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Whatcom County ( ) is a county located in the U.S. state of Washingtonmarker. Its name ultimately derives from a Nooksack word meaning "noisy water." As of 2000, the population was 166,814. The county seat is at Bellinghammarker, which is also the county's largest city. Whatcom County's northern border is the international boundary with the Canadian province of British Columbiamarker; adjoining the county on the north are four of metropolitan Vancouver'smarker suburbs, Delta, Surreymarker, Langleymarker, and Abbotsfordmarker, with several shopping malls and other services in Bellinghammarker and elsewhere in the county geared to cross-border shopping and recreation. The five crossing points are two at Blainemarker (one at the Peace Archmarker, located on the Interstate 5 crossing, and the other a commercial and passenger crossing on the Pacific Highway at State Route 543, both to Surrey, British Columbiamarker), as well as at Lyndenmarker (SR 539, to Aldergrove)marker, Sumasmarker (SR 9, to Abbotsfordmarker), and Point Robertsmarker (Tyee Drive, to Tsawwassenmarker).

Whatcom County was created out of Island County by the Washington Territorial Legislature on March 9, 1854 and originally included present day San Juan and Skagit Counties.


The Whatcom County government is a municipal corporation operating under a County Charter. Voters approved the County Charter in 1978. The Charter acts as a county constitution. Whatcom County is one of only four counties in Washington to use the home rule charter provision of state law. Local government is split between the county, incorporated cities and towns, and special purpose districts. These local governments are established and operate according to state law. These local governments operate independently from the county government.

County government

The Charter establishes the structure of Whatcom County government. The County Council holds legislative powers granted to counties. The council consists of seven members elected for a term of four (4) years. Council members are elected at the general election in November of odd-numbered years. Three council members are elected one year before a Presidential election; four council members are elected one year after a Presidential election. Two members are elected from each of three districts; the seventh member is an at-large member. The County Council also serves as the county board of health.

The executive branch consists of six elected officials, a County Executive and five department heads. The County Executive is similar to a mayor or governor. The Assessor, Auditor, Prosecuting Attorney, Sheriff, and Treasurer are elected independently from the County Executive and serve as department heads. These six officials serve four year terms. The county council establishes various departments by ordinance. The county council or county executive appoint department heads. These departments include administrative services, health, medical examiner, planning and development services, parks and recreation, and public works.

The judicial branch consists of a district court and superior court. The district court is a court of limited jurisdiction. The district court handles civil and criminal cases. Criminal cases are limited to adults charged with misdemeanor and/or gross misdemeanor offenses. State law specifies what cases are in the district court's jurisdiction. The district court operates a small claims court to resolve civil cases involving monetary damages not exceeding $5,000. No attorneys are permitted to appear in small claims court. Cases are heard using less formal procedures. The district court has two judges, a court commissioner, and a support staff. The superior court is a court of general jurisdiction. Superior court hears civil cases exceeding $75,000 or requesting nonmonetary remedies. Superior court hears all juvenile criminal cases and all adult felony cases. Superior court also hears appeals from district court and municipal courts. Superior court staff include three judges, three full-time court commissioners, two part-time court commissioners, and support staff. District and superior court judges are elected by the county voters for a term of four (4) years. Court commissioners are appointed by and serve at the discretion of elected judges; commissioners have powers and responsibilities equal to elected judges.

Cities and towns

Incorporated cities and towns provide municipal services. Each city or town has an elected council and mayor.

Special purpose districts

Special purpose districts include cemetery, fire, hospital, library, school, and water and sewer districts. Each special district is governed by officials elected by voters within that jurisdiction.

Fire districts

There are 12 fire districts, 2 city fire departments and 1 regional fire authority providing fire prevention, fire fighting, and emergency medical services. Each fire district is governed by an elected board of commissioners. Most districts have three commissioners. Fire districts receive most of their revenue from property taxes. All of the fire districts and the regional fire authority have volunteer or paid-call firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs), as does the City of Lynden Fire Department. The City of Bellingham is an all-career department. Some of the districts also have full time firefighter/EMTs. All fire districts use 911 for emergency calls. Whatcom County has one 911 call center located in Bellingham. Additional dispatching locations provide backup capacity to answer emergency calls.

