Wednesday, March 14, 2012

City maps Asian Clams clamming up Lake Whatcom

Since invasive AsianClams were found in Lake Whatcom in September 2011, the city has been working to understand the extent of the infestation and is currently considering hiring a dive team to fully map the distribution of clams in the lake.

“We have met to ascertain the cost and timing of a dive team mapping,” said Clare Fogelsong, Environmental Resource Manager for the BellinghamPublic Works Department. “That will help us in turn determine our response.”

The Asian Clam, scientifically known as Corbicula fluminea, is an invasive specie that, according to Julian Olden, associate professor of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, poses a threat not only to native clams, but also to Whatcom County citizens who depend on the lake for drinking water.

Live Asian Clams and dead shells damage and clog water intake pipes, costing the U.S. about a billion dollars per year according to U.S.Geology Survey estimates.

The issue was originally brought to the attention of the city on Sept. 17 when a resident brought unidentified clams a city-sponsored presentation about boat inspections. Since then, the city has confirmed significant infestations in Lake Whatcom around Bloedel Donovan Park, Lakewood, Sudden Valley and Wildwood.

Fogelsong said he doesn't believe it is coincidental that all the sites where the clams have been found are sites where there is high boat traffic or where float planes land.

The infestation in the lake has “precluded [the city] doing anything simple” according to Fogelsong, but he hopes the mapping will lead to a management solution.

A History of invasion
Native to southern Asia, Australia, and the Mediterranean, Asian Clams were first found in the U.S. in 1938 when they were discovered in the Columbia River in Washington. They are commonly thought to have been introduced as a food source by Chinese immigrants. According to Olden, the clams may also have been brought in ballast water of Asian ships or with the importation of the Giant Pacific oyster, also from Asia.

The clams have now spread through the country, traveling in mud and sediments left in watercraft or in bait barrels used by fisherman, according to Fogelsong's suspicions. Clams can also travel passively along water currents and may be introduced intentionally for harvesting purposes as they are a tasty addition to many Asian soups.

Lake Whatcom was home to the first reported clam populations in Whatcom County, but in October 2011 clams were also discovered in Lake Padden and Whatcom Creek.

Laurel Baldwin of the WhatcomCounty Noxious Weed Board said there are a number of sites where clams have been found on the Lake Whatcom, mostly on the south shore, but the city is still doing surveys to establish were the largest concentrations are.

The latest survey conducted on Jan. 12 at Dellesta Point yielded no clams.

Clam populations were found at North Point Park in Sudden Valley and the Sudden Valley Marina in December 2011, though this location is not thought to be a point of introduction as only two clams were found. According to the city, clams were most likely spread from the Lakewood site, home of Western Washington University's watersports facility.

Some county officials think there is a link between boat use and population concentrations, including Baldwin who said she believes the older colonies are certainly associated with boat traffic. 

The impact on the lake
The tiny gold clams measuring under an inch in length may seem like an unlikely culprit, but can have devastating effects on water bodies.

Baldwin said the clams reproduce so rapidly that the dead shells can accumulate and replace the natural substrate. This means sharp, course sand that can be rough on the feet of swimmers and beach goers.

Clams are even more than a nuisance for citizens though, as they are carried into water filtration systems, clogging pipes that treat and distribute Bellingham's drinking water.

A native mussel
Photo by Mikey Jane Moran
Baldwin also suspects that the clams may intensify Lake Whatcom's phosphorous level concerns, as they release significant amounts of phosphorous into the mud, encouraging toxic algae growth that can also clog water pipes.

The Asian Clam is capable of living in polluted water bodies better than native clams. Lake Whatcom's native mussels and clams, Anodonta oregonensis and Anodonta kennerlyi, may find it harder to compete for food and space to live as the Asian Clams multiply.

Olden said Asian Clams are also superior filer feeders, meaning they can consume particles and pollutants from the water very quickly. 

“Although this may seem good for water quality, there are examples of native ducks feeding on these Asian clams,” Olden said. “It causes the ducks to be poisoned themselves and can cause reproductive problems for waterfowl.”

