Cain Creek cleanup project gains momentum


By Steve Guntli

Dedicated citizens and environmental organizations are getting serious about restoring Cain Creek.

Julie Hirsch is the president of Hirsch Consulting Services, LLC, and a longtime advocate for improving water quality. She has worked in the watershed since 1999 with the goal of improving the water quality in Drayton Harbor, Semiahmoo Bay and Cain Creek. On March 4, Hirsch held a public meeting to present the details of the Drayton Harbor/Semiahmoo Bay Water Quality Enhancement Project, which she has shortened to the Cain Creek Project.

“The scope of the project does include some areas outside of the creek, but we’re focusing most of our energy on Cain Creek,” Hirsch said.

The Cain Creek Project officially began last fall, and has a two-year scope. Using a grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE), Hirsch Consulting Services is partnering with Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) as well as Environmental Science Associates (ESA), an environmental consulting firm from Seattle. The goal of the project is to improve water quality, encourage shellfish production and raise awareness of the problems the watershed experiences.

Cain Creek flows over one square mile through the center of Blaine. For years, the creek has shown abnormally high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. Fecal coliform bacteria are found in the stomachs of warm-blooded animals and can be indicators of pathogens. According to the DOE, the acceptable levels of fecal coliform bacteria in freshwater is 50 colonies per milliliter, and 14 colonies per milliliter for marine bodies where shellfish harvesting occurs. A 2010 DOE study showed the creek would need a 95 percent reduction in bacteria levels before it would be within acceptable levels.

Hirsch hopes to see a reduction in bacteria levels similar to that of Drayton Harbor, which was closed to commercial shellfish harvesting for much of the 1990s due to bacteria, but is now open. Hirsch points to the recently opened Drayton Harbor Oyster Company storefront as a great reason for the community to get invested in water quality.

“Having that business open up in town is a great indicator of what’s been done in Drayton Harbor,” she said. “It’s exciting, and it gives the community a real reason to care.”

Hirsch said pet waste is one of the largest contributors to fecal coliform bacteria in the creek. In response, the city will be installing five pet waste stations along the creek. Hirsch said the city has not decided where to put the stations yet, but welcomes input from pet owners.

In addition to animal sources, the study also showed human DNA markers in the samples, possibly indicating a leaking sewer pipe. The city of Blaine recently approved the purchase of a robotic sewer camera, which will travel the length of the city’s sewer system, identifying cracks in the pipe. Bill Bullock, assistant director of public works, said the new camera is a smart investment for the city.

“For the first time we’ll have robotic capabilities,” Bullock said. “Pipes have seams every 10 feet, and you can have cracks or root intrusion. With this camera we can get up close and get a 360-degree image of the pipe. Right now, the city only has a push camera, which we can only use if something has already gone wrong. We’re reacting to the failures instead of proactively preventing them. This new camera will help us be proactive, and doing maintenance is much cheaper than repairing a catastrophic failure.”

The sewer camera will be used in the future to monitor the 62 miles of sewer lines throughout the city. The city conducts these inspections every four years.

NSEA researchers will be testing the water quality at various points along the creek on a monthly basis. This will help researchers identify problem areas and respond accordingly. The DOE will analyze samples for DNA markers near the end of the study. Hirsch hopes by that time the human DNA markers will be almost entirely eliminated.

In addition to overseeing the ongoing creek cleanup projects, Hirsch will be hosting the Gardens of the Salish Sea program. The program, which started in 2012, takes Blaine Elementary fifth graders out into the harbor each spring to learn about shellfish harvesting and how to be better stewards of water quality. Hirsch partners with the Drayton Harbor Oyster Company and the Plover ferry to teach the kids.

“This program is great because we’re really turning to the younger generation and giving them a chance to be leaders,” Hirsch said.

The Gardens of the Salish Sea curriculum will ask students to take part in the Clean Water Community Challenge, a list of daily activities  to lessen the human impact on the watershed.

To follow the progress of the Cain Creek Project, or to sign up for the Clean Water Community Challenge, visit

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