Gwen Hoops and Kate Kimber climb down the steep gully beneath the Cain Creek bridge, sporting thick waders and hauling heavy scientific equipment in large black cases.
The two women, both in their early 20s, are gathering water samples from the brackish water left at low tide, testing it fecal coliform bacteria and other hazards. This stop is the first of nine Hoops and Kimber will make along Cain Creek throughout the day.
“We’ve found that a lot of people in this area don’t even know Cain Creek exists,” Kimber said. “It’s a little creek, but it’s important.”
Hoops and Kimber are interns with Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA). The two are passionate about maintaining water quality in Blaine. To raise awareness, they are helping organize the first Blaine Water Fest, an event the two hope will become a yearly tradition.
Blaine Water Fest will take place on Sunday, June 7 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Blaine Harbor Boating Center. The free event will feature information booths, kids activities, tours of Drayton Harbor Oyster Company’s oyster beds, raffle prizes and plenty of food donated by local businesses. Drayton Harbor Oyster Company will donate fresh-shucked oysters, and Lummi Island Wild will provide smoked salmon. NSEA is co-sponsoring the event, along with the city of Blaine, the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District and the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE).
Blaine Water Fest is one facet of the Cain Creek Project, a two-year cleanup initiative to lower the rates of harmful bacteria in the creek and make the local water safe for shellfish harvesting. Julie Hirsch, an environmental activist and president of Hirsch Consulting Services, LLC, spearheaded the project. She also leads the Gardens of the Salish Sea curriculum, a program that teaches elementary school children about proper water stewardship.
Hoops and Kimber have been active participants in the Cain Creek Project since it launched earlier this year. DOE studies have shown Drayton Harbor and Cain Creek contain particularly high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, which originate from mammal feces and can sometimes carry pathogens. A 2010 DOE study concluded that Cain Creek would require a 95 percent reduction in fecal coliform before the water reached acceptable levels. The aim of the Cain Creek Project is to achieve those levels. Kimber and Hoops come to Blaine to collect samples once a month. Kimber said the project is going well, but it’s still too early for any conclusive data.
“We’ve seen a bit of a drop, but we’re not even a year into the project,” she said. “We just need to keep working at it and keep raising awareness.”
The city and the community have demonstrated their support for the project. Earlier this year, the city council approved the purchase of a new robotic sewer camera, which will travel through the network of sewer pipes looking for leaks that may be contributing to the fecal coliform levels. On April 25, a group of about 20 volunteers helped clean up the creek behind the public library. Volunteers hauled more than a ton of garbage out of the creek, everything from a tires and television sets to a wadded-up above-ground pool.
Sponsors of Water Fest are asking participants to take part in the Clean Water Community Challenge, a list of eco-friendly activities and alternatives to help preserve the water quality. Participants in the challenge will be entered into a raffle to win one of several prizes.“We hope people will be more aware of their impact on the water,” Hoops said.
For more information on Blaine Water Fest, visit the city of Blaine’s website at ci.blaine.wa.us.