Lynden Tribune Letters to the Editor, December 13, 2017

Data clearly show water quality is improving in the Nooksack Basin, and no bacterial contamination was linked to cattle in a recent DNA study performed by the Lummi Nation and the EPA.

Activist Jim Hansen’s recent letter to the editor attempted to discredit the Lummi and EPA study, calling it “misleading” and “a total waste of money.” Whatcom Family Farmers thinks this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The EPA guidance document shows the study found no cattle markers present. The study was conducted over 12 months. In the first six months the cattle marker was unavailable, so the test was for all ruminants including deer, elk and goats. In the second six months, the cattle marker was available and the tests showed some other ruminant DNA present, but not the cattle DNA marker.

EPA’s own guidance document says there are three possibilities: no cattle DNA, very little DNA, or the test is faulty. How is this not an interpretation?

We have never indicated there is no problem with fecal coliform contamination. Whatcom Family Farmers has been front and center in advocating for solutions both within our community and outside of it. We are proud of the work that has been done, while realizing more is needed, as the shellfish beds remain closed. We’ve advocated for more testing and have even invested our own funds on more intensive DNA studies.

Hansen accuses us of taking information “out of context to make a partisan point,” and yet there’s been an assumption that fecal coliform is an agricultural problem, blaming farmers without having much evidence to back such accusations up. There’s more evidence beyond the Lummi and EPA DNA study that suggests this assumption was incorrect. Perhaps Mr. Hansen should examine his own bias before pointing fingers.

— Fred Likkel, Lynden, Whatcom Family Farmers Executive Director


Capital Press, November 21, 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency analyzed dozens of water samples collected in Whatcom County and couldn’t find evidence of cattle causing pollution


A study by the Environmental Protection Agency and Lummi Indian tribe failed to find evidence that cow manure is polluting tribal shellfish beds in Portage Bay in northwest Washington.

The study suggests farmers are keeping manure out of the Nooksack River and it tributaries, which drain into the bay, said Fred Likkel, an environmental consultant and executive director of Whatcom Family Farmers.

“It shows the farm community has been working very hard for the last number of years to make sure it’s not polluting the shellfish beds,” he said.

Dairies have long been suspected of being a leading contributor to fecal coliform contaminating the Lummi shellfish beds. The Nooksack River drains nearly 800 square miles, much of it farmland, and is the primary source of freshwater for the bay.

To identify the sources of fecal coliform, the EPA analyzed the DNA in 54 water samples collected in 2016 from the bay, river, five creeks and a ditch.

The EPA reported last month that its laboratory found fecal coliform from birds in two samples, from non-cattle hoofed animals such as horses or deer in four samples, and from both birds and non-cattle hoofed animals in three samples.

The source of fecal coliform in 45 samples was undetermined. No genetic material from cattle, humans or dogs were found.

The EPA in a two-page summary said it’s possible that cattle fecal coliform was present, but at levels too low to detect or in genetic sequences that were not identified.

The Washington Department of Health in 1997 blamed dairies for fecal coliform that caused shellfish beds to close. Water quality improved and the beds reopened after dairies adopted new manure-handling rules enforced by the state Department of Agriculture.

In recent years, however, water quality has again degraded. Other potential sources of pollution include wildlife, hobby farms and failing septic tanks.

“This study really validates our position: You need to look at other sources,” Likkel said. “That doesn’t mean we can slack off and not do our job.”

Efforts to obtain further comment from the EPA and tribe were unsuccessful.

In early 2016, the EPA and the tribe set out to identify the sources of fecal coliform to help develop pollution-control strategies for the Nooksack River watershed, according to the agreement.

At first, the EPA’s Region 10 laboratory analyzed 53 water samples for genetic material from humans and hoofed mammals and found one sample with human DNA and four with animal DNA.

The laboratory later added the ability to test for material specific to cattle, birds and dogs for the other 54 samples.

The threat of lawsuits has hung over Whatcom County dairies. Seven dairies early this year agreed to pay the tribe $450,000 to compensate it for closed shellfish beds. The agreement calls for more payments later and for dairies and the tribe to collaborate on pollution-prevention plans.

Six farmer-led watershed improvement districts have hired a microbiologist to analyze fecal coliform in Scott Ditch, one of the waterways tested by the EPA. The report has yet to be completed.


​KGMI News, November 17, 2017

The average level of fecal coliform bacteria has decreased over the past 12 months in the Nooksack watershed

EVERSON, Wash. – Good news for Whatcom County farmers, Lummi Nation and shellfish harvesters: water quality is improving.

