CAMANO ISLAND — A three-year project to clean up the Triangle Cove watershed brought hundreds of property owners together for lessons on protecting their water supply.
As grant funding for the work comes to an end, organizers say results have exceeded expectations.
The Snohomish Conservation District and Island County Public Health received a $400,000 Pollution and Identification Correction grant to improve water quality in Triangle Cove, specifically dealing with bacteria, oxygen levels and acidity. Work started in 2013 and the grant is up at the end of this year.
The goal of the project has been to work with property owners to cut off as many pollution sources as possible. Managing livestock waste, cleaning up after pets, maintaining septic systems and transforming lawns into gardens can make a huge difference when everyone is on board, said Kathryn Wells, who handles community outreach for the Snohomish Conservation District.
The 2,981-acre watershed is bisected by Krisoferson Creek, which flows into Triangle Cove. The cove is on the east side of the island and connects to Port Susan.
“It’s mostly rural watershed,” said Lois Ruskell, spokeswoman for the conservation district. “It’s a lot of small acreage farms, people with a few horses or a llama.”
The Kristoferson Farm, Camaloch Golf Course, Camano Plaza and Barnum Point also fall within the watershed.
The creek and groundwater have had problems with fecal coliform, a bacteria that shows up in water polluted by waste.
“The presence of fecal coliform bacteria isn’t a threat to public health, but it’s an indicator of other, more harmful substances present in the water,” said Kathleen Parvin, environmental health specialist with Island County Public Health.
Those other bacteria are harmful to swimmers or kayakers in contaminated areas. If groundwater becomes too polluted, it’s no longer safe to drink. That wasn’t the case in Triangle Cove, but it could have reached that point if pollution continued, Parvin said.
On Camano Island, groundwater is vital. The island has a sole source aquifer.
“That means we do not have a source of drinking water other than groundwater,” Parvin said. “We don’t use a lake or a river. It’s not just about how much water you can get out of the ground but whether it’s any good.”
There are 906 developed properties in the Triangle Cove watershed, all with septic systems. In February, only 180, or about 20 percent, were up to date on septic inspections, which are required every three years for gravity-based systems and every year for systems with pumps. Inspectors aim to catch leaks or other problems early on, before the system fails.
Now, about 87 percent of property owners — 787 out of 906 — have current inspections.
“Anything above 80 percent is good, as far as I’m concerned,” Parvin said. “We’ve flipped those numbers.”
Of the 607 recent inspections, 138 found problems.
Along with teaching homeowners about septic maintenance, the Triangle Cove project included workshops, newsletters and cost-sharing for projects like rain cisterns or native plant buffers.
Popular workshop topics included “Sound Horsekeeping” and “Lawns to Lettuce,” which teaches people how to transform flat, grassy yards into gardens with edible plants.
This year’s drought piqued public interest in water quality, Wells said.
“Besides water quality, water quantity is going to be a huge issue on the island,” Parvin said. “People are worried, they’re interested, they want to know what they can do.”
County staff plan to continue monitoring water quality at three sites in the watershed, Parvin said.
Officials also hope to use Triangle Cove as a model for more projects on Camano Island.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.