According to the city, an area south of survey site in Sudden Valley is heavily used by water fowl and evidence of the birds eating clams was found.

Baldwin also said Asian Clam concentrations can be used as an indication of other forms of pollution. She said the shells of dead Asian Clams provide other invasive species, like Zebra Muscles, with the dissolved calcium needed to form shells. Populations of Asian Clams could mean future populations of Zebra Muscles, which Baldwin said would be disastrous.
A reminder to boaters
Photo by Mikey Jane Moran

Plans for the future
Right now the city is focusing their efforts on mapping the populations to better understand the best approach for removing clams.

“Over time if a lake doesn't have a management strategy you are sort of rolling the dice,” Fogelsong said.

Clams can be removed from the lake manually, but this method is labor intensive and time consuming. Plastic sheets can also be laid over clam beds, cutting off their oxygen supply and eventually smothering them. Both of these methods were applied in infested regions of California Lake Tahoe in 2010 and they proved effective in reducing clam populations. The City of Bellingham is considering this strategy.

“There is talk about bottom barriers but if you put them down, you pretty much kill everything,” Baldwin said. “We have to be careful about what ever strategy we decide to use.”

Olden said chemicals can also be used to kill adult and juvenile clams, though there are definite drawbacks to consider.

“The feasibility of these management efforts, particularly for large lakes like Lake Whatcom, is questionable,” Olden said. “Bottom line: prevention is the best line of defense when dealing with Asian Clams.”

With boating season around the corner, Baldwin said the city will step up it's prevention efforts with outreach programs for boaters. She advocates the use of boat wash stations to decrease the amount of species transported from lake to lake and as a location for boater education and awareness about invasive species.

Fogelsong, on the other hand, said boat wash stations will be useless to the effort as clams are not carried on boats themselves, but in standing water and in bait buckets.

Baldwin said that boat wash stations are effective as long as you have the right people manning them and informed citizens using them.

“It's more than just a car wash,” Baldwin said. “It's more technical.”

What ever strategy the city decides on, they still encourage boaters to read their boaters hand book and to remove any plants or animals attached to watercraft or trailers, flush engine water and bait storage with hot water and let boats dry for at least five days before launching them at another location. They emphasize the individual holds a large responsibility for helping curb invasive clam populations. 

Pile up plagues Academy Street twice daily

By the time the bell rings at SilverBeach Elementary minivans span the length of Academy Street. Parents waiting to pick up their children find themselves parked on the side of the narrow road, waiting for up to a half an hour on the crowded, dead-end street.

The pile up develops on Academy Street one afternoon
Photo by Mikey Jane Moran
Though this problem has been going on for over 10 years according to Silver Beach parents, nothing has been done by the city or the school district to alleviate congestion around the start of school at 8:30 a.m. or at 3 p.m. when school gets out.

Traffic back ups have become unbearable for Silver Beach parents like John Everett. Though there have been no reported accidents, Everett says he has witnessed plenty of “close calls” and as part of the Silver Beach Neighborhood Association he hopes to call attention to traffic problems.

I have nearly been hit on a number of occasions, and I'm fairly big and noticeable. A smaller kid who's not watching the drivers would be in trouble,” Everett said. “Is it going to take someone getting hurt or killed?”

Everett said he is gathering more information about traffic grievances from parents and he eventually plans to petition the city to improve Academy Street.

But the city has no intention of making improvements to the street according to Chris Comeau, transportation planner for Cityof Bellingham Public Works. Comeau said crowded streets actually lead to safer driving.

“In reality, narrower streets have a tendency to lower vehicle speeds because drivers are forced to pay more attention to the road in front of them,” Comeau said. “Widening streets tends to have the opposite effect, costs a lot of money, and is very undesirable in school zones where children are present.”

Taking to the streets
Instead of widening the road, Comeau said the city is working with the Bellingham School District, Silver Beach Elementary, and residents of the Silver Beach neighborhood to encourage children to walk or ride their bikes to school.

Comeau said a 900-foot-long strip of Academy Street has been chosen for sidewalk improvements by Bellingham's Draft Pedestrian Master Plan, which works to make the community a safer place to walk. The choice is in support of Safe Routes to Schools, a national organization designed to make it easier and safer for students to walk and bike to school.