The EPA and Lummi Nation tested dozens of water samples from the Nooksack River watershed and found no evidence of cattle, dog or human DNA.

The Whatcom Conservation District said fecal coliform concentrations at 19 regular test sites show water quality in the Nooksack watershed has been improving over the last 2 to 3 years.

Testing of groundwater in the Sumas-Abbotsford aquifer shows nitrate levels are declining or holding steady in 24 of 25 wells.

The Department of Ecology said manure lagoons and management plans over the last 20-years may be working.


Lynden Tribune, November 9, 2017

LYNDEN — A total of 32 third-grade classes from around the county participated in the second year of the Whatcom Farm Circle educational event at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds on Nov. 1-2.

A second day was added to handle all the interest from schools after the inaugural one-day effort last year, said organizer Jewel TerWisscha for Whatcom Family Farmers.

Youngsters came from the Ferndale, Lynden, Lynden Christian, Meridian, Bellingham and other school systems.

Eight stations were the same as in 2016, staffed by assorted organizations to cover aspects of Whatcom agriculture:

• Soil and Watershed Conservation, Whatcom Conservation District

• Growing Potatoes, Bedlington Farms

• Growing Raspberries, Enfield Farms

• Technology on Farms, DeLaval

• Milk From Farm to Table, Dairy Ambassadors

• Nutrition, Dairy Farmers of Washington

• Wildlife on Farms, Washington State University and Trinity Western University

• Farmland Conservation, Washington Ag in the Classroom

The students rotated through the stations in a visit to the Expo Building lasting about two hours, Ter Wisscha said.


Lynden Tribune, October 25:

LYNDEN — This summer was again a dry one, but Bertrand Creek flowed in September at its highest level in decades. Credit farmer-led conservation and augmentation efforts, the Whatcom Family Farmers group says.

Over the last several years, local farmers have largely shifted their irrigation from surface water sources such as fish-bearing streams to wells tapping into underground water.

And now it is to a new level.

This year, Bertrand Creek flowed with cold, clear water at a rate of six to seven cubic feet per second. For comparision, that is about four times what the creek’s flow was (1.58 cfs) in a summer month of 14 years ago, August 2003, according to Gerald Baron, speaking for Family Farmers.

And one cubic foot of the water flow was contributed by a pump and pipe from a legal well about 1,100 feet away from Bertrand.

Baron calls it “a minor miracle of habitat restoration.”

In 2004, farmers recognized the stream depletion problem and formed the Bertrand Watershed Improvement District northwest of Lynden. It was the first of now six farmer-organized and -run government entities designed to address water issues on a drainage-by-drainage basis.

After more than two years of paperwork, farmers were finally granted a groundwater permit for this Bertrand project. While they bore much of the cost of the augmentation idea, a Washington State Department of Ecology grant also helped.

Pumping began on Sept. 12 and continued until about last week when fall rains take over filling streams.

“Farmers understand this is something we need to do,” said Marty Maberry, berry grower and co-owner of Maberry Packing. “Habitat is only one factor affecting fish, but it is one that as farmers we can address. This shows we understand the need for stream flow for habitat and we respect and support tribal treaty rights.”

Maberry points out that almost all Whatcom berry farmers by now — using micro-irrigation techniques — have more than cut in half their need for irrigation water. It has gone from about 900 gallons per minute per acre to about 400.

However, both raspberry and blueberry acreage continued to increase in the county, requiring a proactive stance by farmers to address low flows.

The approach has involved conservation, water rights conversions from surface to groundwater, and direct augmentation such as this project on Bertrand, Baron says.

The late-summer months of August and September naturally are the lowest for stream flow, including legal withdrawals from streams by farmers for irrigation. But that situation can be remedied by augmentation, he says.

These are additional details of the issue:

• The Bertrand replenishment effort amounts to more than 3,000 gallons per minute, or almost 4.5 million gallons per 24-hour day. To put that flow into perspective, it could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool nearly seven times over in a day.

• Bertrand is a relatively small cross-border stream draining more land in Canada than in the United States. North of the 49th parallel it flows through farm country marked by growing urbanization.

Baron says that Bertrand’s flow into the United States was, as recently as a year ago, “further compromised by a dam placed across the stream just north of the border, completely stopping any flow from Canada.”

• Since 2010 farmers have been gaining the right to withdraw groundwater instead of stream water. This means that their irrigation water now comes from wells some distance from a creek.

