The straight poop on BI beaches


Bainbridge Island is oozing unsafe levels of……well, poop, to put it bluntly. The Kitsap County Health District has found extremely high levels of E. coli, which is a form of fecal coliform, which is the bacteria found in human and animal feces. Read the story below.

Bainbridge beaches show fecal contamination
By Tristan Baurick

Extremely high levels of bacteria caused by human and animal waste were found along the island’s beaches, according to water quality tests conducted by the Kitsap County Health District.

At least four sites between Point White and Fletcher Bay showed E.coli bacteria levels of 15 times the permissible limit. Dozens of sites on the south end and in Eagle Harbor also showed elevated levels of E.coli, a type of fecal coliform bacteria.

“We’ve connected three failed septic systems to some of the contamination, and we expect to find more as we cover the island’s beaches,” said Stuart Whitford, a health district pollution manager. While septic systems are a likely culprit for much of the pollution, Whitford says other factors, including animal feces, can contribute to the problem.

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

The city in February contracted the district to test three island beaches: Point White from Lynwood Center to Fletcher Bay, all of Fletcher Bay itself and the south shore of Eagle Harbor.

Aimed at identifying trouble spots contaminating Puget Sound, the project focuses 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 on Bainbridge.

While the water-testing portion of the project will continue until June, preliminary results show 23 percent of the 133 show E.coli levels higher than 160 colony forming units per 100 milliliters of water, which is considered the district’s permissible limit.

Four samples taken from Point White and Fletcher Bay had levels in the range of 2,400 CFUs, which is 15 times the permissible limit.

“That level usually indicates a source that is very close and very strong,” Whitford said.
One especially troublesome drainpipe on Fletcher Bay gave itself away even before Whitford got a 2,419 CFU reading from it.

“It just had the odor of a septic tank,” he said. “It was leaking directly onto to the beach.”
The test results also made island environmentalist Cara Cruickshank flinch.
“Oh my god,” she said. “I didn’t know it was at this level, but I’m not terribly surprised. Septic systems are a mystery to a lot of people.”

Cruickshank, who helps lead the Natural Landscapes Project, has conducted workshops on how to maintain healthy septic systems. Most, she said, were poorly attended.
“It’s not a sexy topic,” she said. “It’s expensive and it’s messy.”

The health district usually uses dye to track water-borne bacteria sources. In one of the island’s malfunctioning septics, Whitford flushed green dye down a waterfront home’s toilet and then watched it flow almost immediately onto the beach. The health district lacks the funds to continue the second phase of the project, which would include source investigations and enforcement.

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

The health district’s project follows a city-led testing last fall that showed two spots on Eagle Harbor’s north shore with bacteria readings of over 1,600 CFUs.

Whitford said the island’s south end has had a long history of septic problems that stem, in part, from the area’s soil composition and the age of many septic systems.

The health district has done similar testing in Dyes Inlet and Hood Canal. A survey conducted in South Kitsap’s Yukon Harbor resulted in the discovery of 52 failing septic systems.

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

“People should be concerned about what’s going on on their shorelines,” Whitford said. “As a parent, I really wouldn’t want my kid playing when these drains are flowing because they run the risk of contracting a water-borne illness.”

Waste flows can reduce oxygen levels in the water, killing fish and other marine animals.
“Most people wait until there’s a problem,” said Cruikshank. “Well, guess what? Here’s a problem on Bainbridge for all of Puget Sound.”