By Kate Kimber, water quality planner
The Drayton Harbor Shellfish Protection District was formed in 1995 by Whatcom County Council in response to the Washington State Department of Health’s closure of shellfish areas due to poor water quality. The purpose of a shellfish protection district is to develop and implement a water quality improvement strategy to address sources of pollution and restore the area for harvesting.
Fecal coliform bacteria pollution is the primary concern in shellfish harvesting areas because it can make shellfish unsafe to eat. Potential sources of fecal coliform bacteria include animal waste from livestock, domestic pets, and wildlife; human sewage from failing septic systems, leaking sewer lines, cross-connections between sewer and stormwater systems, or improper disposal of sewage from boat or RV holding tanks.
On December 1, 2016, after 20 years of continuous effort, the Drayton Harbor community was given some good news from the Washington State Department of Health. With improved water quality, harvesting restrictions were lifted from 810 acres of shellfish growing area in Drayton Harbor. Even with this good news, sustained community engagement in pollution prevention is needed to ensure clean water to keep the shellfish beds open and local waterways safe into the future.
In 2017, this work included water quality monitoring throughout the watershed with the collection and analysis of 1,606 water samples; providing information to watershed residents about fecal coliform bacteria sources and ways to fix problems; contacting landowners to offer technical and financial assistance for small farm practices; improving small farm management to prevent pollution; attending septic system maintenance workshops; identifying and fixing failing septic systems; using boat pump out stations in the two marinas and finally, improving water quality data sharing with the community through a new interactive water quality map.
In 2017, 30 percent of routine monitoring sites had improved water quality.