This had already made a big difference for Bertrand, so that its August 2015 flow was up to six cubic feet per second, or 2,700 gallons per minute.

• A flow gauge located on Rathbone Road near where the Bertrand empties into the Nooksack River confirms that water pumped in upstream is maintained all the way to the river.

• Augmentation of a stream can be seen as “accelerating the natural seepage from groundwater,” Baron says.

The principle of “hydraulic continuity” — meaning a draw of groundwater has an impact on surface water — has increasingly come into play in recent Washington State legal decisions.

• Maberry claims that court cases limiting innovative water management are a hindrance to this kind of project, however.

“The Foster decision of the Washington Supreme Court and Ecology’s position on it of a one-to-one equivalence of groundwater and surface water for instream flows is not science-based and prevents an awful lot of good work being done, including further surface-to-groundwater rights conversions,” Maberry said.

He favors an original version of the “Hirst fix” bill now stalled in the state legislature since it also included a “Foster fix.” A combined remedy is high on farmers’ list of priorities, he said.

Bertrand can be just a start of augmentation to improve fish habitat, but it will take government and tribal leaders’ support to happen, Maberry said.
(Note: one error in this report. The augmentation restored approximately one cubic feet per second of water, bringing the flow up to over six cfs. The augmentation combined with conversion of farmers’ surface water rights to groundwater rights has improved stream flow by five to six times.)


Lynden Tribune, November 22, 2017

EPA testing of river finds cows not to blame

LYNDEN — A new study from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Lummi Nation shows no evidence that cows are to blame for bacterial contamination in the Nooksack River and Bellingham Bay.

The EPA report says no fecal material from cattle was found in DNA testing of any of the water samples collected. The Whatcom County Health Department also reports significant improvements in water quality that could allow Portage Bay’s Lummi shellfish beds to reopen for much of the year.

In recent years, bacterial pollution has closed the shellfish beds for most months, but the exact source of the pollution was unclear. Whatcom farmers and the Lummi Nation joined together in 2016 to form the Portage Bay Partnership to push for solutions.

“Water quality is definitely improving, and the results show what we have been saying all along, that the assumption that dairy farms are causing shellfish contamination is simply wrong,” said Fred Likkel, executive director of Whatcom Family Farmers.

Also, a new state Department of Ecology study shows improving groundwater quality in northern Whatcom County. Nitrate levels are declining or remaining steady in all but one of 25 wells tested. In a Nov. 8 Capital Press story on the study, an Ecology researcher said this shows manure lagoons and manure-management plans farmers have been using over the last 20 years may be working to improve water quality.

“We hope those continuing to pursue lawsuits and massive new regulations against our dairy farms will wake up to what the data are saying and stop their false accusations,” Likkel said.

“This is very positive, and encourages us to continue and even expand our efforts to be real environmental leaders,” said Brad Rader, president of Whatcom Family Farmers.


Bellingham Herald, November 18, 2017

An Environmental Protection Agency and Lummi Nation report shows no evidence that cows are to blame for bacterial contamination in the Nooksack River and Bellingham Bay, Whatcom Family Farmers said in a news release.

No fecal material from cattle was found in DNA testing of any of the water samples collected, the report indicated. The Whatcom County Health Department also reports significant improvements in water quality that could allow the Lummi’s Portage Bay shellfish beds to re-open for much of the year, according to the news release.

The testing in Bellingham Bay and Nooksack River “showed low levels of DNA from ruminant and avian sources as well as undetermined sources,” according to the group’s website. Ruminant refers to animals that chew their cud, including sheep, goats and deer.

“Analyses with the cattle, dog and human biomarkers revealed no fecal material from these sources was detected within any of the samples,” the EPA report indicated.

The report, however, pointed out the results may indicate no cattle DNA in the water, or the amount of cattle DNA “is too low to detect or their tests are unreliable.”

In recent years, bacterial pollution had closed the shellfish beds for months, but the exact source of the pollution was unclear. Whatcom farmers and the Lummi Nation joined together in 2016 to form the Portage Bay Partnership to push for solutions.

“Water quality is definitely improving, and the results show what we have been saying all along, that the assumption that dairy farms are causing shellfish contamination is simply wrong,” said Fred Likkel, executive director of Whatcom Family Farmers, in the news release.

Also, a new state Department of Ecology study shows improving groundwater quality in northern Whatcom County. Nitrate levels are declining or remaining steady in all but one of the wells Ecology tested.

