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Tickled pink about the dyes in Dyes

A pink stain appeared on the surface of the Port Washington Narrows Tuesday, March 12, and with the help of the incoming tide began spreading into Dyes Inlet toward Rocky Point and Tracyton.

The red tide was caused by Rhodamine WT, a dye injected into the all-new East Side Wetweather Treatment facility operated by the Bremerton Public Works Department.

Using a model created by the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) in San Diego, officials from a number of federal, state, tribal and local agencies hope to better understand how water flows into and around Dyes Inlet.

“This is a fairly costly survey,” said Frank Meriwether, an environmental engineer with the state Department of Health’s Shellfish Program. “The Navy, the city, the county, the Suquamish Tribe and we couldn’t do this without this level of cooperation.”

Navy officials hope to learn how to predict the tide and wind-driven currents and mixing patterns of Sinclair and Dyes inlets. That would allow them to identify how pollutants are transported through the two waterways.

“There’s a lot more questions about water flow in Dyes Inlet,” said Jerry Sherrell of the environmental division at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. “Out on Sinclair Inlet it’s a pretty standard model.”

Money for the study is coming from the shipyard’s Environmental Investment program, which is designed to protect and improve the health of Sinclair Inlet.

The tide flow was first tested using drogues in October 2000. The tests found that tide waters tend to get caught on a jutting Tracyton shoreline, then swirl around until the tide recedes.

Sherrell said he hoped data from this week’s survey, once processed by SPAWAR, could be shared by the multitude of agencies in a couple months.

Tuesday, two boats tracked the dye using special monitoring devices capable of detecting the substance even when it was invisible to the naked eye. A third boat collected water quality samples to measure levels of nutrients, pesticides, metals and other pollutants at several locations.

A drogue equipped with a global positioning system was placed at the front edge of the dye plume.

Stormwater and sewage discharge cause some of the pollution, which has led to a prohibition on commercial and sometimes recreational shellfish harvests since 1969. Other sources include failing septic systems and lawn fertilizers.

“Bremerton made considerable efforts to reduce its stormwater pollutants and they continue to do so,” Meriwether said. “It’s a good time to put this model together.”

Chance Berthiaume of Bremerton Public Works said ultraviolet lights at the new treatment facility near Lebo Boulevard in East Bremerton remove nearly all pollutants before the water is discharged into the Point Washington Narrows.

That’s good news for the Suquamish Tribe, which wants to resume commercial shellfish harvests in Dyes Inlet.

“Dyes Inlet has always been an important place for shellfish harvesting,” said Rob Purser, Suquamish fisheries director. “Ever since the inlet became too polluted to harvest, it has put a burden on our need for resources. It is a major priority of the tribe to have a clean Dyes Inlet.”

Two years ago, tribal members harvested clams from a Chico beach. The clams had to be taken to another beach for two weeks so they could purge themselves of pollutants.

“We knew then that something needed to be done,” Purser said. “Having clean beaches will benefit not only treaty harvesters, but everyone.”

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