Holmes Harbor pollution eases

The tainted waters at the south end of Holmes Harbor have improved dramatically, leading to the possibility they will be declared safe for swimming, wading and shellfish harvesting later this year.

Pollution levels in Holmes Harbor are considerably lower

The tainted waters at the south end of Holmes Harbor have improved dramatically, leading to the possibility they will be declared safe for swimming, wading and shellfish harvesting later this year.

Warning signs posted at Freeland County Park have long declared “the current conditions at this beach are not suitable for recreational water activities. Small children and people chronically ill people are at higher risk for increased illness.”

One sign flatly states “no swimming” and “no wading,” and another bans clamming entirely. Monday was one of the lowest tides of the year, at minus 3.4 feet, and the acres of clam grounds were devoid of clam diggers, no doubt making for happy clams.

It was high fecal coliform test results that forced the beach closure. In 2006, a shellfish protection district was created by the state Department of Health, working with the Island County Health Department and area residents. A concerted effort began to clean up the waters flowing into the south end of Holmes Harbor.

With help from the Whidbey Island Conservation District, the cleanup took years. They made sure small hobby farms weren’t contributing to the problem. The county publicized the need for dog walkers to pick up after their pets, making waste bags available at the park. And homeowners around Holmes Harbor were particularly encouraged to comply with the county’s new septic ordinance, requiring inspections every three years for most septic tank owners, but every year for those living near the water. Inspection rates are far higher than the county average.

“The water quality in the drainage has significantly improved,” said Jule Schultz, restoration lead for the project with the state. “They did a great job.”

“The concerns we have now are summer time use,” he added. “We have to make sure the marine waters are clean. You guys have a lot of stuff that washes up on that beach.” There was a red tide Monday, but usually those are not considered dangerous.

The county will continue testing the waters this summer with hopes of opening the area to banned recreational uses as early as this fall. “We are very optimistic there will be an upgrade later this year to some form of opening,” said Jill Wood, Island County’s environmental health director, last week.

Wood noted that the state ordered the closure and will decide when to open the waters to swimming and wading.

“We’ve been actively working in the watershed since 2007,” Wood added, also mentioning the septic, farming and pet dropping programs. Homeowners are also urged to use proper lawn care and car care to avoid pollution runoff problems.

“We’ve taken a proactive role in the watershed,” she said.

A newsletter from Island County Public Health will soon be sent to residents of the shellfish protection district informing them of the good news of the latest test results. From 2010 to 2012, fecal coliform has dropped 70 percent at the Freeland Park storm water outfall, 64 percent at the Freeland Creek beach outfall, 60 percent at the Woodard Avenue beach outfall, and 82 percent at the storm water outfall on Shoreview Drive. The only increase was a 15 percent jump at the wetland outfall at Shoreview Drive.

Schultz said the state Department of Fish and Wildlife controls clam digging. “They manage that resource,” he said. “But I think it will be opened for at least part of the year.”

Schultz, in the newsletter, tells residents that “the significant pollution control work that has been completed in the uplands by the local shellfish protection district and the county warrants an evaluation of the shellfish growing area.”

Once the current summer water testing is complete, Schultz stated, “We are optimistic the area will be upgraded.”

By fall, perhaps, the Holmes Harbor clams won’t be quite so happy.

More in News

Icy roads lead to six crashes on Thursday

It was an unlucky day for South Whidbey drivers on Thursday morning… Continue reading

Critics reignite issues with The Machine Shop in Langley

Patience is wearing thin among some of The Machine Shop’s critics. Three… Continue reading

New Island County contract brings more WSU programs

As of March 1, Washington State University Extension, Island County will serve… Continue reading

Man who burned down two homes pleads guilty to lesser charge

A man who started a fire that burned down two homes on… Continue reading

Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group
                                Deputy Marshal Leif Haugen reads to second grader Colby Terry in the library of Coupeville Elementary School. Haugen is part of the recently launched “Bigs with Badges” program at Big Brother Big Sisters that pairs children in the community with law enforcement officers.
Bigs with Badges: Connecting with kids

On a typical Tuesday afternoon, students and staff at Coupeville Elementary School… Continue reading

Historical society to lead presentation about Gabelein family history

Pick up a local phone book. Thumb to the page with the… Continue reading

Van driver accused of ramming pickup truck

The driver of a van is accused of chasing down a car… Continue reading

South End getting first drug treatment center

Freeland will soon be home to the first medicaid-funded substance use disorder… Continue reading

Langley man airlifted after rollover crash

A Langley resident was airlifted for treatment after rolling his 1995 Ford… Continue reading

Most Read