Water-quality inspectors for the Kitsap County Health District
have gained a statewide reputation for the methodical way they
track down bacterial pollution in Kitsap County.
Newton Morgan of the Kitsap County
Health District is tracking pollution getting into Lofall Creek.
Yesterday, he removed a charcoal pack from the stream. The charcoal
will be tested in a lab to see if it has absorbed a tracer dye
flushed down the drains of nearby homes.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan Reid
Monthly testing of nearly 60 local streams gives them an early
warning about pollution problems as they begin to develop.
Working with property owners who care about the environment and
voluntarily open their homes for dye testing is a major part of the
success. These friendly water-quality detectives avoid using the
heavy hand of government unless there is an obvious problem that a
property owner refuses to correct.
Yesterday, the health district released its annual
Water Quality Monitoring Report, which includes a description
of every watershed and major stream in the county. The report also
compiles the data to show us which streams are the cleanest and
As you can see from a story I wrote for
today’s Kitsap Sun, these health inspectors have encountered a
water-quality situation in the Lofall area of North Kitsap that has
puzzled them for more than a year. It will take their ingenuity and
persistence to figure it out.
I spent a little time yesterday with Newton Morgan of the health
district to try to gain an understanding of the problem. He showed
me where Lofall Creek comes down through a pipe and spills into
Hood Canal adjacent to the old ferry dock.
This is where more bacteria are concentrated than in any natural
waterway in the county. It is somewhat of an anomaly, because Hood
Canal streams are generally far cleaner than those draining to the
east side of the Kitsap Peninsula.
It doesn’t take long for me to understand why Lofall remains a
pollution mystery. The pipe that drains to Hood Canal is at least
100 feet long and is buried under people’s yards where the steep
hillside is somewhat terraced.
Farther uphill, a drainage system takes stormwater off paved
streets and dumps it into a series of catch basins that drain to
other buried pipes.
Standing on one street, Newton points downhill while explaining
that one pipe apparently goes directly under someone’s house before
tying into another pipe that cannot be seen.
Leslie Banigan, another water quality expert with the health
district, describes the maze of underground pipes as buried
Complicating the situation even more are the high groundwater
levels in some areas of Lofall.
When a septic system fails — which generally means the bacteria
are not being trapped in the soil — the polluted water can find its
way into this underground drainage system rather than rising to the
surface where the odor of sewage reveals the problem.
Health inspectors have located some failing septic systems and
even a couple of direct discharges of sewage to the beach. But they
are still looking for one or more septic systems that must be
getting worse, because the stream is getting dirtier, despite the
Because of their experience over the past 15 years, these
inspectors exhibit a confidence about their ability to find the
sources of pollution. They know they must remain persistent and
continue to work on the problem. If dye testing doesn’t work, they
have other ideas up their sleeves.
After watching this program all these years, I can’t help but
wonder why every stream in the state isn’t being monitored monthly
to establish cleanup priorities. And, while health officials are
focused on bacterial pollution, similar testing could be extended
to other pollutants that can harm salmon and other sealife.
Cost? Yes, there’s a cost. Residents of unincorporated Kitsap
County pay about $67 a year on their property tax statements for
the Kitsap County Surface and Stormwater Management Program, which
is managed by Kitsap Public Works. That fee covers not only
water-quality testing but also maintenance of public storm drains,
upgrade of regional stormwater infrastructure, regulatory oversight
of stormwater permits, education of livestock owners and commercial
business operators, and more.
One of the best overviews of the program was put together in
2005 by the Puget Sound Action Team, now absorbed into the Puget
Sound Partnership. Download “Kitsap
County Surface and Stormwater Management Program: A Case Study”
(PDF 1.3 mb).
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