Friday, May 14, 2010

Fecal Matters: Which Saltwater Beaches Should the Washington Beach Program Monitor for Fecal Bacteria?

Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend. Jess Archer photo.

Welcome to the new Fecal Matters blog for the Washington BEACH Program! We monitor saltwater swimming beaches during the summer for fecal bacteria. While most people don’t spend much time talking about fecal bacteria, we can’t seem to stop (much to the dismay of our dinner dates!). If you want to join in on the discussion, keep tabs on the Fecal Matters Blog for BEACH.

Summer is coming!

Across Western Washington, the BEACH Program is preparing for the summer swimming season. We’ve been working with local health agencies, volunteer organizations, and others to choose beaches for monitoring that are high risk for fecal contamination — while making the most of our budget. This is a tough budget year for us — we monitored 75 beaches last year, yet we’ll only be able to cover 55 this year. These weren’t all easy decisions. Take a look at our DRAFT list.

We choose our beaches based on the number of users and the potential that the beach could become contaminated with fecal bacteria.

Why aren’t we monitoring freshwater beaches?

We always get this question. There’s no doubt that most of the swimming and water contact activities in Washington take place in lakes and rivers. However, our program is funded entirely by the U.S. Environmental Protection BEACH Act grant. The grant requires that all funding be spent on saltwater beaches. Though we can’t monitor freshwater beaches we do provide info to help you find out if a freshwater beach is safe for swimming.

About our proposed list of beaches to monitor this year: Here’s the thinking on some of this year’s changes, which we made while selecting the proposed list for 2010:

Mason County changes: We dropped Belfair State Park. We monitored this beach last year thinking that it would be hugely popular. The shoreline has changed so dramatically that most of the activity is in the stream instead of in the saltwater.

King County changes: These were really tough decisions. We dropped Seacrest Beach for several reasons: results have been low over the years; and we want to monitor beaches across King County rather than focusing on Seattle.

Kitsap County changes: We dropped Lions Field. It will be closed this year for renovation so it seems wise to save money by dropping a beach that folks can’t access. We’ll pick it up again next year.

Pierce County changes: We added Chambers Creek. This is a new beach that will open late in the summer and is expected to be really popular. We want to get fecal bacteria samples before the beach is open to make sure it’s clean and continue collecting samples once the crowds show up.

Skagit County changes: We actually dropped Skagit County completely. We had to drop 20 beaches altogether so this wasn’t an easy choice. Luckily, the Skagit County Beach Watchers got funding to monitor Samish Island DNR Beach. We will help them prepare for the season and manage the data.

Snohomish County changes: We dropped Marina Beach Dog Park. This beach has been closed for several years. Despite huge cleanup efforts by dog owners that use the park, there’s always visible dog waste at the beach and the samples reflect that. It seems like a poor use of our small budget to monitor a beach that is permanently closed for swimming. What do we do when we find high results? The beach is already closed. We will continue to monitor the neighboring park that is popular with kids.

We would love your feedback on Fecal Matters! Contact us and let us know!

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