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Beaches monitored for water quality

A sunny day with a low tide brought this pair to the beach at Freeland. While it’s too early for swimming, Melinda Munson and daughter, Julia, were able to dig their limit of clams. - Gayle Saran
A sunny day with a low tide brought this pair to the beach at Freeland. While it’s too early for swimming, Melinda Munson and daughter, Julia, were able to dig their limit of clams.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

Safe swimming means more than knowing how or where to swim. It also means making sure the water won’t make swimmers sick. That’s why the Island County Health Department will be testing water for bacteria at five popular beaches beginning this month.

Called the BEACH program, it is funded by the state departments of Ecology and Health.

Kathleen Parvin, environmental specialist for the county health department said the BEACH program is for marine beaches only. Fresh water lakes are monitored under a separate program.

Island County received $12,000 from the state to fund this year’s program at five popular marine parks from May 31 through Sept. 16. One-half of the funds will be used for laboratory testing fees.

The five county beaches slated for weekly monitoring are Dave Mackie in Clinton, Freeland Park on Holmes Harbor, Oak Harbor City Park and Lagoon and Cavalero beach on the east side of Camano Island.

Parvin said the beaches were selected based on popularity.

Water quality will be monitored for an indicator organism call enterococci.

“The bacteria is an indicator for the risk of getting a gastrointestinal or upper respiratory illness from swimming in marine waters,” Parvin said.

Pollution can come from sewage treatment plant problems, boating waste, malfunctioning septic systems and animal waste.

Island County has participated in the program since it began in 2003 and health officials say since the inception of the BEACHES program, Island County beaches tested have met water quality standards.

The same five parks and Fort Ebey were monitored through the program in 2004.

“Fort Ebey is not on this year’s list because of its excellent water quality,” Parvin said.

There are more beaches along the 212 miles of shoreline on Whidbey and Camano that Parvin would like to monitor.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t funding to check more areas,” she said. “We can only do so many.”

Washington state has over 3,500 miles of coastal waters with 900 public recreational beaches. Seventy-two were identified this year as priority beaches for monitoring. These were chosen based on the number of people swimming, scubas diving, surfing or wading.

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