Stewards of the Lake

A Guide to Living in the Lake Whatcom Watershed

Photo by L. Nicksic, 2012

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 watershed maps

Download copies of the maps included in your guidebook and more.

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.

Historical information

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.

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.

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

Boat inspections

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.

Invasive plants and animals

Learn more about which species are harmful to our lake and its watershed.

Invasive species reporting

Keep a lookout for any unusual plants or animals along the shoreline. If you see something, report it.

On the lake: having fun

Fish consumption advisories

Some types of fish in Lake Whatcom contain elevated levels of mercury.

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

Whatcom County spill reporting

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

Whatcom County Planning and Development Services

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.

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.

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.

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.