Two Whidbey beaches get an F for water quality

  • Tue Oct 5th, 2010 11:54pm
  • News

By Gale Fiege Herald Writer

COUPEVILLE — A California environmental watchdog group says that while most regularly monitored Washington state beaches report good water quality, two on Whidbey Island earned failing grades.

In its first “Beach Report Card,” the Santa Monica-based nonprofit organization Heal the Bay listed bacterial pollution on beaches in California, Oregon and Washington.

Last week, the report noted that 93 percent of monitored beaches in Washington received A or B grades, but three in the state, including the two on Whidbey Island, earned F grades.

The beaches are the Freeland County Park on Holmes Harbor and the west end of Oak Harbor’s City Beach Park. The other polluted beach is in Kitsap County.

Island County public health Director Keith Higman said his department is well aware of the problems at local beaches and his staff indirectly provided the data for the Beach Report Card.

In Freeland, the pollution most likely is a result of failed residential septic systems along the water, and in Oak Harbor, it’s probably because of bird droppings on the beach and dog feces in the stormwater drainage that flows into Oak Harbor, Higman said.

“We acknowledge these beaches. We’re the ones who monitor them,” Higman said. “What their report card doesn’t make clear is that a very small percentage of the state’s beaches were even monitored. Where’s the Duwamish Waterway Park in Seattle?”

That’s not the point, said Heal the Bay microbiologist Amanda Griesbach.

“Our report card is new. We are just trying to get the word out with this pilot project,” Griesbach said. “What we hope is that people will see that more monitoring needs to be funded for all beaches. We hope our free online report eventually can be a tool to help people who are headed out to surf, swim or kayak and need to make choices about safe, clean beaches.”

The state has more than 1,300 beaches along the Salish Sea and the Pacific Ocean that are accessible by the public. Local health departments and the state Department of Ecology administer the water quality monitoring programs.

Heal the Bay examined data from 141 state beaches. Only beaches with weekly monitoring from Memorial Day to Labor Day provide the amount of data needed to assess the water quality, Griesbach said.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, a national group, also issues water quality reports culled from state data, Higman said.

In its “Testing the Waters” publication, the council reported that pollution has decreased on 45 beaches that were regularly monitored from the summer of 2006 through the summer of 2009.

Heal the Bay scientists also were pleased with the data they examined, Griesbach said.

But it doesn’t mean much when not all beaches are tested, Higman said.

“In our county, people have to take responsibility for what goes into our water,” Higman said. “That means scoop your dog’s poop and have your septic (system) tested.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427;