Will it get clean enough to eat?

Published on Thu, Jan 31, 2002 by Meg Olson

Read More News

Will it get clean enough to eat?

By Meg Olson

Hundreds of oyster fanciers and clean water fans came to the Drayton Harbor Shellfish Protection District Advisory Committee’s (DHSPDAC) open house last weekend to try and learn more about the tangled web of possible sources of and solutions to pollution in the harbor.

“Let’s try and make sense of all this and get it together as one body of work we can deal with as a community,” said committee chairman Geoff Menzies. Over a dozen groups, from state agencies to citizen’s organizations and tribes, have their hand in water quality issues in Drayton Harbor, and at least four different groups are independently gathering data about fecal coliform levels in the harbor and fresh water sources that feed it. Menzies hopes bringing all the data together will help focus efforts to clean up the water and eventually encourage the state department of health to resume monthly testing in the harbor that could lead to it being reopened to shellfish harvesting.

While Menzies talked pollution inside, Charlie Hawkins cooked up an endless stream of oysters outside. Courtesy of Blau Oyster Company in Samish Bay, the oysters were an edible reminder of what could be harvested in Blaine if water quality improves enough to upgrade the harbor for shellfish growing.

Through a Puget Sound Restoration Fund project, a volunteer community oyster farm has seeded two acres of prime Drayton Harbor mud. “That’s the magic of Drayton Harbor,” said Menzies, proudly holding up a cluster of oysters that look almost ready to eat. “They’ve got to fatten up now,” he said. Even more importantly, the harbor needs to be cleaned up in the three years before they need to be harvested.

The shellfish advisory district has been working on improving water quality in the harbor since the state first closed a portion of the harbor in 1995. The entire harbor is now a prohibited growing area. Is it feasible to think enough progress to clean up the water can be made in three years when the last six have seen it get worse?

“There are a lot of people stepping up to this issue now,” said Betsy Peabody from the Puget Sound Restoration Fund. “I think it can happen. Other efforts have fallen short because they’ve skirted around the big things. “If we’re able to get support for a regional sewer we have a chance.”

Mary Hrutfiord, whose family has cattle on land bordering one of the creeks that flow into the harbor, believes there was a limit to what can be done about fecal coliform pollution, that can come from everything from seals to humans. “We’re doing our part, we’ve got all our ducks lined up, but there are natural processes going on. I don’t know if it can be cleaned up.”

Hawkins, a member of the advisory committee, was also cautious. “I don’t know,” he said. “We’re making progress but a lot of things need to happen.” At the top of Hawkins’ list of priorities were tackling high fecal coliform levels in the marina and improving stormwater control and treatment.

Fellow committee member Bjorn Hrutfiord was skeptical that the harbor could be cleaned up in time for the oyster harvest but felt eventually the problem would be solved. Hrutfiord laid some of the blame for the closure on the state department of health’s method for determining whether a body of water is safe for growing shellfish. “If you’re bad they go away and stop taking samples, so how do you get the door back open?” he asked. “There’s not only a problem in the water but on the shore.”

The state department of health (DOH) requires growing areas to meet the state standard for the most recent 30 samples taken from 12 stations in the harbor. Once a body of water is classed as prohibited, testing is dropped from once a month to every other month until major steps are taken to solve the problem.

DOH shellfish specialist Don Lennartson said they are now taking six samples a year but he’s working to increase the frequency. “Generally I think things are looking better and better,” he said. “I believe the steps that have been taken, especially by the city and the county conservation corps along the creeks, are beginning to make a difference. A lot of the high values are residual from previous years.”

County council member Seth Fleetwood applauded DHSPDAC efforts but wondered if they could do much more without additional resources. “If the efforts of the DHSPDAC thus far can’t do it, then I might say it can’t happen,” he said. “They’re being so comprehensive they need help.”
Ami Stillin, newly appointed shellfish coordinator for the county, was cautiously optimistic. “I think it’s good to shoot for a goal,” she said. “It helps to get more people motivated and then maybe we can get more done.”

David Riley, a volunteer oyster farmer and member of Friends of Semiahmoo Bay used a baseball metaphor. “It’s like the last innings of a game. We hope we’re going to pull through if we get enough good people on the team.” .

Back to Top