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County continues search for source of harbor pollution

FREELAND — Island County officials said last week it’s still too early to pinpoint the source of pollution that is fouling Holmes Harbor.

Shellfish harvesting at Holmes Harbor has been banned since last year, and the area will remain off-limits for the foreseeable future, county officials said Thursday.

Chris Wilson, resource enhancement manager for Island County, said the county has started a water sampling program to gather data about water that is flowing into the harbor. Eventually, the county hopes to map the source of potential contamination.

The state health department conducted a sanitary survey in late 2006 and found elevated levels of fecal coliform in six watershed drains that feed the harbor.

“The mission behind the response strategies is to reduce fecal coliform that is currently suspected to be in the waterways surrounding Holmes Harbor,” Wilson said.

But Wilson and his water sampling team ran into difficulties early on, he said. Water samples are difficult to get as summer approaches.

“By April, the watershed stops flowing,” he said.

It was not until October that water had begun to flow again and sampling could resume.

“Since then, we’ve intensified our monitoring. We’re starting to move further up in the watershed,” Wilson said.

Wilson said 11 monitoring stations have been set up. “We are starting to paint a picture of what properties contribute water and where.”

Wilson and his team are slowly identifying potential sources of contamination. But, he said, he’s got a long way to go.

“There are a thousand properties within the district,” he said. “And we are going through them parcel by parcel. Isolating those particular properties is going to be difficult. We also are evaluating septic systems and how close the dwellings are to the conveyance of water.”

Wilson is looking for a trend, some pattern that indicates where the contamination is coming from.

“Trend analysis takes a lot of work and patience,” he said. “We’re trying to get enough samples to understand what’s going on.”

County officials said collecting data is just the start to solving the problem of pollution in Holmes Harbor.

“The shellfish protection district is a community problem and requires a community solution,” said Island County Planning Director Jeff Tate.

“It is not anything that one party, governmental or private is going to solve. There is an emphasis on education and outreach, because it is not all about permitting issues or individual land-use activities,” Tate said.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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