HIP provides technical assistance and financial reimbursement for voluntary water protection improvements on properties within the Lake Whatcom watershed.

For projects inside Bellingham city limits, financial reimbursement is based on the square footage of property that a project improves. Eligible properties can receive a reimbursement of $1.60 per square foot of property area improved. For instance, an underground pollution filter beneath a patio or walkway might take up only 300 square feet, but may receive and treat runoff from 3,000 square feet of nearby surfaces, such as a lawn, driveway, or roof. In this example, the project would receive up to $4,800 in financial reimbursement.

The total amount of reimbursement is limited only by the amount of work you choose to do. There is no maximum amount of reimbursement. A parcel that improves 10,000 square feet of area could claim $16,000 in reimbursement at the completion of the project. HIP staff encourages you to dream big and make major changes to your property using our expertise and funding!

Resources are available to anyone in the Lake Whatcom watershed who is interested in implementing a water quality project, but financial reimbursement is only for properties that can commit to a set level of phosphorus reduction. To find out what projects your property qualifies for, visit and type in your address to get started.

There are two main types of projects—native landscaping and underground pollution filters. But there are numerous aesthetic options for how these projects can enhance your property.

Native landscaping can provide water protection and beautiful, colorful enhancements to your landscape. Underground pollution filters can address runoff from a large part of your property in a relatively small space and can be designed as a stylish or useful landscape feature, such as a dry creek bed or stone-paver walkway. Visit to determine your property’s HIP eligibility and browse examples of landscape designs.

No. The program is completely voluntary. The program is a resource for watershed residents who want to help protect Lake Whatcom. Residents who visit the HIP website are often surprised to learn that the project options may be similar to improvements they are already considering. Water quality improvements can help enhance the use and function of your property.

Planning can never start too early. However, all projects, with the exception of planting, need to be installed between June 1 and October 1 of each year. This helps ensure that the construction of water quality improvements doesn’t cause negative impacts associated with rainy weather.

The summertime installation window makes winter a great time to plan and design a project. To learn more about how to receive technical and financial assistance with a project, visit

HIP is funded by the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County. City funding comes from the City of Bellingham Lake Whatcom watershed protection fee, paid as a surcharge on water bills. County funding comes from the Whatcom County Flood Control Zone District tax and Lake Whatcom Stormwater Utility fee, paid through property taxes.

The health of any lake is tied directly to the health of the surrounding landscape. When residential development replaces forested areas, natural filtration processes are replaced with surfaces that funnel runoff into our waterways. One hundred years of residential development has decreased the forested areas around Lake Whatcom and degraded water quality.

Healthy soils that support the capture and removal of pollution from runoff are often destroyed or removed during the process of constructing a house, driveway, or lawn. The soil we find below our lawns today cannot absorb and recycle enough nutrients and pollutants, like phosphorus, to protect Lake Whatcom. Data from water sampling and long-term measurements of water quality in Lake Whatcom indicate that our neighborhoods around the lake contribute more than 10 times the amount of phosphorus than the forested area that once stood there.

Phosphorus is a naturally occurring nutrient found in water, soil, and air. Phosphorus is essential for all living organisms; however, too much phosphorus in Lake Whatcom promotes excessive algae growth.

Large algal blooms harm water quality. When algae die, they are decomposed by bacteria in the water. In this decomposition process, bacteria deplete the dissolved oxygen in the water that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Excessive algae also clogs filters used to treat our drinking water, which increases treatment costs and threatens our community’s water supply.

We know residents care about protecting the lake. When homeowners update their property with water quality improvements, they do their part to lower phosphorus levels and improve water quality in Lake Whatcom.

Water falling on a lawn appears to soak in, but really it’s just moving within the top 4-8 inches of soil, picking up phosphorus, and pushing it into drains, ditches, and creeks that flow to Lake Whatcom.

Phosphorus is not just found in fertilizer— it is contained in almost any organic material such as leaves, grass clippings, pet waste, and cleaners like car- and dish-washing soap. Even an unfertilized lawn contributes excess nutrients, including phosphorus, to the lake. Lawns, fertilized or not, generate more phosphorus per year than forested or landscaped areas. When those lawns discharge runoff into ditches, pipes, creeks, and shallow groundwater, more phosphorus ends up in the Lake. While grass is a great filter for pollutants like metals and oils, it is both a source and poor filter for nutrients like phosphorus.

The city and county are installing pollution filtration facilities throughout the watershed. You may have noticed construction projects occurring in public road rights-of-way. Most of these projects include water quality improvements. A couple of the most noticeable project examples are the underground filters along each side of Northshore Drive and the underground pollution filters paired with the expanded beach and native plantings, which treat pollution at Bloedel Donovan Park. These facilities play an important role in removing phosphorus from stormwater runoff entering Lake Whatcom.

Even with plans to install these projects in every feasible public location in the watershed, they cannot remove enough pollution to keep the lake healthy. Additionally, there are shoreline and creek-side properties where runoff cannot be intercepted by public facilities. For these reasons, the future of Lake Whatcom depends, in part, on the collective power of homeowners who care for the lake and want to take action.

For newly constructed homes, this is true. Regulations for new development in the Lake Whatcom watershed require stormwater management and pollution controls that capture and remove pollutants from runoff in the same way a forest would. However, for older homes, these regulations don’t apply until significant redevelopment occurs. Redevelopment includes activities like remodels and additions, adding or replacing different types of surfaces, or major landscape improvements.

Older properties continue to add runoff and pollution in amounts much higher than the forests that once surrounded the Lake.

Water quality in lakes has been shown to degrade over long periods of time through naturally-variable conditions; however, the problems in Lake Whatcom are happening much more quickly due to development activity.

Yes! It will take the collective effort of individual homeowners, in addition to the large-scale public projects completed by the city and county, to lower the pollution levels in Lake Whatcom enough to keep it healthy.