High levels of bacteria from human and animals feces are polluting some areas of Oakland Bay. This poses a health risk leading to recent restrictions on shellfish harvesting and recreational activities in parts of Oakland Bay. As per state law, the Mason County Board of Commissioners responded within 60 days of the shellfish restrictions with a plan to correct pollution problems. This plan has been published. If you are interested in a copy it is available on-line.
A copy of the plan is also available from Mason County Public Health- call 360.427.9670 x 581 if you would like to receive a copy.
What is right with Oakland Bay?
The good news is there is an action plan in place and corrective actions happening on the ground to address these issues. The Oakland Bay Watershed also has a 6% impervious surface rate. This means materials like cement, asphalt, roofs, and compacted soil are at a minimum in this area and allow water to percolate in to the ground, rather then running off and picking up contaminants (such as yard chemicals, pet waste, oil etc) on its way to the bay. The amount of impervious surface grows with increasing urbanization which means that as Oakland Bay grows it is important to keep these effects in mind.
What is being done to address these issues?
The Oakland Bay Action Plan was published in August of 2007. Stakeholders, agencies and organizations are now in the process of implementing those actions and more that were identified in the Plan to help reduce pollution sources. The committee includes: Mason County, Taylor Shellfish Farms, INC, Squaxin Island Tribe, Mason Conservation District, Area Residents, Washington Departments of Health, Ecology and Agriculture, Puget Sound Partnership, Washington Sea Grant, Washington State University Extension Mason County and the Environmental Protection Agency.
What is Fecal Coliform and why is it bad for water quality?
Fecal coliform bacteria comes from the waste of warm blooded animals including people, pets, livestock, and wildlife. If these bacteria are in the water it indicates the presence of other bacteria and viruses associated with feces might also be present. People who are exposed to these pathogens through small cuts, by swallowing a little water, or by eating shellfish harvested from contaminated water have an increased risk of illness. That might mean an earache, rash, or something much more serious like Hepatitis A.
What about wildlife as a source for fecal coliform?
Wildlife can be a source of fecal coliform bacteria. However, Health and Environmental Agencies have been sampling Oakland Bay regularly for sources of pollution. Over time, the amount of fecal coliform has been increasing, but wildlife populations have not. The last two years of water sampling identified a sudden increase in bacteria levels in the marine waters of Oakland Bay. Average levels of bacteria in the summer at the head of the bay were 12 times greater in 2006 in 2004. DNA testing has also demonstrated that bacteria from human and animal waste were present in over two-thirds of the water samples collected during the summer of 2006. Without knowledge of sudden increase of wildlife in the area over the last few years, wildlife is suspected to be a portion of the problem but not capable of “tipping the scales.”
What does a Clean Water District/ Shellfish Protection District mean to me?
The Oakland Bay Action Plan, published in 2007 and available on this website- prioritizes actions that we will take to stop human and animal feces from flowing to the bay. These actions may affect you differently depending on where you live.
If you own a septic system in the Oakland Bay Clean Water District you will be asked to cooperate with septic system evaluations. If your septic system is failing you are required to repair or replace it. Technical and financial assistance is available to you.
If livestock manure flows off of your property in the Oakland Bay Clean Water District: you will be asked to adopt farming practices which will reduce pollution. You can receive voluntary technical and potentially financial suport for farm planning from the Mason Conservation District.
If you live in, work in or visit Mason County: You will have the confidnce that Oakland Bay waters are safe and healthy.
Can I get involved?
Absolutely- currently the Oakland Bay Advisory Group meets the first Wednesday of the month, generally at the Shelton Civic Center. Members of the public are welcome to attend meeting. It is also possible, when openings are available, to become a voting member of the Advisory committee. For an advisory board application, click here
Are there other Clean Water Districts/Shellfish Protection Districts in the County?
There is one other current Shellfish Protection District in Mason County-around the Great Bend of Hood Canal in Annas Bay. Mason County Public Health currently coordinates the clean up plan for Annas Bay 360.427.9670)
What can I do to help on my propety:
Pet Waste: Get into the habit of saving used grocery sacks and picking up pet waste in your yard once a week or so. Double bag it and put it in the garbage. Once you get into the habit, it will be easy to keep up with, plus you and your family can enjoy your yard more!
On-Site Septic System Maintenance: Keep up with your scheduled inspections and pumping on your septic system...this will likely help you avoid otherwise costly repairs. Do not put things down the drain that your septic system in not designed to treat (like garbage disposal matter, kitty litter or diapers!). Have questions? Dont hesitate to call Mason County Public Health to find out the answer. You can also attend a workshop specifically geared towards septic system operation and maintenance. Call WSU Extension at 427.9670 x 682 or WA Sea Grant at 432.3084 to find out when the next class is near you.
Livestock Manure Management: The folks at the Mason Conservation District are here to help with innovative solutions for improving the ways you manage manure on your property. Want to schedule a site visit? Have a farm plan written specific to your property? Call 427.9436.
Vegetation: Especially near waterbodies and at the bases of hills on your property, encourage native vegetation to grow. This helps to filter pollutants and control run-off. Native plants are easy to use and can be beautifully incorporated into almost any landscape! For some ideas check out this website: http://gardening.wsu.edu/text/nwnative.htm on identifying, growing and landscaping with native plants.
Who can I call about?
Shellfish Harvesting/Safety: The Washington State Department of Health Shellfish Safety Hotline- 1800-562-5632. Interested in having oysters tested from your own beach? Call Teri King at Sea Grant 432.3054
Residential Composting: Want to learn how easy and fun composting can be? You can potentially even cut down on your garbage bill! Call Tracy Farrell at City of Shelton 432-5126
What about the Sewage Treatment Plant Outfall?
The City of Shelton operates a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) under state and federal water pollution control laws. The WWTP must comply with strict requirements that are defined in City’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Waste Discharge Permit. The permit lists specific parameters allowed in the discharge into Hammersley Inlet, closely linked with Oakland Bay, that include Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD), Total Suspended Solids, Fecal Coliform Bacteria, pH, and total residual chlorine. The discharge (“effluent”) is through a pipe with a diffuser located in the center of Hammersley Inlet channel at a depth of 40 feet. The City, under the Regional Plan, will be making improvements to the aging, antiquated WWTP to continue to operate as ‘not a source of any fecal problems in the bay”. For more information please contact: Dennis McDonald or John Ozga at the City of Shelton.