West Sound shellfish beds face threat - The state warns of 10 sites in the region, including two new to the list this year.


Bremerton Sun staff and news services

July 9, 2003

Twenty shellfish areas in Western Washington -- including 10 sites in West Sound -- have been identified as threatened by

After water samples showed a problem in Thurston County's Henderson Inlet, for example, a detailed analysis found sources of fecal coliform as varied as foxes, raccoons, dogs and other pets, waterfowl and failing septic systems -- making it tough to pinpoint who or what was most responsible.

pollution, according to the state Department of Health's Early Warning System.
The annual pollution watchlist, issued each summer for the past seven years, includes two West Sound shellfish beds that weren't listed last year:

The Port Townsend Growing Area, located near Port Hadlock, was added to the list, marking the first time that a waterway in Jefferson County has been placed on the threatened list.

Burley Lagoon near Purdy in Pierce County, which was removed from the list in recent years, returned this year due to growing pollution problems.

The 20 threatened sites are scattered across 12 Western Washington counties -- more than at any time in the past seven years.

"Almost every county that grows oysters or clams has at least one area, or part of an area, that is threatened with closure," said Bob Woolrich, growing area section manager.

The 20 shellfish beds are considered threatened because they are on the verge of not meeting water-quality standards due to high fecal coliform counts.

Fecal coliform comes from human and animal waste, and it can indicate the presence of other, more harmful disease-causing bacteria or viruses. Possible pollution sources include failing sewage systems, animal waste and wildlife.

If conditions at any of the threatened sites continue to deteriorate, the Department of Health could ban shellfishing entirely in the waterway until measurable improvements take place.

And that could have a significant impact on the state's shellfishing industry, which is the second-largest producer of oysters and clams in the nation. Potentially 44 of the state's 314 currently licensed shellfish companies could be affected if closures occur.

"This is sad news for Puget Sound," said Brad Ack, chairman of the Puget Sound Action Team. "This is a call to action for all those involved with protecting our valuable shellfish resources."

The 10 West Sound sites are considered threatened even though millions of dollars have been spent to identify nearby sources of pollution and clean them up.

It's unclear yet what has caused the pollution in the southern end of Port Townsend Bay near Port Hadlock, but Jefferson County officials have expressed interest in studying it, Woolrich said.

The bays are safe now, but if they don't improve the state could downgrade them and close them to oyster and clam harvesting.

Of the 20 sites on the list, Dungeness Bay in Clallam County is one of the most likely to be closed to all harvesting, though health officials still are investigating, Woolrich said.

Five beds were taken off this summer's list, including the Forest Beach area on Hood Canal in Mason County.

Another West Sound site, Oakland Bay in Mason County, is home to shellfish operations that harvest millions of clams each year. The area has been on and off the Health Department's watchlist for years as the county struggled to upgrade old sewage systems.

Other bays on the list are more of a mystery. After water samples showed a problem in Thurston County's Henderson Inlet, for example, a detailed analysis found sources of fecal coliform as varied as foxes, raccoons, dogs and other pets, waterfowl and failing septic systems -- making it tough to pinpoint who or what was most responsible.

"It's hard to know where to begin fixing a problem like that," said Robin Downey, executive director of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

RELATED STORY:

20 shellfish areas at risk of closure
SUSAN GORDON; The News Tribune

7/9/03

Four Pierce County and two Thurston County oyster and clam beds rank among the 20 most-threatened shellfish growing areas in Washington on the state's latest water-quality watch list.

Of those, water quality in Thurston County's Henderson Inlet is the worst in the South Sound, said Bob Woolrich, who manages the state Health Department's shellfish program.


Harvest is still allowed in all 20 of the shellfish beds in the 12-county area listed. But the number of beds at risk of closure is bigger than ever before, he said.


"Almost every county that grows oysters or clams has at least one area, or part of an area, that is threatened with closure," he said. Also, for the first time, shellfish beds in Jefferson and San Juan counties are included on the list.


In Pierce County, pollution threatens growers in Burley Lagoon and Henderson, Filucy and Rocky bays. In Thurston County, besides Henderson Inlet, the list includes Eld Inlet.


Water in all 20 areas is now clean enough to grow shellfish, but the Health Department could restrict growers if bacterial counts rise. Of the state's 314 commercial growers, 44 could be affected by closures, health authorities said.


No other state farms more oysters and clams than Washington. The state is No. 2 nationally in overall production - farm and wild - of the two shellfish.


This is the seventh year that state Health Department officials have released a list of shellfish-growing areas where high fecal coliform counts have been found.


High concentrations of fecal coliform, found in human and animal excrement, can make shellfish consumption dangerous. Water contaminated with fecal coliform is also likely to contain other, more menacing bacteria or viruses, health officials said.

