« Return to this article

Know the West

Something is polluting the water

  The Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe says it has always farmed oysters on western Washington's Dungeness Bay. But not any more.

The state health department banned the harvest of shellfish in certain areas of the bay last May, because water-quality tests showed excess levels of fecal coliform bacteria. While fecal coliform isn't a health hazard by itself, it's an indicator that disease-forming bacteria are in the water. Oysters, mussels and clams are at a higher risk of contamination than shrimp and crab because they filter water as they feed.

No one knows for certain what caused the increase in fecal coliform, but Bob Woolrich of the Clallam County Health Department says that more people living and working in the watershed might be to blame. County population has grown by nearly 17,000 in the last 20 years.

Since the bay closure, the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe has been working to find the sources of the pollution and possible solutions to the bay's contamination. Ann Seiter, director of Natural Resources for the tribe, says a few small sources, such as cattle grazing next to a stream and small sewer-system leaks, have been identified as having a cumulative effect. Unfortunately, she adds, "It's not as simple as finding someone's pipe and turning it off."

* Kayley Mendenhall