Lake Padden Watershed

Lake Padden and Padden Creek are highly valued natural resources that provide a multitude of benefits, from habitat corridors to flood protection and recreation. The City has a strong commitment to water resources in the community and strives to protect public health, habitat, and water quality while providing high quality recreation. The Lake Padden watershed is no exception. 

Over the last several years, the City has taken specific action to address emerging issues in Lake Padden Park, including monitoring and testing for algal toxins, invasive species observation and education, replacing aging sewer systems in the park, and ensuring best management practices for Park maintenance activities.

The City has worked, and will continue to work, with our partner agencies including Whatcom County Health and Community Services Department (WCHCS), Washington State Department of Health, Department of Ecology, and Department of Fish and Wildlife to ensure the health of this important community asset.

Addressing Potential Watershed Concerns

What are algae blooms?

Algae blooms occur when there is excessive algal growth in an aquatic system. Some blooms can produce dangerous toxins or create “dead zones” in the water that reduce oxygen levels. Algae blooms can be green, blue-green, red or brown.  

Algae blooms in Lake Padden

Algae blooms in Lake Padden happen occasionally and may be naturally occurring. More study is needed to determine if other factors contribute to them. The City of Bellingham and Whatcom County Health and Community Services (WCHCS), along with the support of state agencies, are investigating potential nutrient sources that could be contributing to the algae blooms, including evaluating the Lake Padden Golf Course, the off-leash dog area and nearby septic systems.

Algae in Lake Padden – Photo by Shauna Werner, Essence of Bellingham 2007 winner.

The City and WCHCS track and monitor algae blooms as they occur and alert the public to keep them and their pets safe. Out of an abundance of caution, people and pets should avoid water that has a visible active algae bloom and follow guidance from any posted signage. Blooms in Padden Creek are most likely coming from Lake Padden.

Harmful algae blooms

Some algae blooms, such as blue-green or cyanobacteria, can produce harmful toxins. These harmful blooms can look identical to non-harmful blooms, which is why agencies test when blooms are reported.

WCHCS provides public health guidance for potentially harmful algal blooms and the City supports that effort as the landowner by posting signs and testing water samples.

Testing since 2010 shows Lake Padden has not exceeded state guidelines for toxins and toxin levels are low or non-detectable.

More information on blue-green algae is available from the State Department of Health and Washington State Toxic Algae websites.

In 2018, the City’s Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Program staff discovered invasive New​ Zealand mudsnails (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) (NZMS) in Lake Padden. Signage and fencing marks the locations where mudsnails are present, and lake users should follow best management practices to prevent the spread of this invasive species in the lake.

Kayaks on Lake Padden shoreline near NZMS sign.

NZMS can attach to boats, kayaks, paddleboards, boots, clothes, animal fur or paws and equipment and be carried by streams and stormwater to new locations. Mudsnails are tiny and easily mistaken for a small pebble. Like other aquatic invasive species, they disrupt ecosystems by rapidly multiplying and competing with native species for space and food.

Please take these steps to help stop the spread of NZMS in Lake Padden and Padden Creek:

  1. Clean, drain and dry boats, kayaks, inner tubes and other watercraft. Rinse off the gear in clean, potable water away from the body of water and let it dry for 48 hours before reuse. Do not flush rinse water down the storm drain — it’s connected to our creeks too and can spread mudsnails.
  2. Keep pets out of streams and lakes. If your dog wades into the water, carefully dry off or brush them on dry land. Focus on paws and bellies.
  3. Carefully scrub off any debris or mud from watercraft, waders, boots or clothing that comes in contact with streams, lake or mud. Freeze these items overnight or let them dry out for 48 hours. NZMS can survive out of the water for weeks.
Persont putting shoes in a plastic bag into the freezer.
Freezing shoes overnight after scrubbing off debris and mud from them.

More Information

NZMS are very small, only 4-6 millimeters, with a relatively long, narrow, spiral shell that is generally brown to almost black in color. This species has no known predators or parasites in Washington state that can keep populations in check and the species’ small size makes it easy for anglers, boaters, and anyone coming into contact with the water to unknowingly transport it between waterbodies. The New Zealand mudsnail’s ability to completely seal its shell allows the snail to survive out of the water for several weeks in cool, damp conditions. To date, eradication of New Zealand mudsnails once they have infested a waterbody has not been feasible in Washington; however, there are effective options to prevent their spread to un-infested lakes, streams and rivers.

A close-up photo showing several microscopic New Zealand mudsnail shells on a U.S. dime for size comparison.
Close-up photo of tiny New Zealand Mudsnails. Photo by Paul Skawinski.

For more information about New Zealand mudsnails and other aquatic invasive species, visit the Washington Department of Wildlife or the City’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program websites. 

Water Consumption for Irrigation

While water from Lake Padden is used to irrigate the golf course, water conservation practices and other measures are in place to make sure this use doesn’t negatively affect the water level or water quality of the lake or Padden Creek.

Fairhaven Water & Power Co. conveyed to the City of Bellingham the entire Lake Padden municipal water supply system in 1926. That conveyance included all associated water rights. Since the golf course was built, the City had assumed that right included irrigation of municipal property. The City is working with the Department of Ecology to clarify and document the historic record on this water right.

Lake Padden Golf Course

The golf course utilizes a pump station located on the east shore of Lake Padden. All water distribution schedules are set for balanced flow and pressure from mid-May through September. Application of irrigation water is matched with penetration rate so that excessive leaching or run-off is avoided, and enough water is applied to the turf surface to sustain healthy and uniform turf.

Premier Golf Centers (PGC) manages the golf course on behalf of the City. PGC leadership has made a commitment to reduce their irrigation water consumption by 15-20% in 2023. Methods to accomplish this include upgrading irrigation clocks, repair and replacement of irrigation system components, and determining where to reduce irrigation and replant native vegetation or let turf areas go dormant. Starting June 1, a new surcharge on each gold round will help raise funds for water conservation and irrigation improvements.


Golf course staff apply fertilizers at rates consistent with the United States Golf Association (USGA) and golf industry standards and follows an approved Integrated Pest Management Plan (IPM). All chemical treatments are in accordance with State Department of Agriculture standards and chemical labels, and consistent with all local state and federal regulations and manufacturer’s specifications. All herbicides/pesticides are applied by trained and licensed applicators.

Environmental Audit and Recommendations

PGC has contacted their parent company (Troon Golf) to engage subject matter experts to help address the water conservation plan and other emerging environmental issues facing the course. Troon’s Environmental Manager visited Lake Padden in Spring 2023 to conduct an audit with their Regional Agronomist and recommended modifications to current maintenance and management of the course. The resulting documents posted below demonstrate positive water quality results in and around the course, but additional evaluation and water quality testing will be done in the future to fully evaluate potential pollutant sources.



For questions about the Lake Padden Watershed, please contact the City of Bellingham’s Public Works Natural Resources Division or the Parks and Recreation Department.