Whatcom County Fire Districts are:

° outside Lynden city limits only. The Lynden Fire Department serves Lynden.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of , of which, of it is land and of it (15.34%) is water, including Lake Whatcommarker, which empties into Bellingham Baymarker by way of Whatcom Creek. Physiographically, Whatcom County is an extension of the Fraser Valley or "Lower Mainlandmarker" area of British Columbiamarker, which is essentially the lowland delta plain of the Fraser River - at some times in the past one of the Fraser River's lower arms entered Bellingham Baymarker near Bellinghammarker via what is now the mouth of the Nooksack River. A very small part of the county, Point Robertsmarker, about , is an extension of the Tsawwassen Peninsula, which is bisected by the international boundary along the 49th Parallel. The highest point in the county is the peak of the active volcano Mount Bakermarker at above sea level. The lowest points are at sea level along the Pacific Oceanmarker.

Geographic features

Major highways

Adjacent counties

Whatcom County also has land borders with two administrative units of British Columbiamarker, Canada, which together comprise the region known as the Lower Mainlandmarker, and also a water border with the Gulf Islandsmarker, which form Electoral Area G of the Capital Regional Districtmarker.

State protected areas

National protected areas


Primary and Secondary Education

Whatcom County residents are served by a number of public and private schools. These schools provide preschool, primary (K-5), and secondary (6-12) education. Public schools are operated by eight school districts. Each school district is an independent local government managed by an elected school board. Seven districts serve the western portion of Whatcom County. One district serves the southeast corner of Whatcom County. The remaining portion of the county is national forest or national park land, which has no permanent residents.

These districts are:

Numerous private schools operate in Whatcom County including Lynden Christian Schools, Bellingham Christian Schools, and the Waldorf School.

Higher Education

Whatcom County hosts five institutions of higher education. Two universities and two colleges are located in Bellingham. One college is located on the Lummi Nation (Lummi Reservation) west of Bellingham. Bellingham Technical College is a public technical and vocational college located in Bellingham. Trinity Western Universitymarker (TWU) is a private, Christian university based in Langley, BCmarker about 25 miles north of Bellingham. TWU operates a branch campus in Bellingham offering undergraduate courses and supports TWU's bachelors degree completion program. Western Washington Universitymarker (Western) is the third largest public university in Washington. Western offers bachelors and masters degrees through seven colleges. Western enrolls over 15,000 students. Whatcom Community College is a public community college offering academic certificate programs and associates degrees.

Northwest Indian College is a college supported by the Lummi Nation and serves the Native American community. Northwest Indian College is located on the Lummmi Nation (Lummi Reservation) about five miles west of Bellingham.


Whatcom County is the top producer of raspberries in the state. According to the Seattle Times, in 2004 Whatcom County growers produced 46 million pounds of raspberries, 85% of the state's crop. Given that the state itself is the #1 producer of raspberries in the country, with over 87.8% of the crop in 2002, this makes Whatcom County responsible for almost 75% of the nation's raspberry production.


As of the census of 2000, there were 166,814 people, 64,446 households, and 41,116 families residing in the county. The population density was 79 people per square mile (30/km²). There were 73,893 housing units at an average density of 35 per square mile (13/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 88.41% White, 0.69% Black or African American, 2.82% Native American, 2.78% Asian, 0.14% Pacific Islander, 2.49% from other races, and 2.66% from two or more races. 5.21% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 15.5% were of German, 9.2% English, 8.2% Dutch, 7.9% Irish, 7.0% Norwegian and 6.6% United Statesmarker or American ancestry according to Census 2000.

There were 64,446 households out of which 30.40% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.20% were married couples living together, 8.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.20% were non-families. 25.60% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.40% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.51 and the average family size was 3.03.

In the county, the population was spread out with 24.10% under the age of 18, 14.20% from 18 to 24, 27.50% from 25 to 44, 22.50% from 45 to 64, and 11.60% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females there were 97.10 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.00 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $40,005, and the median income for a family was $49,325. Males had a median income of $37,589 versus $26,193 for females. The per capita income for the county was $20,025. About 7.80% of families and 14.20% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.20% of those under age 18 and 8.30% of those age 65 or over.



Incorporated cities, in order of population (largest to smallest).

Census-designated places

Other communities

Former communities

See also


External links

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