Snook Brook Farms of Ferndale has been identified as one of the main points of origin of the fecal coliform bacteria contamination in Terrell Creek, which resulted in a beach closure near where the creek empties into the south end of Birch Bay.
The beach has been closed since January 31 after routine sampling showed very high counts of fecal coliform in the creek from the Kickerville Road bridge down to the creek’s mouth.
Fecal coliform is found in the waste of warm-blooded animals and accumulates in shellfish. People are warned to stay away from contaminated water because contact could cause gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper-respiratory infections and other illnesses. Pets also should be kept out of the water. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.
The Washington Department of Agriculture (DOA) has been taking steps to help the farm mitigate the contamination. “We’ve been working with the dairy since Whatcom County informed us of this problem,” said Hector Castro, spokesperson for the DOA.
“It’s a challenging time for most of the dairies on the western side of the state because we’ve been getting so much rain. That rainfall elevates the level of storage in lagoons, and containers and dairies are struggling to contain the matter.”
Castro said some of the contamination stemmed from manure containers overflowing. “There was just too much manure and it spilled over and reached the water,” he said.
The DOA issued an action order for the 70-head herd dairy farm, requiring them to move enough of the liquid manure to ensure they had the capacity for 25,000 gallons, take measures to control field erosion and plan to provide adequate manure storage. Snook Brook Farms had until March 7 to comply.
Owner Seth Snook said he has followed the DOA’s mandates and he believes the problem is now under control. “I’ve been the owner here for eight years, and my grandpa has had the farm since 1963,” Snook said. “This is the first time anything like this has happened.” Snook said other dairies in the area helped him haul away the excess manure. “There were several times this winter that we would have normally applied the manure to our fields, but with the weather we had to hold off,” he said. “We knew it was going to be tight, but weren’t expecting so much rain.”
Castro said inspectors took samples from the waterway and looked at the levels along each point to determine the source of origin. “It’s a process of elimination,” Castro said. “Upstream you won’t find things, but downstream you will.”
The DOA will continue its investigation, which will take a few months to complete. “There could be more enforcement actions, including financial penalties,” Castro said.