Tag Archives: Kitsap County Health District

Let’s keep an eye on the shellfish initiative

It is interesting to contemplate how the new National Shellfish Initiative, announced in June, and the Washington Shellfish Initiative, announced last week, could change things in Puget Sound.

Newton Morgan of the Kitsap County Health District collects a dye packet from Lofall Creek in December of 2010. This kind of legwork may be the key to tracking down pollution in Puget Sound.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan Reid

As I described in a story I wrote for last Saturday’s Kitsap Sun, the principal goals are these:

  • Rebuild native Olympia oyster and pinto abalone populations.
  • Increase access to public tidelands for recreational shellfish harvesting.
  • Research ways to increase commercial shellfish production without harming the environment.
  • Improve permitting at county, state and federal levels.
  • Evaluate how well filter-feeding clams and oysters can reduce nitrogen pollution, with possible incentives for private shellfish cultivation.

To read more about the initiatives, check out:

One of the most encouraging things is an attempt to expand Kitsap County’s Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) Program to other counties, with increased funding for cleaning up the waters. Check out the story I wrote for last Friday’s Kitsap Sun, in which I describe the search-and-destroy mission against bacterial pollution.

As most Water Ways readers know, I’ve been following the ongoing monitoring and cleanup effort by the Kitsap County Health District for years with the help of Keith Grellner, Stuart Whitford, Shawn Ultican and many others in the district’s water quality program. In fact, just two weeks ago, I discussed what could be a turnaround for a chronic pollution problem in Lofall Creek, a problem that has taken much perseverance to resolve. (See Kitsap Sun, Dec. 2.) Unfortunately, the story is far from over.

I’ve talked about the importance of old-fashioned legwork in tracking down pollution, and I’ve suggested that other local governments use some of their stormwater fees or implement such fees for monitoring of their local waters. See Water Ways, June 30, for example.

Water free of fecal pollution has benefits for humans and other aquatic creatures. Thankfully, Washington State Department of Health’s shellfish program is careful about checking areas for signs of sewage before certifying them as safe for shellfish harvesting. Maybe the new shellfish initiative will allow the state to open beds that have been closed for years. That’s what happened in Yukon Harbor, where more than 900 acres of shellfish beds were reopened in 2008. (See Kitsap Sun, Sept. 25, 2008).

Certifying areas as safe for shellfish harvesting means that waterfront property owners are safe to enjoy the bounty of their own beaches. It also offers an opportunity for commercial growers to make money and contribute to the state’s economy.

Of course, this does not mean that intensive shellfish-growing operations ought to be expanded to every clean corner of Puget Sound, any more than large-scale crop farming or timber harvesting should be allowed to take over the entire landscape.

Some environmentalists have expressed concern that the Washington Shellfish Initiative could become a boondoggle for commercial shellfish growers. Laura Hendricks of the Sierra Club’s Marine Ecosystem Campaign sent me an e-mail noting these concerns about the expansion of aquaculture:

“Washington State has more native species listed as endangered than any other state in the USA. We see no mention of the adverse impacts in this initiative on nearshore habitat, birds and juvenile salmon.

“Governor Gregoire and the various speakers failed to mention that ALL of the pending shoreline aquaculture applications they want to ‘streamline’ are for industrial geoduck aquaculture, not oysters. Red tape is not what is delaying these applications…

“Shellfish industry lobbyists who pushed for this expansion are silent on the following three serious threats to our fisheries resources, forage fish, birds and salmon:

“1. Shellfish consume fisheries resources (zooplankton — fish/crab eggs and larvae) according to peer reviewed studies. A DNR study documented that forage fish eggs did not just stay buried high on the beach, but were found in the nearshore water column. Continuing to allow expansion of unnatural high densities of filtering shellfish in the intertidal “nursery,” puts our fisheries resources at risk.

