BELLINGHAM — On August 5, 2016 an additional 300 acres of the Portage Bay shellfish growing area were downgraded by the Washington State Department of Health from “Approved” to “Conditionally Approved” due to high fecal coliform bacteria levels in marine waters. This additional downgrade results in a total of approximately 800 acres under a seasonal closure from April through June and October through December each year. Portage Bay provides commercial, ceremonial, and subsistence shellfish harvest for members of the Lummi Nation.
The Nooksack River and its tributaries are the primary freshwater sources to Portage Bay. The health of the bay is threatened by bacteria pollution that runs downstream and empties into the bay. Currently, only 16% of the water quality sites in the Nooksack River watershed meet standards for fecal coliform bacteria. When bacteria levels in the creeks and river are high, it can result in high bacteria levels in marine waters.
Whatcom County and its partners, including the Washington Departments of Agriculture, Ecology, and Health, Whatcom Conservation District, Lummi Nation, and the Nooksack Tribe have implemented a pollution identification and correction (PIC) program and are working with landowners throughout the Nooksack watershed to identify and address sources of fecal coliform bacteria impacting the river, its tributaries, and Portage Bay.
Potential sources of bacteria in the Nooksack River watershed and bay include 1) animal waste from livestock, domestic pets, and wildlife and 2) human sewage from failing septic systems, leaking sewers, or cross-connections.
Residents can help improve the community’s water quality by inspecting and maintaining septic systems and by fencing animals out of creeks, ditches and swales. By actively managing manure applications, rotating pastures, creating protected heavy use areas and covering manure storage areas, residents can prevent manure-contaminated mud from polluting surface water. Planting shrubs and trees along creek banks and picking up after dogs also contribute to better water quality.
For more information, visit the Whatcom County Public Works- Natural Resources website at: http://www.co.whatcom.wa.us/1072/Water-Quality.