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What’s spewing into the Nooksack River near Ferndale?

City officials say discharge is 'cleaner than the river water it's going into'

By Julia Lerner Staff Reporter

FERNDALE — A 30-inch culvert in the Nooksack River raised alarm bells this week after a resident saw it spewing what looked like murky brown liquid. 

The pipe, about 700 yards south of the Ferndale Wastewater Treatment Plant, appeared to be discharging dirty liquid into the river, prompting significant concern from community members.

“The video on social media inspired a lot of concern,” said Riley Sweeney, the city’s communications officer. “It’s the wastewater treatment plant’s outfall. It’s the pipe that goes from the wastewater treatment plant out into the Nooksack River, and it’s functioning as it’s supposed to.”

The water transported from the plant has already been treated, Sweeney said, and meets the state Department of Ecology water standards. When it enters the Nooksack, though, it often stirs up mud and sediment along the riverbed, which can cause the flow to appear brown. 

“You could put a cup there and drink what comes out of it, if you wanted to,” he said with a laugh. “It’s actually cleaner than the river water it’s going into.”

Wastewater goes through several cleaning and disinfection processes, including screening, aeration, chlorination and dechlorination, before being discharged into the river, according to city planning documents

Nooksack River health is vital for struggling salmon populations, local farmers and tribes, many of whom were concerned about untreated or illegal discharge in the river. 

Members of the Lummi Nation visited the culvert Thursday after residents expressed concerns about river health. 

“The Lummi Nation sent over their water quality guys and we gave them a tour of the wastewater treatment plant,” Sweeney said. “They did some water testing and went back happy.” 

Ferndale’s wastewater treatment plant recently underwent major renovations and expansions, Sweeney said. 

“It was a $30 million project — one of the largest public works projects that we’ve constructed in recent years,” he said. “We have the capacity now to meet our needs as a community for the next 20 years.” 

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