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From its seaports to its rivers and streams, Whatcom County’s life runs through its watershed. That’s why Whatcom Watersheds Information Network (WWIN), a coalition of public and nonprofit organizations, celebrates and educates the public on water resources.

“There’s so many different organizations who are working on water resources issues and natural resources issues within our area,” says WSU Whatcom County Extension Water Resources Educator Cheryl Lovato Niles. “The goal of WWIN is to help support all of those organizations.”

Starting more than two decades ago, WWIN has operated continuously since 2010. Member organizations include the City of Bellingham, Public Utility District No. 1, Whatcom County Public Works, Whatcom Marine Resources Committee, and WRIA 1 Watershed Management Project. Each organization brings special knowledge in teaching residents how to protect water resources in Whatcom County’s unique landscape of city, farmland, and mountains.

WWIN partners with several organizations committed to restoring and preserving natural resources across the county. Photo courtesy Whatcom Watersheds Information Network

“Lots of people here are really outdoorsy and appreciate getting outdoors to recreate on the water — kayaking, swimming, paddleboarding,” Niles says. “Having our water be clean enough so we can recreate, be free of invasive species destroying our shorelines or habitat, be able to go out to the beach at low tide and to see all the critters, be able to go to the dockside market, and be able to purchase fresh seafood from our fishermen…these are things that really enhance our quality of life in Whatcom County.”

WWIN partners host the annual Whatcom Water Week event series, in addition to scheduled speaker series, symposiums, and training sessions.

“We sort of try to elevate water quality, water quantity, and endangered species issues in a celebratory way for Whatcom County residents,” says Niles.

Marine biology is among the topics featured at Whatcom Water Week and other WWIN events. Photo courtesy Whatcom Watersheds Information Network

Whatcom Water Week

Every September, WWIN’s Whatcom Water Week promotes their organizations and allows others to sign up and host family-friendly events.

“We invite different organizations within the community to host a variety of events; you could call it edutainment,” Niles says. “Most of the events are a lighter-hearted sort of educational experience. So, not heavy information about everything that is going wrong in the world, but celebratory events that help people appreciate what we have here.”

These events span across the county and include guided walking tours, sustainability education, and the Marine Life Center’s Salish Sea Marine Habitat Collage.

“We’ve got all kinds of things,” says Niles. “The library hosts a number of different reading times focused on water, there’s water treatment plant tours that you can take, and there’s the waterfront tour that RE Sources is hosting.”

The wide range of events supports the interests of all ages, from youth first discovering water resources and marine life to adults who seek continuing education.

In addition to adult education, WWIN’s Whatcom Water Week hosts several events geared toward youth. Photo courtesy Whatcom Watersheds Information Network

Speaker Series, Symposiums, and Trainings

WWIN and Whatcom Marine Resources Committee have typically hosted their other public educational programs at no cost.

“We’re fairly knowledgeable about different things going on related to water resources in Whatcom County,” Niles says. “We try to pick topics that are timely and relevant to new or emerging threats, or something that perhaps is culturally significant.”

WWIN presentation topics have included pollution, invasive species, droughts, wildfires, floodplain preparations, salmon habitat restoration, tribal fishing, and marine biology.

“A lot of people who attend tend to be very engaged,” says Niles. “And they speak up and participate in advocacies related to protecting and restoring water resources.”

With over 600 subscribers, WWIN’s newsletter provides a forum for residents to suggest new water resources issues to explore.

Water Week workshops educate participants on how to use water sustainably, take steps to protect natural resources, and manage hazards or natural disasters safely. Photo courtesy Whatcom Watersheds Information Network

Wins for Whatcom’s Watershed

Through WWIN, organizations working to sustainably manage and preserve countywide water resources can inform and involve the public.

“We decide for Water Week, the group who are involved, what needs to be done,” Niles says. “And people just step up and say, ‘I have capacity, I’ll take care of that aspect.’ And then we solicit funding — we have wonderful funders for Water Week.”

These funders include Pacific Surveying and Engineering, Wilson Engineering, and RH2. WWIN’s Resources page also provides further reading on salmon recovery, landowner resources, public engagement, and other ways to get involved.

Several Whatcom Water Week events take participants directly to the source — educating them on the resources we use for drinking water, fishing, recreation, and more. Photo courtesy Whatcom Watersheds Information Network

“Water is so important to every aspect of our quality of life,” says Niles. “Everything from drinking water to recreation. It is important to our farmers, it is important to the salmon runs — which are also very important to our tribal neighbors, the Lummi, and the Nooksack people.”

To get involved with WWIN, you can visit their website, sign up for their newsletter, and attend or host events. As Niles concludes: “Helping people to really appreciate and love a place helps them to be motivated to protect it.”

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