In a letter he wrote school principal Nicole Tally, Everett said the crowed streets are actually a deterrent for walking to school and parents often prefer to take their children to school themselves, saving them the hassle of waiting for a bus.

“This saves them from having staggered exit times at home, avoids kids waiting in nasty weather for a bus, and shortens the morning routine,” Everett explained. “The half an hour or more of extra sleep can be considerable.”

And even retrofitting the existing sidewalk will not come cheap. Considering what it will cost to put in storm drains and limit runoff, Comeau estimates the city will pay between $500,000 and $855,000 for a new sidewalk.

According to municipalcode, residential streets in the Lake Whatcom Watershed should be 18 feet wide with one sidewalk at least 5 feet wide. The 20-foot-wide Academy Street currently meets these specifications.

If the street were to be modified, on top of extraordinary costs Comeau said, “any new asphalt or concrete added for either street widening or sidewalks is added impervious surface, which must be detained and treated to a very high storm water standard” in order to protect Lake Whatcom from pollution.
Comeau said additional changes to the area are unlikely.

Life in the slow lane
Yet Silver Beach residents remain concerned with the traffic. A survey concerning pedestrian safety distributed by the city in the summer of 2011 revealed Silver Beach residents are worried about “terrible traffic conditions before and after school” on Academy Street. But some parents would argue this does not begin to cover the issue.

For nearly 15 minutes twice a day the street becomes a deadlock. Some parents said they have to arrive up to a half an hour early to drop their children off in time for school.

Until this year the school released on a staggered schedule to reduce traffic but it had to switch to one release time to cut the cost of buses and to provide teachers with more planning time.

However, Kelly Hollingsworth, the father of a first-grader, a third-grader and other students since grown, has been coming up to the school for about 16 years and said that it has always been like this. He thinks it is time for a real change.

“It will be difficult,” Hollingsworth said. “I don't know what the real answer is but something has to be done.”

Cars parked in no parking zones
Photo courtesy John Everett 
As the children spill out of the school, three cars try to squeeze into a road hardly big enough for two cars to pass as parents and buses come and go. Neighbors have lined their properties with orange cones to prevent cars from driving over their yards, yet the neighborhood is still full of muddy corners of tire tracked grass.

Trying to navigate the traffic can be a challenge so cars often park in no parking zones and in crosswalks, making the roads even narrower.

“I usually get mad and have to tell myself it's not worth it,” said Hollingsworth.

Linda Pierce, office assistant at Silver Beach Elementary, leaves her desk in the afternoon to monitor traffic and direct parents.

She has witnessed one or two side swipe accidents in the past few years, incidences she links with the width of the road.

Pierce also said there is no chance for anyone to get into the area around 3 p.m. Residents with meetings at the school, children with extra-curricular activities or people who live in the neighborhood can't get up the street until traffic clears.

Silver Beach parent Everett lives across the street form the school and said someone blocked his drive way, preventing his wife from leaving their home. Everett also said he has had to wait 10 to 15 minutes in the pile up just to get to his house.

Everett says this proposes a particular safety hazard considering emergency vehicles may be unable to reach residences or the school during high traffic periods.

Man on a mission
Everett is planning on distributing a survey to parents as they wait in the line in the morning and collecting it in the afternoon to allow people to express their concerns about the traffic.

“I have nothing written out, but would ask sort of open-ended questions like, 'I would have my child ride the bus if...', or 'We don't walk to school because...", thus giving the parents an honest and anonymous way to respond, in hopes of receiving the most accurate, if not blunt, response as possible,” Everett said in his letter to the principal. “If there is a common thread, we can address that.”

Everett said he hopes to keep costs low, using labor donated in by neighbors and maybe even a fundraiser. Though he hopes to eventually submit a plan to the school board and city planning, he realizes this will be no easy feat.

“I think it will take some 'rule bending' to get whatever proposals are made into a working solution,” Everett said. “There is large amount of red tape to cut through.”

