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Jul 15

Tiny bacteria has a huge impact on Vaughn Bay downgrade

Posted on July 15, 2015 at 8:51 AM by Allan Warren

Shellfish FarmingRecently, the State of Washington Department of Health downgraded 55-acres of commercial shellfish growing area in Vaughn Bay from "Approved" to "Conditionally Approved" due to high levels bacteria. What this means is that the area will be closed to shellfish harvest for 5-days after rain events of 1" or more in a 24-hour period.

Fecal coliform or E. Coli are types of bacteria that live in the intestines of warm blooded mammals, like humans, dogs, horses etc. The waste produced from one large dog (such as a Labrador) during just ONE day is enough to contaminate 15 acres of shellfish growing area.
Kathryn MahanThis bacteria leaves our bodies through our feces. Just one teaspoon of dog waste contains approximately 40 million E. Coli bacteria.

Failing septic systems and surface water carries these bacteria into our waterways. When this bacteria enters our waterways shellfish can become toxic for consumption.

Vaughn Bay, located on the west side of the Key Peninsula in Pierce County, is well-suited to growing shellfish. Both Native Americans and early European settlers knew the Bay as an abundant source of clams and oysters. However, in the 1980s, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) determined that bacteria levels in water quality samples taken from the bay were too high for human consumption of shellfish and the bay was classified as "Restricted" for shellfish harvesting.

In 2009, water quality samples showed that bacteria levels had declined significantly. DOH reclassified 103 acres of the bay to "Approved" status, and in 2011, added an additional 50 acres to the approved status area.

Unfortunately, recent samples have shown that bacteria levels in Vaughn Bay are increasing, again. Because of the increase of bacteria in Vaughn Bay Pierce County Public Works has been tasked with creating a "Shellfish Protection District" for the Vaughn Bay watershed area.

In August 2015 a public meeting will be held to inform the community and solicit input to develop a "Closure Response Plan". Pierce Conservation District will be involved in developing this response plan and will work in a non-regulatory manner with landowners to assist in reducing potential harmful run-off.

To turn the bacteria situation in Vaughn Bay around we will need everyone pitching in. It does not take much to contaminate the bay.  If livestock waste is not properly managed it has the potential to contaminate a large amount of water as well. Mud also harbors large amounts of bacteria and water runoff from muddy areas can contribute to contamination. Leaking, or old septic systems are another potential bacterial source.

The District is here to offer technical advice and potential financial assistance to landowners installing practices to reduce potential polluted runoff.

To learn more and get involved in the efforts on Vaughn Bay please visit the Pierce County website here.