“2. The shellfish growers place tons of plastics into Puget Sound in order to expand aquaculture where it does not naturally grow…

3. Mussel rafts are documented to reduce dissolved oxygen essential for fish and are known in Totten Inlet to be covered in invasive tunicates with beggiatoa bacteria found underneath…”

Ashley Ahearn of KUOW interviewed Laura Hendricks, and you can hear her report on EarthFix.

In her e-mail, Laura recommended the video at right. She also pointed to a blog entry by Alf Hanna of Olympic Peninsula Environmental News. Hanna suggests that environmental advocates who go along with commercial aquaculture may become the oysters that get eaten in Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”

Have intensive shellfish farms in Puget Sound gone too far in their efforts to exploit the natural resources of our beaches? Can shellfish farmers make money without undue damage to the environment? Which practices are acceptable, which ones should be banned, and which areas are appropriate for different types of aquaculture?

It would have been nice if these answers were known long ago, and in some cases they are. But at least this new shellfish initiative recognizes that more research is needed to answer many remaining questions. Research is under way in Washington state on geoduck farming, which involves planting oyster seed in plastic tubes embedded into the beach. Review “Effects of Geoduck Aquaculture on the Environment: A Synthesis of Current Knowledge” (PDF 712 kb) or visit Washington Sea Grant.

Other research in our region is needed as well, although it is clear that environmental trade-offs will be part of the deal whenever commercial interests cross paths with natural systems. For a discussion about this issue, check out the executive summary of the NOAA-funded publication Shellfish Aquaculture and the Environment (PDF 4.2 mb), edited by Sandra E. Shumway.

Needless to say, we’ll be keeping an eye on this process for years to come.

Watching the water-quality report cards

I guess we’re lucky in Kitsap County to have local health authorities who not only gather water-quality data but also know what to do with the information. I’m told that’s not the case for many counties in Washington state or across the nation.

The reason I bring this up is because of a story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun. Some of the water-quality report cards being issued by environmental groups are nothing more than a rewrite of raw data from water-quality samples collected by local officials. This could be valuable information in places where no other information is offered. But water-quality specialists at the Kitsap County Health District stand ready to interpret the data and take more samples, if necessary, so we know when we really should worry.

One bad sample does not mean we should run away from the water, but it does serve to raise some questions. Asking questions is the role I play when I see these reports. Fortunately, we have experts in Kitsap County who know our streams and beaches and who are willing and able to answer my questions.

It would be interesting to know how many counties in the state conduct routine monitoring of streams, lakes and marine waters; how many do follow-up tests when they find a problem; how many assess the findings to measure trends; and how many use the data to begin corrective actions. If anyone knows of information compiled on monitoring programs for all counties or cities, please let me know. If not, maybe this would be a project someone could take on.

Kitsap County’s monitoring program is funded by a stormwater fee collected with our property taxes. The residential fee is $70 per year. Commercial businesses may pay more, depending on their size.

Many cities and counties collect stormwater fees, but few use the money for monitoring. Even fewer compile long-term trends with a comprehensive ongoing monitoring program. Such programs deserve consideration.

In addition to paying for water-quality testing, Kitsap County’s stormwater fee is used to investigate sources of pollution; retrofit older communities with stormwater systems; clean out storm drains on county property; inspect all storm drains except for state highways; teach people about clean water; coordinate volunteers in programs including Beach Watchers and Stream Stewards; provide signs and supplies for the Mutt Mit dog-waste cleanup program; fund grants for a backyard rain garden program; and plan for and monitor results of stream-restoration and stormwater-retrofit projects.

I’m not saying that programs such as Heal the Bay and Testing the Waters (by Natural Resources Defense Council) don’t have value. In some cases, this is all that communities have, and they provide a good reason to ask questions about water quality.

But, as Keith Grellner of the Kitsap County Health District told me, these reports may be like crying wolf for some individuals. If people keep hearing warnings when the problems are minimal or nonexistent, will they pay attention in the face of serious water-quality concerns?