A solution may be far off, but a consensus continues to grow in the community: residents think the layout of Academy Street is anything but smart. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

New dock at Bloedel Donovan afloat this spring

The Bellingham Shoreline Committee gave its recommendation of approved for addition of a floating, non-motorized craft dock on Lake Whatcom in Bloedel Donovan Park on Feb. 23.

Future site of the rowing dock
Photo by Mikey Jane Moran
The dock project is being funded by the WhatcomRowing Association and will be installed in Spring 2012. The dock will be open to all users of the park.

It will be more of a hang out dock, a jump off the end dock,” said Lindsay Mann-King, Program Director of the Rowing Association.

The Rowing Association is retrofitting a 12.5 foot by 56 foot floating dock previously owned by the Western Washington University rowing team. Bob Diehl of the Whatcom Rowing Association said the dock will be placed in the area adjacent to the existing boat launches.

Diehl said the dock is a much needed addition to the park as the other docks are too high off the water to launch rowing shells and other man-powered crafts.

Originally, the city was going to install lower docks in the park to accommodate rowers, but due to budget cuts they had to postpone the project. The Rowing Association then decided to pursue building a dock of their own for the use of the whole rowing community.

It will be a safer, more useful launch for boats without motors,” said Steve Sundin, environmental planner for the City of Bellingham.

Keeping the lake in mind

Rowing Association members hope the new dock will encourage the use of non-motorized boats on the lake.

One of the 'charges' of the park dept is to encourage and foster more non motorized use of the lake and this is exactly what this float is intended for,” Diehl said.

Non-motorized boats are a good way to promote stewardship on the lake according to Sundin. Sundin said in general, kayakers and canoers have the “opportunity to cruise the shoreline and their eyes are closer to the shore” so they develop an appreciation for the shoreline. He said he believes this appreciation can lead to better care of the lake.

Environmental concerns were very important during the approval process. The dock will be retrofitted so that 45percent of the surface is made of grated material to allow light to pass through according to the city.

To comply with various regulatory requirements, we have completely modified it to make it more 'fish friendly',” Diehl said.

Solid docks promote unnatural fish behavior according to a U.S.Department of Energy study conducted in 2002.

Sundin also said the dock has been “gutted” and float tubs, air filled compartments, will replace Styrofoam floats that pollute the water.

Invasive species were also a major concern in the permit approval process, said Diehl. According to a 2011 study released by the LakeWhatcom Management Program, Asian Clams are currently infesting the lake and can crowd out native species.

While clams are not carried on the bottom of boats, any new introduction of other invasive grass species from boats could be putting the lake at risk. While the city does not consider the dock a considerable risk, Diehl said as one of the conditions of their permit the Association must distribute educational materials on the risk of spreading non-native species.

All agencies involved in our permit do not see a danger here, but want the public to be aware,” Diehl said.

Mann-King of the Whatcom Rowing Association said the dock will be a great opportunity for the Rowing Association to focus its educational efforts.

Part of our commitment to the community is teaching students about their local watershed,” said Mann-King who stressed protecting the lake is especially important because it provides drinking water to Bellingham citizens.

The proposal is in the works

While the dock will be available for all citizens to use, it is funding from individuals, not the city, that will make building this dock possible.

Diehl said the Rowing Association received many contributions from residents and local suppliers, as well as a grant from the NW Rowing Council. Together these donations have allowed them to retrofit the dock at a fraction of the cost of a new one. Still, the project has been costly.

Of course, anything you do near the water presents challenges and all the expense to prepare the shoreline permit has been big burden for our volunteer, non-profit group,” said Diehl.

The project has been in development for several months. It must now gain the approval of the Bellingham Parks Department and earn the Department of Ecology's Hydraulic Project Approval according to Diehl.

For a very small project, this has taken a very large amount of time and resources to accomplish,” Diehl said.

But with the permit on its way to final approval, Mann-King said all of the pieces are coming together.

“It's more just getting some work parties together,” said Mann-King.

Silver Beach residents can look forward to using the dock in the upcoming spring and summer. For more information on the project, contact the WhatcomRowing Association.