Birch Bay characterization and watershed planning pilot – taking action

A 2015 report from the Whatcom Conservation District and Whatcom County describes a pilot watershed characterization study focusing on the Terrell Creek and Birch Bay areas. The report and related appendices are available for download. 

Birch Bay. Photo by Jeff Rice
Birch Bay. Photo by Jeff Rice

Program Summary: 

The Birch Bay area was the subject of an innovative pilot study where local, state, and federal agencies collaborated to create a comprehensive set of watershed management recommendations using integrated watershed characterization tools and techniques. The Birch Bay Characterization and Watershed Planning Pilot – Taking Action, was intended to implement recommendations specific to select rural and urban subbasins to improve hydrological, denitrification and pathogen removal processes that support the full spectrum of valued activities in Terrell Creek and Birch Bay including swimming, shellfish harvesting and a healthy fish population. In order to accomplish this goal, a coordinated education and outreach program, identifying target audiences, behaviors and pathogen reduction practices needed to be established and programmatic structure developed.

To create and implement an effective landowner education and outreach program, intensive social marketing research was conducted to align the programmatic goals with the social structure of target watershed. Following tested models, the communication efforts were unified under an existing community-based watershed group, called the Chums of Terrell Creek (herein referred to as “Chums”). A local resident serving as the trusted messenger of information under the direction from an Advisory Board of local stakeholders led this effort. 

With the guidance of the advisory board, goals and program focus were developed in accordance with the social marketing research and needs of the community. The direction of the program was the adoption of good stewardship practices and restoration projects by residents, farmers and commercial businesses in the upper Terrell Creek watershed. 

Outreach Plan was built following these core values:

  • Favor non-regulatory strategies
  • Be landowner driven
  • Be community based
  • Identify supportive common values
  • Create a sense of ownership
  • Provide technical and financial support

Three target audiences were identified:

  • Properties with an Onsite Sewage System (OSS)
  • Properties with Livestock and Crops
  • Properties proximate to Water Courses and Wetlands 

Watershed residents were then delivered a diverse set of outreach materials and offered activities to impart a greater appreciation for the potential impacts of their individual actions that either improve or degrade their marine and freshwater ecosystems. This community based approach also offered free technical assistance, project design, mentorship by Chums staff and financial assistance covering 100% of project costs up to $5,000 for Farm BMPs and Riparian Restoration Projects. On-site sewage system maintenance, repair and replacement was covered up to $10,000 to ensure failing systems were improved. 

Farm BMPs encouraged through the program included:

  • exclusion fencing
  • heavy use or sacrifice areas
  • pasture management
  • access control
  • gutters and stormwater management
  • manure storage facilities

Riparian and In-stream projects included:

  • Spawning gravel placement
  • native plant establishment
  • large woody debris installation
  • culvert replacement or repair

In addition to this rural effort, the Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resources Management (BBWARM) District developed a stormwater master plan to serve as a prototype for analysis and planning of the remaining subwatersheds within Birch Bay’s urban Growth Area (UGA). Additionally, BBWARM designed and constructed a stormwater capital improvement projects in Cottonwood area of Birch Bay. These combine efforts have led to increased community connection to the watershed, improved water quality in Birch Bay and Terrell Creek and unified efforts amongst agencies working within the watershed.  


Download the full report