Sinclair-Dyes study: How to get ahead of pollution

The soon-to-be-released cleanup plan for Sinclair and Dyes inlets could become a leading example of how to reduce all kinds of pollution in a waterway. Check out my story in Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.

Based on conversations with many people involved in the project, I believe the keys to success are continual and ongoing monitoring of water quality, an unfailing commitment to identify pollution sources, and a spirit of cooperation with people who can help solve the problems.

Officials with the Kitsap County Health District and other local and state agencies will tell you that one can never walk away from a watershed with the belief that the pollution problem is solved. Still, at times, the rewards can be relatively quick, as one observes improvements in water quality after a pollution source is turned off.

Every month for the past 15 years, health district officials have gone out into the field and taken water samples from nearly every stream in Kitsap County — some 58 streams at last count. Often, these monthly tests provide assurance than cleanup plans are working. Occasionally, they offer an early warning that someone in the watershed is doing something to degrade water quality.

If you haven’t checked the health district’s Water Quality website, I would recommend reading through some of the reports under “Featured Water Quality Reports,” particularly the “2010 Water Quality Monitoring Report.”

Monthly water-quality testing over time tells a story about differences between wet years and dry years, about the effects of new development, and about successes that follow cleanup of problem farms, septic systems or yards containing dog feces.

I think it would be a big step forward if every significant stream in the state were monitored monthly for at least bacterial pollution. The results would help all levels of government set priorities for dealing with stormwater and other pollution sources.

Sinclair and Dyes inlets animation of hypothetical treatment system failure in East Bremerton (Click to launch; shift-reload to restart)
Project Envvest

Another factor worth mentioning in regard to the Sinclair-Dyes cleanup is the Navy’s funding for Project Envvest, a cooperative effort between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington Department of Ecology and the Navy. The resulting computer model helped describe the flow of pollution under various rainfall scenarios. It can even predict the movement of pollution resulting from various kinds of spills.

The animation (right) shows what would happen if the ultraviolet infection system were to fail in the East Bremerton treatment plant, which handles stormwater mixed with sewage during periods of heavy rainfall. Tidal flows make a big difference. This simulated spill is 7,000 gallons per minute for a total of 10 million gallons. See CSO Simulation Scenarios to view other animations from the model.

Other websites related to the Sinclair-Dyes project:

Project Envvest Status, Progress, Reports, and Deliverables (Navy)

Sinclair/Dyes Inlets Water Quality Improvement Project (Ecology)

With effort, Dyes Inlet has grown much cleaner

It seems like only yesterday that the Kitsap County Health District started a major Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) project all around Dyes Inlet.

Now, after five years, the health district has released a report showing major improvements in water quality in all the major streams. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun or check out the report (PDF 1.7 mb).

During the project, area residents were assisted in finding and repairing their aging septic systems in various parts of the watershed. Businesses were shown how to maintain nearby storm sewers and were encouraged to flush washwater down the sanitary sewers, not the storm drain. Even old sewer lines were inspected and repaired in some cases.

Here are some specific water-quality data on Dyes Inlet streams:
Continue reading

Kitsap’s pollution strategy saves state and federal dollars

Kitsap County’s streams are generally growing cleaner over time.

Shawn Ultican of the Kitsap County Health District takes down a warning sign posted on Enetai Creek. Kitsap Sun photo by Carolyn J. Yaschur
Shawn Ultican of the Kitsap County Health District takes down a warning sign posted on Enetai Creek.
Kitsap Sun photo by Carolyn J. Yaschur

We know this because the Kitsap County Health District monitors most of the streams, lakes and bays throughout the county.

As I reported last week in the Kitsap Sun, water quality in 17 streams are now showing statistically significant improvement in fecal coliform, according to the annual water quality report released last week. That compares to only 12 streams showing significant improvement the year before.

While those general trends are based on an average of water samples throughout the year, health advisories are issued for streams that show high fecal counts during the summer months. That’s when children are likely to be playing in the water. The number of streams considered a “public health hazard” declined from 11 in 2007 to seven in 2008 to three this year.