In a Nov. 8 Capital Press story, an Ecology researcher said the study shows manure lagoons and manure-management plans farmers have been using over the last 20 years may be working to improve water quality.

For information, go to


Lynden Tribune, November 8, 2017

LYNDEN ­— With usual customers not buying their frozen raspberries, growers are ready to pay money to figure out why.

They suspect foreign imports of berries possibly in violation of trade laws.

Last spring, the Washington Red Raspberry Commission, made up mostly of Whatcom County growers, spent $5,000 to retain the international law firm of King & Spalding for initial monitoring of the situation.

Things didn’t improve in six months.

“Our fears were more than realized. Markets are evaporating for local berry growers,” said Henry Bierlink, commission executive director.

So a second step is being taken. The commission board of directors is evaluating qualifications of law firms, King & Spalding included, for a more significant work assignment. Bierlink hopes a choice can be made by mid-November.

It’s a complex issue. For one thing, the way foreign raspberries come into the United States can be hard to track. Import data isn’t clear. Might fresh fruit be entering from Mexico and then diverted into frozen form? Could Canada be creating triple berry blends with raspberries from all over the world?

“We need better data to identify the source of the problems,” Bierlink said. “A large portion of the next phase is to better understand the nature and source of our imported competition.”

Also, law dealing with imports is complicated. In general, three legal avenues can be pursued, depending on the nature of the import activity, Bierlink said. Those approaches are: an anti-dumping protectionist tariff imposed by a government, similar countervailing duties and a “safeguard” action through the World Trade Organization.

The grower-directed Washington Red Raspberry Commission is far from deciding any of that yet.
In 2002 the commission spent about $600,000 to win an “anti-dumping” tariff on Chilean imports of high-grade IQF raspberries. “Dumping” means product is exported at a price that is lower than on a country’s home market.
Other world producers of red raspberries are Serbia, Poland and Peru.
Whatcom County is the epicenter of United States’ production of red raspberries for processing. The numbers for the 2017 harvest are just in, showing again a strong year. The 68.3 million pounds harvested locally are down 7.6 percent from the record crop of nearly 74 millon pounds in 2016, but still third-best ever for the county.
Whatcom County accounts for 97.6 percent of the statewide harvest and typically about 80 percent of national red raspberries for processing. California leads for fresh marketing.
Virtually all of the raspberries of about 90 local growers go into frozen packs.


SEPTEMBER 27, 2017​
We’re pleased that the Bellingham Herald has helped spread the news about the Watershed Improvement Districts and Whatcom Family Farmers efforts to improve water quality with DNA testing.

This is the beginning of what we hope will be a much broader effort to better understand the sources of bacteria in the water that is affecting the shellfish beds.

​Herald article:
The West Coast farming weekly newspaper highlighted the work being done in Whatcom County by the Watershed Improvement Districts to better understand sources of contamination.

From the report:

Fred Likkel, a water consultant to the districts, said he believes dairies have been disproportionately blamed for pollution, but that the DNA project is meant to find problems, not vindicate farmers.
“We’ve been really open that this is a tool to find out what the issues are and to deal with them, regardless of what or who they are,” said Likkel, executive director of Whatcom Family Farmers.
Andrea Hood, coordinator of the state’s Whatcom Clean Water Program, said livestock, horses, pets, wildlife and septic tanks all contribute to the problem, but their relative contributions have not been ranked.
“I’ll be interested to see what the results are and see how we can all benefit from the study,” she said. “If it’s going to help better identify how to really make water-quality improvements, that’s going to be useful for sure.”

Lynden Tribune report here:


Lynden Tribune, October 25:


We are very pleased to have Whatcom Watch, the leading environmental publication in Whatcom County, publish our article on farmers and the environment.

Read the article on Whatcom Watch online


LYNDEN TRIBUNE ­— The city is willing to forgo thousands of dollars in hookup fees to get owners of failing septic systems to change over to municipal sewer.

