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Holmes Harbor: An uphill fight with downhill pollution

The battle goes on to reduce pollution threatening shellfish in Holmes Harbor as county officials kick off a series of public information meetings on the subject this week.

“There certainly is still evidence of fecal contamination,” said Jan Smith, watershed project manager with Island County Planning and Community Development. “And there’s still no smoking gun, unfortunately.”

“But there have been changes for the better,” she said, pointing to the county health department’s lifting of a ban on swimming and wading in the harbor this past September.

She attributes any improvements to public awareness.

“The more we work to get the word out, the more successful we can be,” she said.

Smith monitors the South Holmes Harbor Shellfish Protection District, which was formed two years ago March 5 in an effort to curb toxic substances carried by rain, snow melt and other fresh-water surface runoff flowing into the harbor at Freeland.

The first of four community update meetings in 2009 on the progress of the district’s efforts will be from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26, at Trinity Lutheran’s Grigware Hall in Freeland.

Subsequent meetings will be in May, July and October.

The shellfish protection district is sheds totaling 1.56 square miles.

It was formed in 2007 after the state Department of Health banned shellfish harvesting in the area. That action followed testing prompted by an application seeking to harvest geoducks commercially.

Smith said the county’s Water Quality Monitoring program continues to focus on the four most-populated areas near the harbor, concentrating on six original “pour points” where fresh water enters marine water.

The three-person monitoring team has since moved up the watersheds to evaluate other locations as well, Smith said.

County officials say there is no known single activity responsible for the fecal matter in the fresh-water runoff. They suspect a combination of problems, including those caused by failed septic systems, pet waste, livestock manure and even wildlife droppings.

Smith said officials believe the most effective weapon in the fight against pollution is public education.

“We want to encourage people to take action now,” she said. “Let’s get in there and get this problem taken care of.”

District officials are urging rural dwellers in the watershed to keep livestock manure under cover, and everyone to discourage wildlife from areas where droppings can mix with runoff, and to contain and filter rainwater on their property.

For information on Thursday’s community meeting, the septic training program and other aspect of the clean-up effort, call Smith at 321-5111, ext. 7987 or e-mail workshop@co.island.wa.us.

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