College of the Environment Graduate and Undergraduate Publications

Alternative title

Lake Whatcom phosphorous ban: 2011 extended ban

Date Permissions Signed


College Affiliation

Huxley College of the Environment

Date of Award

Winter 2011

Document Type

Environmental Impact Assessment

Department or Program Affiliation

Department of Environmental Studies


Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Bodensteiner, Leo R.,1957-


Lake Whatcom is the main source of drinking water for over 96,000 people in Whatcom County including 82,000 residents of the City of Bellingham. Unfortunately, Lake Whatcom is currently listed under the Washington State Department of Ecology's 303D list as an impaired water body due to lack of dissolved oxygen. The main cause of low oxygen levels in the lake is excess phosphorus. Phosphorus is a nutrient necessary for all plant life. However, when too much of it enters aquatic systems, it can cause an imbalance in the aquatic ecosystem. In the past, phosphorus that was used in fertilizers and detergents has entered Lake Whatcom watershed through stormwater runoff. Phosphorus in the lake has contributed to an increase in algal blooms. If these blooms are allowed to continue to grow in the lake, they will have a negative impact on drinking water quality, aesthetics, public services and utilities, recreation in Lake Whatcom, energy and natural resources, as well as quality of life for fish and other wildlife. This environmental impact assessment offers two alternatives to the no-action option regarding phosphorus in the watershed. The first alternative (original ban) would be to return to the original 2005 ordinance restricting the use of phosphorus. This was a control ordinance on commercial fertilizers labeled as containing more than 0% phosphorus by weight. It was based on an honor system, and not enforced. There were also educational materials provided to people living in the watershed on how phosphorus affects the lake, with low phosphorus fertilizers for people to use. The use of phosphorus on first year planting is still allowed within the watershed under the "original ban" alternative. Additionally, many private land owners could still bring in other materials containing phosphorus such as composts, mulches, etc. The second alternative is the new ordinance that was recently passed by the City Council in January 2011. This new ban limits the use of fertilizers, mulches, wood chips, composts, and other products containing phosphorus for all land uses (with the exception of forestry) within the Lake Whatcom watershed. It also requires retail to post signage notifying customers of the prohibited uses of soil amendments containing over 0% phosphorus on landscaping and horticultural applications. There is already an adequate amount of phosphorus in the soil for plants to grow, and added nutrients are not actually necessary. If no action is taken to limit the amount of added phosphorus coming into the watershed, stormwater runoff will continue to carry more nutrients into the lake, degrading the quality of the water.




Phosphorus--Environmental aspects--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake, Phosphorus--Law and legislation--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake, Water quality--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake, Water--Phosphorus content--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake, Nutrient pollution of water--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake, Environmental impact analysis--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake


Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Phosphorus--Environmental aspects--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake; Phosphorus--Law and legislation--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake; Water quality--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake; Water--Phosphorus content--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake; Nutrient pollution of water--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake; Environmental impact analysis--Washington (State)--Whatcom, Lake

Geographic Coverage

Whatcom, Lake (Wash.)




environmental impact statements




Copying of this document in whole or in part is allowable only for scholarly purposes. It is understood, however, that any copying or publication of this document for commercial purposes, or for financial gain, shall not be allowed without the author's written permission.