DOE, county staff begin monitoring saltwater beaches across the state

Published on Wed, May 30, 2012 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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Volunteers and staff from Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) and the Whatcom County health department have begun summer-long monitoring of high-use saltwater beaches in Whatcom County, including Birch Bay.

The 2012 Beach Environmental Assessment, Communication and Health (BEACH) program monitors 64 high-use beaches statewide. BEACH program coordinator Julie Lowe said volunteers and health officials from nine jurisdictions will test each of the beaches for bacteria levels weekly until Labor Day.

Whatcom County health officials and volunteers will monitor the Birch Bay beach across from the intersection of Birch Bay Drive and Harborview Road, in addition to three other beaches in the county. The main goal of the BEACH program is to monitor water quality and notify the public when bacteria levels are high, though BEACH program staff do work with county and state agencies to identify and correct significant sources of bacteria, Lowe explained.

Main sources of bacteria on saltwater beaches include sewage overflows, malfunctioning septic systems and pet and wildlife waste, Lowe said. While many wildlife species defecate in saltwater, Lowe said waste from domesticated animals, such as dogs and cows, often have higher levels of bacteria.

 “Cows and dogs actually carry more bacteria in their gut than other animals do,” she said.

The BEACH program, which started in Washington in 2004, is also going on in 30 coastal states across the United States, Lowe said. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) manages and funds the program nationwide.

 “We are 100 percent funded through the EPA,” Lowe said.

To learn more about the BEACH program, visit www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/eap/beach.