Keeping an eye on Kitsap’s beaches
June 27, 2009 · Updated 12:16 PM
As the seasonal onset of summertime beach goers ramps up, What’s Up wonders just what’s in the water?
Allison Dickson hadn’t been sure what to do that day. With school out for summer, she and her two kids — Alex, 8, and Cherry, 3 — were at home in Silverdale, looking for a way to fill up their Friday.
They wanted to do something fun, she said. They wanted to get out of the house.
But with the economy down and money tight, they couldn’t afford much in the way of ticket prices. So, instead, they packed a picnic and found a place with free admission — Point No Point Beach near Hansville.
It was their first trip to the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula.
“Well, we heard it was a good swimming hole,” Dickson said, watching her oldest high step through the shallow waves rolling in, looking out into the vast expanse of Puget Sound.
“That’s the best beach in the county” Kitsap County Health District swimming beach monitor Jim Zimny opined. “We don’t even have to sample there, the water’s so clean.”
With the opening days of summer, and the seasonal onset of beach goers like the Dicksons, Zimny and the health district have ramped up their monitoring of the county’s official swimming holes — 28 beaches at 15 lakes and nine marine areas in the county.
Kitsap’s lakes typically see the greatest amount of swimmers, Zimny said.
Being freshwater and typically smaller, more placid bodies of water, they also pose more potential health risks than marine areas. Throughout the summer, the health district will be taking samples at local lakes up to twice a week, inspecting for levels of e-coli bacteria.
“E-coli is a bacteria that’s found in the gut, in the digestive tracks of warm-blooded animals,” Zimney explained, taking down closure signs from Island Lake in Central Valley.
It comes from feces and gets into waterways by way of waterfowl, swimmers and pets, in addition to non-point pollution from rainwater run-off and aging septic systems on waterfront homes. Most strains of the e-coli bacteria are harmless, other than the infamous H7:0157 known to cause food poisoning in humans, but it’s also a good indicator for the potential of a virus, Zimny said.
“Along with (e-coli bacteria), we’d expect to find things like salmonella, the e-coli virus, H-0157,” he went on. “Basically everything that can make you sick, everything you’d expect to find in polluted water.”
Since it’s too costly and time consuming to consistently sample for viruses, Zimny and the health district monitor levels of e-coli in lakes (hetero-coli in marine areas) to determine if the beach is safe for swimmers.
By means of explanation, an excretion typically sheds billions of bacteria, Zimny noted, if samples at any lake show e-coli manifesting at a level much higher than 100, the health district will issue a closure at that beach.
At press time, there were no current closures, check for updates at the health district website or by calling the KCHD water monitoring hotline, (800) 223-WELL.
Interestingly, the same suite of bacteria that causes trouble in the freshwater lakes, doesn’t typically grow well in marine waters, Zimny said — due in part to the salt content in the water, partly from dilution and partly because of better sunlight.
“UV light kills bacteria incredibly effectively,” Zimny said. “We lose about half our bacteria population in about two to four hours on a bright sunny day, it microwaves it. We’ve just got to protect people when concentrations are high.”
Whereas at a public swimming pool bacteria is controlled by chlorine and other chemicals in the water, “in these natural bathing areas, we have to wait for the natural process,” Zimny said, which is simply mass amounts of sunlight and an awareness of pollution prevention.
“Basically we live in one big watershed in Kitsap County,” said Kari Golden, a programming assistant with the Kingston-based Stillwaters Environmental Center. “So everything that hits the ground, hits the water, essentially. We affect the beaches and we affect our drinking water.”
FIESTA DE AQUA: Stillwaters Environmental Center in Kingston will be hosting a “Fiesta de Agua” from it’s booth at the Kingston Farmer’s market June 28, inviting Debbie Thomas of the Kitsap Public Utility District, along with marine biologist and WSU Shoreline Steward Jeff Adams along for their annual summertime low-tide beach walk at 2 p.m., and offering up a boatload of educational and informational resources throughout the day. Info: www.stillwatersenvironmentalcenter.org.