SEATTLE - A weekend at the beach doesn't sound nearly as inviting when the beach is contaminated with untreated sewage, but that's the case at some spots in Washington State. A new report
from the Natural Resources Defense Council
(NRDC) ranks the state 14th in the country for water quality at its beaches and health-related beach closures and advisories.
Groups like the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance
patrol the Sound weekly by boat and kayak, as volunteers. But Chris Wilke, executive director of the Alliance, says state budget cuts have meant less official monitoring, and the state checks for only some types of health concerns.
"We know there's animal waste on the beach. What we don't know is what other pathogens may be present: Viruses, and other diseases you can get, coming into contact with this water."
Last year, the report says, only 4 percent of more than 1,300 beaches in Washington were monitored once a week, resulting in 19 beach closures or advisories that lasted six weeks or less. Ninety-six percent were not monitored at all.
Some contamination is from oil spills. However, the biggest pollution problem by far on Washington beaches, according to the report, is "combined sewage overflows." Wilke explains.
"These are aging infrastructure in large municipalities, where stormwater and sewage are combined. Then, when it rains a lot, the rainwater overwhelms the system and they have to discharge a mixture of stormwater and sewage."
The report suggests improving communication between sewage plant operators and those charged with tracking and posting beach safety advisories for the state. Beach closure information is available from the Washington Department of Ecology, which is also in the process of revising municipal stormwater permits to help prevent flooding and sewage contamination.
This week, swimming advisories are in effect at Freeland Park and Holmes Harbor in Island County, Larrabee State Park in Whatcom County and Walker Park in Mason County. Beach closure information is available at www.ecy.wa.gov
(click on "Beach Closures").
report, "Testing the Waters," is available at www.NRDC.org