Threatened shellfish areas

1. Birch Bay
2. Portage Bay
3. Buck Bay
4. South Skagit Bay
5. Dungeness Bay
6. Port Townsend
7. Port Gamble
8. Hood Canal #9
9. North Bay
10. Burley Lagoon
11. Henderson Bay
12. Annas Bay
13. Rocky Bay
14. Oakland Bay
15. Henderson Inlet
16. Eld Inlet
17. Grays Harbor
18. Naselle River
19. Nahcotta
20. Filucy Bay


The list is designed to alert growers, government officials and residents to the need to reduce pollution. Causes of contamination include failed septic systems, tainted stormwater and uncontrolled farm runoff. Wildlife also may contribute to the problem, Woolrich said.


In some areas, pollution control efforts have already begun, he said. In the Burley Lagoon watershed, for example, Pierce and Kitsap county officials have for several years tried to persuade landowners to eliminate septic problems and reduce runoff from hobby farms.


But problems persist. Thurston County's Henderson Inlet has been on the early warning list since the Health Department began it. Portions of Lacey and Olympia are within the inlet's watershed, and urban development has contributed to the poor quality of inlet water.


Thurston County has studied the problem and identified bacteria sources including people, dogs, waterfowl and foxes. The biggest culprit may be stormwater that drains into pipes that discharge into creeks flowing into the inlet, Woolrich said.


Stormwater is such a problem in Henderson Inlet that the Health Department typically orders a shellfish shutdown when rainfall exceeds 1 inch, Woolrich said. Until this year, the number of polluted sites on the Health Department's watch list has totaled between 12 and 18.


But water quality has improved in some locations. Since 1995, authorities have allowed producers to resume shellfish harvest on more than 7,000 acres of beds previously plagued by pollution.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Susan Gordon: 253-597-8756
susan.gordon@mail.tribnet.com

RELATED STORY:

State has eye on Willapa oysters

By Eric Apalategui, The Daily News Online


Jul 09, 2003 - 08:17:12 am PDT


Longview, WA - Pollution threatens two oyster-growing areas in Willapa Bay, including prime shellfish beds in the Nahcotta area, which is close to tidal flats that 28 of the bay's 35 growers use for at least part of their aquaculture operations.

Neither the Nahcotta area nor another threatened area near the mouth of the Naselle River has concentrations of fecal coliform bacteria considered high enough to be dangerous to people, so the state Department of Health hasn't restricted shellfish production. However, since 1997 the agency has completely closed three shellfish areas in Puget Sound after conditions worsened.

The state Department of Health put the Willapa regions on a list of places where shellfish growing and harvesting could be threatened by pollution. The list is part of the agency's early warning system that tracks areas "on the verge of failing public health standards," according to an agency document.

"It's kind of a watchlist," said Bob Woolrich, manager of the department's shellfish program. "These areas, for the time being, meet public-health standards, but they're not meeting them easily."

This year, the state's list grew to 20 areas in a record 12 counties in Washington where closures could occur if bacteria increases, including Grays Harbor and many counties around Puget Sound.

The presence of the naturally occurring group of bacteria can indicate a higher risk that people will catch water-borne diseases, including cholera, E.coli and hepatitis, said Wayne Clifford, a public health advisor for the shellfish program.

The agency measured fecal coliform bacteria, a natural bacteria present in the feces of all warm-blooded animals, at levels just high enough in the Nahcotta and Naselle growing areas to land them among the 20 shellfish areas on its "threatened" list. Nine oyster growers use beds in the Naselle area in the southeastern bay, an area that has been deemed "threatened" throughout the list's seven-year history but has never been closed.

A third area, near Bay Center north of the Naselle, had slightly lower levels and remains on a list areas of "concern," Clifford said. Monitoring found the bay's six other test areas are clean.

Washington state is the nation's second-largest producer of all oysters and clams. Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor are among the nation's leaders for farmed oysters, a crop worth about $32 million annually.

Sources of fecal coliform bacteria include untreated sewage or storm water, livestock operations or wildlife. In many places, the pollution source is urban areas or farms, but the source of pollution -- or its solution -- has proved far more elusive for Willapa Bay, which has little livestock or urban development around its shores.

"That's a puzzler there in Pacific County," Clifford said. "We kind of scratch our heads over those (sites)."

A similar mystery was found in Thurston County's Henderson Inlet, where a detailed analysis found sources of fecal coliform as varied as foxes, raccoons, dogs and other pets, waterfowl and failing septic systems -- making it tough to pinpoint who or what was most responsible.

"It's hard to know where to begin fixing a problem like that," said Robin Downey, executive director of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

The number of potential problem sites on the Health Department's list typically falls between 12 and 18. The news isn't all bad this summer, though.

Pollution has declined enough that since 1995, health officials have reopened more than 7,000 acres of shellfish beds that were previously closed to harvest due to pollution.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


 

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