As the drinking water source for Bellingham residents, a healthy Lake Whatcom is vital. For more than 20 years, the City of Bellingham and partners in the Lake Whatcom Management Program have worked to reduce polluted stormwater runoff that damages the lake’s health and water quality. A newly rebuilt stormwater facility, utilizing a new soil-like material developed locally in a leading-edge filtering design system, will significantly improve pollution protection, while lowering the cost.
The new system, called POST (phosphorous optimized stormwater treatment), targets phosphorous, one of the most significant pollutants in stormwater runoff. The naturally occurring nutrient is washed off lawns, streets, houses and driveways and into Lake Whatcom with the rain. Phosphorous degrades water quality by feeding algae that block sunlight essential for healthy lake life. When the algae die, oxygen is used up in the lake, creating a more challenging environment for fish and aquatic life.
Coordinated efforts have reduced phosphorous runoff through multiple methods over the years, from incentivizing homeowners to reduce their phosphorous impact to purchasing property to protect the watershed and construction of stormwater treatment systems. Now, the City’s reconstructed stormwater treatment system at Park Place, at the north end of Lake Whatcom, will utilize industry-leading technology and material – created by the City of Bellingham in partnership with Western Washington University and the State Department of Ecology – to increase the performance of available options for stormwater treatment. It is the first City stormwater facility to be retrofitted; others will be converted to POST as well.
After years of development and testing, the POST system was recently approved by the Department of Ecology. The new system filters out phosphorous with a unique blend of materials and layers that not only increases the performance of stormwater treatment, it also lowers the construction cost of stormwater treatment systems as well as the cost of operations and maintenance of stormwater treatment systems. Jason Porter, City of Bellingham stormwater manager, said the development of POST media by a municipality in partnership with higher education is unusual, and it’s why the new system will be more affordable for Bellingham and for other municipalities with the same needs.
“With this new tool in our toolbox, we have increased the options for stormwater treatment for phosphorus and decreased the overall cost of phosphorus filtering systems by having an open-source option that is not subject to for profit mark-ups and has decreased maintenance costs,” said Porter. “For the City, its residents and those who rely on Lake Whatcom for drinking water, this new system is a win-win-win solution.”
Not only is the new system better at filtering, the material costs about 60% of other similar options. And because it was developed by the City, it is available to other municipalities and agencies which can improve their water quality protections while also reducing their costs, as they are not paying a profit-based business for the essential materials or technology.
“While stormwater treatment is not a complete solution to the problems that affect water quality in Lake Whatcom – pollution prevention and stewardship remain vitally important – the development of this phosphorous filtering system is a major milestone on the way to protecting and restoring the Lake Whatcom watershed,” said Porter.
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