The Northwest Straits Chapter began sampling the beach at Larrabee State Park in 2004. Since then their BWTF water testing program has grown to cover three distinct sampling sites at six different beaches in the Bellingham area. Their lab is housed at Western Washington University (WWU), and dedicated student volunteers help collect and analyze water samples on a monthly basis. Each year, one deserving college student becomes the Blue Water Task Force Coordinator and is responsible for managing all of the sampling logistics and lab work.
Chapter volunteers also collect weekly water samples for the Washington State Department of Ecology’s BEACH Program during the summer months from Wild Cat Cove at Larrabee State Park. These samples are processed at an accredited local laboratory, and if any fail to meet water quality standards, the Surfrider volunteers go back out and re-sample.
Wild Cat Cove is a very popular ocean recreation site, and the adjacent beach and campground at Larrabee State Park welcome millions of visitors every season. Consistently high bacteria levels over the years, however, have threatened continued public use of this beach and led the chapter to beseech its partners in the State and County to find out where the pollution was coming from.
In 2009, the Whatcom County Health Department performed some dye tests to locate and fix some failing septic systems in the surrounding area, including one residence whose septic system was discharging directly into their rainwater downspout.
Bacteria levels during the summer of 2010, however, did not improve as expected. Surfrider and their local partners investigated several other potential sources, including discarded crab carcasses during crab season and eel grass in the wrack line, but could not find a clear solution. Faced with an impending permanent beach closure, the Chapter undertook a massive education and outreach program during the summer of 2011 with the help of four WWU interns. Spending over 300 hours each at Larrabee State Park during summer weekends and holidays, these interns taught campers about park water quality issues and the natural environment and how their behavior can affect both while observing camper behavior throughout the park.
Meanwhile the State and Whatcom County further investigated the bacterial pollution up one of the streams in the park and found a site on one creek branch that both gave extremely high bacteria counts and showed obvious evidence of raccoons, with ripped and discarded food bags strewn about. What appeared to be happening is that with easy access to camper food items, the local raccoon population has grown, and their use of this damp, muddy creek site has polluted the stream with fecal matter straight down to Wild Cat Cove.
This discovery finally provided some real direction in how to control the bacteria problem. With support from the Marine Resource Committee the Chapter expanded their outreach program in the park, managing the efforts of 13 interns who visited the park on a daily basis during the summer of 2012. In addition to expanding their beach walks and guided hikes, they were also able to target some education resources and tactics towards encouraging campers to keep their food items secure and out-of-reach of raccoons. They found that most campers were visited by these animals almost immediately upon arrival at their campsites.
The Chapter will continue their education and outreach program during the summer of 2013 while supporting the State and County in their efforts to verify the source of pollution and implement some short-term solutions such as a “Scoop the Poop” effort and the installation of a mycoremediation project which installs fungi in the stream to decrease coliform bacteria loads. The Chapter is hoping that their outreach program will continue to give park visitors a greater appreciation for the natural environment of the park and will lead to changed camper behavior, less readily available food for the overgrown raccoon population, and ultimately improvements in water quality are seen.
Visit the BWTF Coastal Blog to read more about the Chapter's efforts to investigate the sources of bacterial pollution and their impressive summer outreach program at Larrabee State Park.
Find out who else is testing beach water in Washington and where by clicking on the WA State summary in NRDC's Testing the Waters Report.
Learn more about beach monitoring programs and water quality issues in Washington in the water quality section of Surfrider's State of the Beach, Washington State Report.