Fecal coliform persists in surface water

County plans more outreach

Poop is everywhere. Each of the five water quality sampling locations on South Whidbey did not meeting fecal coliform standards, although all of them had either “moderate” to “good” water quality overall, according to a recent report.

Staff from Island County public health last week presented results from the most recent surface water quality report to county commissioners. The document covers results gathered last “water year,” between October 2017 and September 2018, with samples taken at select sites twice per month if surface flow was present.

One South Whidbey site near Freeland Park significantly improved in quality from last year’s results because of a fixed septic system, according to county natural resources staff.

A failed septic field had caused a poor grade in the previous year, but it improved to a “good” water quality index in the most recent report. There is consistent work being done on the septic infrastructure, which impacts surface water quality, said Lori Clark, manager for the county’s Department of Natural Resources.

Runoff with fertilizer, pet waste and storm water can all contribute to negative results, Clark said, and many of the streams monitored are small and easily affected.

Starting Saturday, water quality staff members will be at farmers markets to help inform people of behaviors, such as checking and maintaining septic systems, that help protect watersheds. They’ll also provide information about funding sources for that kind of work. They’ll be in Coupeville on June 29 and at the Bayview market July 13.

A project at a Central Whidbey farm is showing progress in surface water near Ebey’s Landing. However, other factors are still causing a poor water quality index.

Nearly two years ago, a farmer, the National Park Service and the Whidbey Island Conservation District designed and installed an improved stormwater system.

The fecal coliform levels seem to be much better over last year’s results, but turbidity and phosphorous levels worsened. This means there are high levels of sediment in the stream. Nutrient-rich water creates a breeding ground for bacterial and algal blooms, said Watershed Planner Mallory Palatucci.

This is a concern because the stream inputs into the marine water at Ebey’s Landing, where large algal blooms are already a problem, Clark said. The stream goes through open space with little buffering, which is part of the reason it’s picking up so much sediment, said Palatucci.

Ebey’s is one of the core watersheds the team focused on, along with Scatchet Head, Glendale Creek, Penn Cove, Maxwelton, Crescent Harbor and Holmes Harbor.

Going into the next year of sampling, the department will continue to work with the conservation district and property owners to identify and monitor areas of concern. Currently, there are projects going on to protect water around Langley and Lone Lake.

Palatucci said staff will soon start using stream bracketing, which is a method that can produce preliminary results in about 24 hours instead of the three weeks it can take for the traditional method.

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