On January 31, the Washington State Department of Health issued a closure for the area of Birch Bay located at the mouth of Terrell Creek due to high bacteria counts found in the Terrell Creek outflow. Terrell Creek discharges at the south end of Birch Bay.
“Whatcom County Public Works, working in conjunction with the department of health (DOH) and the department of ecology, collected samples last week to test the quality of the water,” said Tom Kunesh, Whatcom County Health Department environmental health supervisor. “They found extremely high bacterial counts that exceeded our water contact threshold, and on Saturday the DOH posted signs warning people to stay out of the water.”
Kunesh said the area is tested regularly to identify sources of contamination and to protect water quality and public health.
He said the contamination could be caused by a number of things, such as the impacts from raising livestock, the management of compost piles or the spreading of fertilizer. “It’s too early to tell what the source might be, but it could be any kind of discharge of organic material from the land into the drainage ditches,” Kunesh said.
Terrell Creek is a point of focus of water quality for the state department of health because it has been closed for commercial shellfish harvesting. “This closure doesn’t affect the entire bay,” Kunesh said. “It’s just that immediate area of Terrell Creek that doesn’t meet water quality standards.”
Kunesh said they have taken additional samples and will be conducting further tests on the bay.
Officials said people should steer clear of the water until further notice, because contact with contaminated water can cause gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections and other illnesses. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.