Plan sets steps for Liberty Bay bacterial pollution cleanup

POULSBO — Existing programs, if made stronger and more focused, can control bacterial pollution in Liberty Bay and its tributary creeks, according to a Department of Ecology study and plan now available for public comment.

Ecology will host a public meeting on the study and plan on March 21, 6:15 p.m., in the Poulsbo Fire Department community room, 911 Liberty Bay Road, Poulsbo. The meeting opens with an informal open house, followed by short film at 6:40. A public meeting will begin at 7 p.m. where Ecology and other officials will make a presentation and answer questions.

Most of the streams entering Liberty Bay — except Sam Snyder Creek — contain high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. According to Ecology, the bacteria comes from diffuse, hard-to-trace sources — including pet and livestock waste, leaking sewers, poor waste management that attracts animals, and failing septic systems. Stormwater runoff carries the bacteria into the streams and bay where it can make people sick if they become exposed to it.

Waters with excessive fecal coliform levels can threaten human health, and can prompt state and local health departments to close or restrict shellfish-harvesting and public swimming areas.

A 2008-09 Ecology study measured high bacteria levels in freshwater streams and stormwater discharges to Liberty Bay. The research identified Dogfish Creek as the bay’s largest bacteria source, followed by Poulsbo Creek, a natural stream now piped for much of its length through Poulsbo.

The Ecology study also collected data to estimate the amount of polluted runoff carried by the creeks to the bay. This information identifies the most significant discharges and can help Ecology and local agencies set priorities for cleaning up sources. The Ecology plan identifies South Fork Dogfish, Big Scandia, Little Scandia, Bjorgen and Lemolo creeks as priority streams for cleanup.

The study and plan confirm that local government efforts since the 2008-09 study have helped improve several streams, including Poulsbo Creek and parts of Liberty Bay, which is now beginning to meet standards at many locations. The state Department of Health is conducting monitoring to determine whether more of Liberty Bay can be opened to commercial shellfish harvest.

Study data will help assess contamination sources that could affect shellfish harvest. Only Lemolo Cove, a small, 90-acre inlet of the bay, is currently open to commercial shellfish harvest. The state Department of Health has designated other parts of the bay “Prohibited” or “Unclassified.”

Ecology aided these improvements with a $500,000 Centennial Water Quality Grant to the Kitsap Public Health District for a Pollution Identification and Correction project in the watershed. The project locates leaky onsite septic systems and helps owners repair them.  The project also uses the resources of Kitsap Conservation District to encourage livestock owners to employ best practices for manure management.

Poulsbo, using nearly $1 million from separate Ecology grants, has completed three low-impact development projects to reduce stormwater runoff to Liberty Bay from impervious areas. Kitsap County also has assisted with funding and programs to reduce contaminated discharges from the county’s municipal stormwater system.

Four agencies that operate in the watershed under either an Ecology or a federal municipal stormwater permit — Poulsbo, Kitsap County, the U.S. Navy and the state Department of Transportation — will need to meet requirements of the plan to reduce bacteria in stormwater discharges into parts of streams that don’t meet state water quality standards.

Ecology’s plan also encourages continued and expanded local programs to:
— Provide low-interest homeowner septic system repair loans.
— Increase boat-owner compliance with pumpout requirements at local marinas.
— Promote more pet waste cleanup compliance.

Ecology invites public comment on the study and plan through April 15. The plan is titled “Liberty Bay Watershed Fecal Coliform Bacteria Total Maximum Daily Load: TMDL and Water Quality Implementation Plan.” The document and related materials will be available starting March 15 at:
— Kingston Branch Library, 11212 Highway 104.
— Poulsbo Branch Library, 700 NE Lincoln Road.
— Silverdale Branch Library, 3450 NW Carlton St.
— Ecology’s Northwest Regional Office in Bellevue, by appointment, 3190 160th Ave. SE, (425) 649-7190.

Comments and technical questions should be directed to Sally Lawrence, water quality specialist, Department of Ecology, 3190 160th Ave. SE, Bellevue, 98008-5452. (425) 649-7036. Email


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