QUILCENE — Shellfish in Quilcene Bay are safe to eat now, but restrictions could be imposed in the future if bacterial pollution rises, according to the state Department of Health.
The state Department of Health (DOH) recently completed its annual water quality evaluation of the state’s 115 commercial shellfish growing areas and issued an early warning report about three bays on the North Olympic Peninsula.
The three areas currently meet water quality standards but are threatened with classification downgrades.
The bays are Quilcene Bay in Jefferson County and Dungeness and Makah bays in Clallam County.
“Approved shellfish beds in Quilcene Bay are not being downgraded at this time, but we want to be proactive to avoid any closures,” said Michael Dawson, water quality manager for Jefferson County Public Health, in an email.
The water quality division is prioritizing the Quilcene area for pollution identification and correction work in 2022, Dawson said.
Fecal coliform pollution can be associated with on-site septic systems, livestock and wildlife, and upstream water sampling can help identify problem areas, he said.
The county public health department will offer septic system owners free training on maintenance and financial assistance for repairs and also will coordinate with the Jefferson County Conservation District, which can offer landowners assistance through a variety of programs.
Quilcene water quality will be discussed more at the Jefferson County Clean Water District Advisory Council’s quarterly meeting from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Dawson said. The meeting will be conducted virtually. For more information, email Dawson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-385-9444.
Without further testing, it is not possible to pinpoint septic systems as the cause of bacterial pollution, said Jennifer Garcelon, environmental health director.
“In Dungeness,” for instance, there are “a lot of no-point sources,” such as wildlife, she said.
The county works with county works Streamkeepers, the Clallam County Conservation District and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, she added.
Four of the state’s shellfish growing areas have such high fecal bacterial that they will be restricted from shellfish harvesting, the state said in a press release.
Portions of the Annas Bay in Mason County, Vaughn Bay in Pierce County, Port Susan in Snohomish County and Henderson Inlet in Thurston County will have restrictions in place by August.
State health officials said they are working with county partners, shellfish growers and tribal governments to find and fix pollution problems.
Building on state, local and tribal governments’ pollution prevention programs, DOH has invested about $38 million from the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program since 2011, according to the press release.
The grants support pollution identification and correction projects, local onsite septic system management programs, research and shellfish protection districts.
“Our state’s collaborative approach toward water quality improvement has led to the successful reopening of many shellfish harvesting areas,” said Scott Berbells, manager of the Shellfish Growing Area Section.
“Clean water is the result of everyone doing their part.”
People can help by maintaining their septic systems, picking up pet waste, using pump out stations for boats and recreational vehicles, and managing animal waste from large and small farms, he said.
DOH is responsible for the safety of commercially harvested shellfish in the state and uses national standards to classify all 115 commercial harvest areas. Recreational harvesters can get up-to-date harvest information on the Shellfish Safety Map at the DOH website at https://doh.wa.gov.