Washington State Department of Ecology - April 8, 2013

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Partners working to reduce bacteria pollution in Whatcom County creeks

BELLINGHAM – Levels of fecal coliform bacteria are on the rise in creeks and rivers in Whatcom County. The levels do not meet clean water standards, and could make people sick and threaten shellfish harvesting.

The pollution has drawn the attention of local, state, federal and tribal agencies who are working alongside property owners to improve water quality.

The multi-agency effort is underway among Whatcom County, Whatcom Conservation District, the Washington departments of Ecology, Health and Agriculture, as well as Puget Sound Partnership, Lummi Nation, Nooksack Indian Tribe, and Environmental Protection Agency.

“We want to work with the community to get the water in our creeks and bays back to safe, healthy conditions,” said Doug Allen, Department of Ecology program manager.

The first area of focus will be the Bertrand Creek watershed west of Lynden, where water sampling shows the levels of fecal coliform bacteria no longer meet state and federal standards. Bacteria levels are now three times greater than they were in 2003, when they last met standards.

Fecal coliform bacteria come from animal and human waste, and make their way into the water through a variety of routes, which include leaking septic systems, horse and cow manure, and pet and wildlife waste. High fecal coliform levels indicate that illness-causing germs could be present and increase the risk of people getting sick through contact with the water or eating shellfish.

Department of Ecology inspectors will work throughout the Bertrand Creek watershed, collecting water samples and monitoring bacteria levels. They’ll schedule visits to properties in an effort to find sources of bacteria and work with landowners to correct problems.

“If we stop the flow of bacteria into our creeks, then we fix the problem,” Allen said. “It’s a matter of finding the problem areas. And that’s what our inspectors will be looking for.”

Bacteria that get into creeks and streams flow downstream to marine waters. And, in this case, it flows from Bertrand Creek into the Nooksack River and then empties into Portage Bay. At the end of the line are beaches, boating, fishing and shellfish harvesting.

Commercial shellfish beds in Portage Bay are currently threatened with a downgrade in classification due to declining water quality. Fecal coliform levels at marine water stations in this area have increased dramatically in the past five years. In Drayton Harbor, commercial shellfishing is closed each year from November through February because of high fecal coliform bacteria levels.

The effort to clean up fecal pollution will expand to the Drayton Harbor watershed in Blaine this year. Whatcom County Public Works is monitoring water quality in California and Dakota creeks, and will work with the community to reduce pollution.

“Clean water is important for everyone in the county. Whether it’s kids playing in the creeks or people eating shellfish from the bays, we want to protect their health,” said Whatcom Clean Water Project Coordinator Andrea Hood.

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Media Contact:

Dustin Terpening, Ecology media relations, 360-715-5205, dustin.terpening@ecy.wa.gov

Donn Moyer, Department of Health, 360-236-4076, donn.moyer@doh.wa.gov

For more information:

Whatcom Clean Water program website (www.ecy.wa.gov/water/whatcomcleanwater.html)