Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) and the Jefferson County Conservation District (JCCD) is set to monitor water quality in Chimacum and Ludlow creeks over the next three years.
An open house in October kicked off a $410,000 water-quality project funded by the state Department of Ecology titled Hood Canal Priority Basins. The program is for homeowners with septic systems within the Chimacum and Ludlow Creek basins.
The health department expects to conduct a neighborhood-by- neighborhood survey and contact about 400 residents, according to Jared Keefer, JCPH environmental health and water quality director.
The project target is to find a major source of non-point pollution to area streams and shorelines: fecal coliform bacteria, which comes from failing septic systems, agricultural runoff and stormwater.
“Chimacum Basin has been the subject of several water-quality studies since the 1970s,” said Anna Bachmann with the water quality team. “Unfortunately, portions of the creek are on the state’s list of impaired streams. In 2011-12, the last year that Chimacum Creek was monitored, 25 of 28 stations failed portions of Ecology’s fecal coliform standard.”
There have been no basin-wide studies of the Ludlow Creek basin; the Hood Canal Priority Basins project will be the first to do this.
There has been debate over where the bacteria pollution is coming from, as the Chimacum Basin, for example, contains both residential communities and livestock operations, health officials note.
In the last year of the Chimacum Creek study, DNA testing was done on the different strains of fecal bacteria that were found in the stream in order to identify whether the sources were from humans or ruminants (i.e., cows, sheep, deer, etc.).
Glenn Gately, water quality and fish habitat biologist with the the conservation district who was involved in much of the work on Chimacum Creek, stated, “Ruminant sources were frequently found, but surprisingly, 19 out of 20 of the sampling locations tested positive for human bacteria, while only 10 of the 20 sampling locations tested positive for ruminants.”
The county started permitting septic systems in the 1970s. Given that the lifespan of a well-maintained system is between 20 and 30 years, there are a lot of systems in these areas that may be failing and contributing to public health and water-quality problems, public health officials say.
In Port Ludlow, much of the community around the Ludlow Bay is served by a sewer system, but there are still more than 300 septic systems in the basin, many of them older.
OPTIONS FOR HOMEOWNERS
There are a number of resources that homeowners can pursue to protect both water quality and their property value, health officials are quick to note.
The open house introduced landowners to representatives from the Craft3 Clean Water Loan Program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture programs for single-family housing repair loans and grants.
Jena Ross of Craft3 discussed an affordable-loan program that covers the cost of designing, permitting, installing and maintaining septic systems.
Laura Capo of the USDA Rural Development Program introduced both loan and grant programs available for anything from septic system repair to home weatherization to housing repair and construction. Homeowners can learn more about these resources on the Craft3 website, craft3.org, and on the USDA website, rd.usda.gov/wa.
IN THE STREAMS
Over the course of the Hood Canal Priority Basins project, officials will be in the streams collecting water-quality samples and in neighborhoods conducting sanitary surveys and providing homeowners with information on how to maintain septic systems as well as available financial resources for septic repairs.
The ultimate goal of this project is to protect shellfish beds, salmon streams and public health by improving water quality.
Contact JCPH at 385-9444 and the JCCD at 385-4105 for more information.