impact water quality. Learn how to live more harmoniously with these animals and reduce their environmental impact.
Out and about: enjoying parks and trails
Learn more about parks, trails and ways to enjoy your local public spaces in the Lake Whatcom watershed and beyond. Parks and open spaces in the watershed are managed by many different jurisdictions and organizations, often working in partnership.
City of Bellingham Parks and Recreation
Bloedel Donovan park, named after J.H. Bloedel and J.J. Donovan, owners of the lumber mill that once occupied the site, is a very popular city park located at the north end of Lake Whatcom. The park has facilities to rent and offers opportunities to swim, play, picnic and more. There is a public boat launch and an aquatic invasive species (AIS) boat inspection station operating spring to fall. In 2015, the City of Bellingham completed an important Low Impact Development (LID) retrofit project in the park to remove nutrients and bacteria from stormwater runoff entering Lake Whatcom. Look for signs around the park describing the underground filters, rain gardens and more.
Visit the City of Bellingham Parks and Recreation website to learn more about Bloedel Donovan and the many other city parks.
Learn more about the stormwater treatment facilities installed at Bloedel Donovan park.
Whatcom County Parks and Recreation
There are many opportunities to enjoy county parks in the Lake Whatcom watershed. In 2014, park opportunities grew when Whatcom County received 8,700 acres through a reconveyance of state lands returned to county ownership. With this addition, there are over 9,000 acres of county park land in the watershed. Popular county parks include: Lake Whatcom Park, Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve and the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve.
Visit the Whatcom County Parks and Recreation website to learn more about county parks in the Lake Whatcom watershed and beyond.
Sudden Valley Community Association
Sudden Valley is a large, private residential community in the Lake Whatcom watershed with over 7,000 residents. The Sudden Valley Community Association maintains miles of trails, many parks, a marina and golf course.