Lifestyle

Silverdale Waterfront Park beach closes, and reopens, ahead of Whaling Days.

Jim Zimny, senior environmental health specialist for the Kitsap County Health District, removes a warning sign Tuesday from Silverdale Waterfront Park. - Wesley Remmer/ staff photo
Jim Zimny, senior environmental health specialist for the Kitsap County Health District, removes a warning sign Tuesday from Silverdale Waterfront Park.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/ staff photo

Shania Rose saw other people swimming Tuesday at Silverdale Waterfront Park and that was enough for her.

“Well, they looked like they were having fun,” said Shania, 12.

High levels of bacteria in the water last week closed the beach on Dyes Inlet for about five days, levels which posed the risk of gastrointestinal illness and ear, eyes and skin infections. Testing this week found the risk had passed and minutes after the removal Tuesday of the red county signs, Shania headed back in for another dip. The water was safe, Dyes Inlet had been flushed, but Shania hadn’t even seen the signs.

On Thursday the Kitsap County Health District took more samples. Results take 24 hours. Silverdale’s Whaling Days festival starts Friday in Old Town. Organizers of the festival are relying on the health district to post signs, but still, if people choose to ignore warnings, it’s a personal choice.

“We can’t really control that,” said Sunny Saunders Housen, a festival organizer.

Shania wasn’t the only person unknowingly in the water when they probably shouldn’t have been. All who were asked said they hadn’t noticed the warning signs.

Lindsey Wojtech, from Salt Lake City, Utah, held in her hand diapers, dripping wet.

Her twin boy and girl, 2-and-a-half, tumbled in the sand.

“Wow,” Wojtech said after learning they had been playing in water officially too dangerous to touch.

She wasn’t worried about the twins getting sick, though. Besides, the water looked really nice.

“It’s warm outside,” she said.

Closures at the park are common, said Jim Zimny, senior environmental health specialist for the health district. This is due to, tastefully put, too much of the bacteria known to originate from the intestines of warm-blooded creatures, indicating the presence of bugs that cause illnesses.

“It’s basically poop,” Zimny said.

“It’s one of those things that can come and go with the tide,” Zimny said. It’s also something that can’t be seen. “You can’t tell what bacteria levels are in it, it feels nice.”

Silverdale Waterfront Park and seven other sites are monitored from before Memorial Day until after Labor Day, Zimny said. Health officials began the twice-weekly testing regimen on Dyes Inlet two years ago when a sewer pipe broke near Strawberry Creek. The beach was closed for about three weeks following the break, Zimny said.

The bacteria occurs naturally, from birds. But human activity, like failing septic and sewer systems, is often the culprit. When the levels get high, the risks go up.

The closure July 15 came after bacteria levels taken two and three days earlier exceeded the accepted risk level by 24 times.

“It was nasty water,” Zimny said, noting that unless the circumstances are dire, the health district retests water before closing a swimming area.

“Unless it’s extremely high, then we don’t mess around,” Zimny said. In most cases he said it’s best to be sure. “We want to protect public heath, but we don’t want to run around saying the sky is falling.”

Although testing can give health officials a picture of the risks associated with contact with the water, identifying the source of the pollution is more difficult.

The department has been trying to identify the sources of bacterial pollution in Poulsbo’s Liberty Bay, but it’s expensive and takes a long time. The five-year, $666,000 project started last summer.

The potential causes of the pollution are all around at Silverdale’s beach park – just look around, Zimny said.

“We see boats in the marina, birds on the beach, dogs, people, all those can be sources of bacteria.”

Whaling Days is hosting the Hui Heihei Wa’a canoe races Sunday. Paddlers were practicing on the inlet Tuesday, as they were Thursday when the water was deemed off limits, said club member Kathie Martinez of Seabeck.

Racers as a rule rinse off after paddling, she said.

“But you do get water on you,” Martinez said, adding she wasn’t concerned.

In general the water is safe, but Zimny cautioned beach-goers to look out for posted warnings.

“People ignore everything from speed limit signs to danger warnings on cigarettes packs,” Zimny said. “You can only give people the information and hope they make the right decisions.”

Kevin and Dannah Chalupka, of Jonesborough, Tenn., were in town visiting family in Seabeck and brought their 6-year-old daughter to play at the beach.

Dannah, a microbiologist, said because of the nature of coliform bacteria, and the large amount of water, she wasn’t particularly concerned. However, she kept her daughter on shore.

“To put it bluntly, when you potty train a child they are exposed to more coliform than anything out here,” she said. “I’m not really worried about it.”

Information about current swimming beach closures is available by calling the health district at 1-800-2BE-WELL (1-800-223-9355), or online at www.kitsapcountyhealth.com under “Health Alerts.”

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