The City Council decided on March 6 to waive the sewer Facility Capital Improvement charge — which as of January rose to $6,682 for a single-family residence — for two years from the point of notification of a septic problem.
Steve Banham, public works director, estimates that there may be up to 200 septic systems within city limits. It usually happens as a result of annexation on the edge of the city.
“We are working with the county Health Department to come up with an exact number,” he said.
It is the Health Department that keeps track of county septic systems and notifies an owner of a problem. “We only know of ones who have approached us asking for the service once they are failing,” Banham said.
“We don’t intend to force working OSS (on-site septic systems to connect unless we have some evidece that they are a source of water quality problems for which the city could be held responsible,” he said
Banham believes that fewer than 10 septics in Lynden are having problems, to the point of taking advantage of the city’s incentive deal.
A homeowner will incur costs of making the actual connection to the city lines. The FCI charge is only the user’s part toward the cost of future upgrades of the entire system.
The two-year time clock with a property owner will start once the city has had a chance to make a personal contact and then send a letter formalizing the offer, Banham said.
The conversion waiver was approved unanimously by the council.
And a farmer organization is praising the idea as a big step forward. Whatcom Family Farmers believes the Lynden incentive program could substantially improve water quality both inside and beyond the city.
In hyper-awareness of water quality issues, many entities are looking to have a clean act and to look elsewhere for problems — and solutions.
It will only help water quality in Whatcom County to get questionable septic systems decommissioned in a switch to regular city sewer, according to a press release from the farmers’ group.
Dairy farmers and Lummi tribal leaders are already working together — via the Portage Bay Partnership agreement signed Jan. 5 — to address sources of contamination in the Nooksack River basin.
That pact served as “an inspiration to all of us concerned about doing the right thing,” said Lynden Mayor Scott Korthuis, and he hopes the city can contribute to “measurable improvements in water quality.”
The results of water monitoring have been a topic for the Portage Bay Partnership, with dairy farmers trying to restore full shellfish harvesting for the Lummi Nation at the mouth of the NooksackRiver.
“We’ve known for some time that urban stormwater runoff and old septic systems within our urban areas are significant contributors to the fecal coliform contamination that has kept the Portage Bay shellfish beds from reopening,” said Mitch Moorlag of Edaleen Dairy, one of the partnership’s farmer representatives. “We met with the mayor and city officials in 2015 to discuss the water quality monitoring data and the mayor made it clear he was very interested in doing what he could to address Lynden’s contributions. We’re very pleased that the City Council has taken this action. We see it as support for our joint efforts with the Lummi Nation to address all sources of water quality.”
Since mid-2015 the dairy industry has tried to fight accusations that farms are the sole or primary cause of contamination that closed the Lummi shellfish beds.
Whatcom Family Farmers claims data showed that Fishtrap Creek water flowing into Lynden from Canada through an area of dairies was cleaner than the water flowing through and out of Lynden.
“Lummi leaders, while initially focusing on dairy farm contribution, came to understand that there are multiple sources, including city stormwater runoff, septic systems and major contamination coming from Canada,” states WFF.
The effect from Lynden’s incentive program could be similar to that experienced for Drayton Harbor — where shellfish harvesting had been mostly closed since 1995 — once contamination factors there were addressed.
In the Blaine area a 21 percent failure rate was found among septic systems near the shore. Also, there were breaks in aging sewer lines and some boaters in the nearby marina were apparently dumping human waste overboard. In the California and Dakota creek watersheds, poor livestock practices and failing septic systems added to the problem.
Passage of the state Dairy Nutrient Management Act in 1998 started to bring significant change in farm operations, and getting off failed septics was another huge improvement, farmers say.
“What happened in Drayton Harbor, like what happened at Bayview in Skagit County, shows that a community-wide concerted and collaborative effort is needed,” said Larry Stap of Twin Brook Creamery and the Portage Bay Partnership. “The City of Lynden is showing the kind of leadership we need to see across our community.”


Capital Press

President Trump’s top agricultural adviser says the new administration won’t tolerate federal support for advocacy campaigns like What’s Upstream.

Ray Starling, special assistant to the president for agriculture, trade and food assistance, outlined the White House’s farm policy priorities in a speech March 21 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“This administration will not allow the EPA to give taxpayer dollars to activist groups who then turn around and put up billboards that attack our farmers and ranchers,” said Starling, a former general counsel for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

The promise cheered Gerald Baron, director of Save Family Farming, which was formed last year to respond to claims by What’s Upstream that farmers are unregulated polluters who let cows wade in rivers.

More information


December 17 Capital Press (the West Coast weekly agricultural newspaper) featured this story about Whatcom dairy farmers and the impact of the draft regulations proposed by the State of Washington:

Then, December 28, the Capital Press identified the heart of the issue in this important editorial:



Whatcom Business Pulse is helping deliver the message of farmer unity, environmental and water quality protection and the value of farming to our community.
See the whole story here.



Read the complete story of Whatcom farmers’ reaction to the initial draft of a permit and related regulations that would devastate the family dairy farms in our community and state.