To read the report for yourself, go to the health district’s Web site or download the Introduction (PDF 440 kb ), which links to the other chapters.

By coincidence, as the health district was announcing its latest results, the Washington Department of Ecology was hailing the agency’s Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) Program as among the “innovative strategies” that are cleaning up pollution throughout the state.

By actively searching for pollution and cleaning it up when it is found, the state has avoided more costly studies that calculate pollution “loading” and allocate limits of pollution for various waterways.

Kitsap was able to clean up 19 waterways on the 2004 list and 33 on the 2008 list of polluted waterways statewide, according to a news release issued by the agency. That’s out of 23 waterways statewide on the 2004 list and 84 on the 2008 list.

“When the sources of pollution are obvious, we shouldn’t waste time and money studying the problem,” said Kelly Susewind, manager of Ecology’s water quality program. “It’s obvious that our waters are cleaner when we fix failing septic systems, keep livestock out of streams, create healthy vegetation for stream sides, and keep polluted runoff from entering storm drains.”

Added Mike Bussell, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Office in Seattle, “Washington continues to be a regional leader in monitoring the health of its waters, Besides doing a good job cataloging their stream segments, they’ve clearly taken public involvement in the assessment process to a new level. Their Web site gives Washington residents an outstanding opportunity to participate and fosters a strong proprietary interest in protecting local water quality.”

Other counties given credit for innovative strategies are Adams, Asotin and Garfield.

The state’s 2008 Water Quality Assessment, also called the 303(d) list, can be found on Ecology’s Web site. A description of how innovative strategies are cleaning up specific streams can be found on a page called “Water Quality Assessment Category 4b.”

Yukon Harbor: Another success for Kitsap health officials

Yukon Harbor and beaches to the north and south have been classified as “approved” for shellfish harvesting by the Washington State Department of Health, as I describe in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

Map of area opened to shellfish harvesting

Tracking down the sources of pollution — in this case to 51 failing septic systems and 15 “suspect” systems — is becoming routine for the Kitsap County Health District, which worked hard to reopen major portions of Dyes Inlet a few years ago.

Health district officials are always careful to shift the credit to people who live in the affected area. The willingness of the health district to work with people is a major part of the equation. The other part is the number of people who truly care about water quality and fix septic problems found on their property.

It’s been a great partnership through the years: government officials using a heavy hand only when absolutely necessary and property owners stepping up to their responsibility.

Washington State’s Secretary of Health Mary Selecky was complimentary of this system: “The people and programs of Kitsap County continue to produce great results restoring shellfish water quality. The work serves as a model for the region and other coastal communities around the nation.”

Five Kitsap streams taken off ‘health advisory’ list

Something’s wrong with Lofall Creek, which drains into Hood Canal from the Kitsap Peninsula.

How do I know this? Because the Kitsap County Health District noticed that it was becoming polluted a few years ago, thanks to monthly monitoring of about 60 streams — all the major ones throughout unincorporated Kitsap County.

Health authorities jumped on the problem and have identified some failing septic systems. They expect to find more. They’re hoping they get the troubled septic systems fixed soon. But, for now, the water quality is still growing worse.

Check out my story in today’s Kitsap Sun about the annual Water Quality Monitoring Report or download a copy of the report for yourself. The introduction contains a summary of all the streams.

On a positive note, five streams have improved enough to remove them from the ‘health advisory’ list. This is a list of streams that violate pollution standards in the summer months and are posted with signs telling people not to have contact with the water.

The Kitsap County Health District is focused mainly on bacterial pollution, but the program could be expanded to other toxics if money were available.

Many state officials recognize that this is the kind of program needed to attack pollution throughout Puget Sound. Widespread stream monitoring is likely to be one of the suggestions proposed by the Puget Sound Partnership so that everyone will know when and where problems arise.