South Bainbridge beaches riddled with fecal pollution, study shows

Two dozen sites on Bainbridge beaches showed unhealthy levels of fecal waste, according to a Kitsap County Health District water quality report released this week.

With the city’s assistance, the health district collected over 580 water samples from eight miles of shoreline along south Eagle Harbor, Point White, Crystal Springs and Fletcher Bay between February and June. About 13 percent of all samples showed fecal bacteria levels over the district’s permissible limit. Some test sites, including four between Point White and Fletcher Bay, showed contamination levels of 15 times the permissible limit for fecal coliform bacteria, which is associated with human and animal waste.

The shoreline between Crystal Springs and Fletcher Bay had the highest concentration of contaminated areas. More than 40 percent of the study’s highly contaminated samples came from this stretch of southwest Bainbridge.

Aimed at identifying trouble spots contaminating Puget Sound, the study focused on collecting water samples from various natural and human-made drainages, including pipes, seepages, stormwater outfalls and streams. The district hopes to acquire additional funding from the state to track and eliminate pollution sources highlighted by testing.

Investigations into the causes of the contamination highlighted the need for repairs and oversight of waterfront septic systems, said Stuart Whitford, a health district pollution manager who led the study.

“We found five failed septics, which we expected to find,” he said. “We found sewage flowing on to beaches, and there’s 20 other drainages that we’re still investigating.”

Whitford and city water quality specialist Jalyn Cummings, who assisted with the study, predict that there are many more failed septics to uncover.

“We’re seeing very old (septic) systems that have fallen into disrepair,” Whitford said. “Most last 25 to 30 years, like a roof. After that, it’s a roll of the dice as to whether they’re still working.”

In many cases, leaking septics can be repaired quickly and inexpensively.

“We’re talking about easy fixes that don’t cost a lot, but have a huge impact on the area,” he said.

High levels of fecal bacteria can cause illness in people who come in contact with it or who eat contaminated clams, which often have higher concentrations.

The health district is a cautioning people to steer clear of beach drains, restrict children from playing or swimming near drains and to refrain from harvesting shellfish along the island’s southwest shore, Eagle Harbor and other areas with harvest restrictions.

Owners of failing or inoperative septics must submit a repair plan to the health district and hire a septic specialist to fix problems.

The south shore of Eagle Harbor showed marked improvements from earlier testing. About 8 percent of the 64 drainages sampled showed high levels of fecal bacteria.

“This is good news, especially when these results are compared with the shoreline survey collected by the health district in 1996,” which showed 27 percent of 56 drainages had high levels of contamination.

The testing 12 years ago led to septic repairs that reduced contamination in the harbor, Whitford said.

Crystal Springs, however, needs more work.

Poor soils, a high water table and older homes with aging septics contributed “to the poor septic system performance” in the Crystal Springs area, Whitford said.

The health district restricted its testing this year to areas that have drawn the highest number of contamination complaints.

While funding has run out for testing, the health district and city hope to obtain additional funding for a second phase that would more aggressively investigate contamination sources and broaden testing to include all of Eagle Harbor, Port Madison Bay and other sites.