Shellfishharvest resumes after spill

Published on Thu, May 5, 2005 by eg Olson

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Shellfish harvest resumes after spill

By Meg Olson

Shellfish harvesting in Drayton Harbor started up again this week after a manure spill in the California Creek drainage basin closed harvesting and even led to the recall of Community Oyster Farm product that had been shipped to China.

“It was a bit of a tangled mess,” said Don Lennartson, shellfish specialist with the state department of health. Lennartson said he heard of the problem on Thursday, April 21, two days after a woman walking her dog along California creek alerted the state department of ecology (DOE) to a smell and odd color in the water. Lennartson said the DOE investigators were tracking down the source of the pollution when a report from a local dairy led them to the problem.

Nora Mena, program manager for the Livestock Nutrient Management Program with the state department of agriculture said they weren’t sure how long the manure lagoon at Ro-Dar Farms on Church Road in Ferndale had been leaking. “Sometime on Wednesday, April 20 was the first report there might be something out there,” she said, and the dairy called in to report the leak the next day. “We were able to confirm the drainages do connect to the creek,” Mena said.

Mena explained that the dairy, like many others, uses a lagoon to store manure from the cows during the winter for application as fertilizer during the growing season. The manure lagoon in this case was almost full when the dike enclosing it began to give way. “Apparently there was a weak spot at the top of the dike so it started to ooze out,” Mena said. “There was a slow but steady release over at least 24 hours.” Lennartson said they estimate the 300 by 100 foot manure lagoon leaked at least 250,000 gallons of liquefied cow manure.

The manure that leaked from the lagoon crossed a field, seeped into ditches and eventually made it’s way into California Creek and flowed into Drayton Harbor, where the local community oyster farm was harvesting oysters to ship to a client in China. “It kind of worked its way through the countryside – 6.5 creek miles,” Lennartson said.
By the time the information worked its way to health authorities and oyster farm coordinator Geoff Menzies the oysters had already been shipped, potentially contaminated with fecal bacteria. “Without any solid information at the time we didn’t have any choice but to put a closure on it and do a recall,” Lennartson said. “As far as I know health officials in Hong Kong were able to find the shipment and it did not get into the food supply.”

Mena said the dairy and her department took steps to stop the leak and there has been no release since April 21. There remains some concern about accumulation of manure in the field that could be washed into the creek by rainfall, but her department’s first priority is to stop the spill from recurring. “The primary point for us is making sure the lagoon is safe and preventing it in the future,” she said. They will also consider what, if any, penalties the dairy will face. “We have several enforcement actions which include the possibility of a penalty,” she said. Agronomist Fred Likkel, a consultant to the farm, said steps had been taken to prevent a recurrence. “It’s already been done,”
Lennartson said they are reopening the harbor for shellfish harvest after the 10-day closure because the oysters have had time to purge themselves of contaminants they may have accumulated from the tainted creek water. Menzies and volunteer oyster farmers started their harvest again May 4, working to get the remaining third of the crop harvested in the next two months. The community oyster farm lost $3,000 between the oysters that were recalled and the sales they had to miss during the closure, Menzies said, “they are also waiting for a bill from their distributor for costs associated with the recall and destruction of the product sold in China. “The buyer had air freight, repackaging, labor costs on that end,” Menzies said. “I’m waiting to get a damage assessment.”

Menzies is hoping the department of agriculture will look at reducing monetary penalties to the farm if Ro-Dar Farms agrees to help cover some of the cost to the community oyster farm, which uses profits to work towards improving water quality. “I’ve met with the dairy farmer. I knew it was an accident and just explained what the impact was on us,” Menzies said. “My hope is we can resolve it farmer to farmer.”