High tide and storm surge on Sima Way in Port Townsend

Water Quality along the Port Townsend Waterfront

During the 2018-19 wet season (October-March), Jefferson County Environmental Public Health (JCEPH) staff have been monitoring the downtown Port Townsend shoreline for Escherichia coli (E.coli), a bacterial indicator, at all freshwater outfalls entering Port Townsend Bay or discharging to the ground. 
What does this mean?
E.coli bacteria is associated with many harmful pathogens, thus the higher the E. coli result, the higher the concentration of harmful pathogens. Even though the exact flows were not measured for each sample, these outflows are significant and have potential public health concerns.
Is this a problem? 
The beaches and waters along the Port Townsend shoreline are very popular recreation areas for local residents and tourists. Contact with polluted water can cause illness to humans and pets. On February 23rd, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) criteria for human contact with water utilizes an estimated illness rate of 32/1000 people when the E. coli concentration is greater than 100 MPN (Most Probable Number)/100mL. Soon the EPA’s criteria will be adopted in Washington State as a standard. Moreover, the bay is an important ecological habitat for important commercial species such as shellfish. Shellfish along the intertidal zone pick up the bacteria and toxins, which can make them poisonous to humans. Shellfish are important locally and regionally for commercial and recreational harvesters.  

Port Townsend Waterfront Map

How is JCPH monitoring these waters?

Monitoring along Port Townsend’s waterfront is part of the JCEPH Strait Priority Basins Project, which started in 2016. This project monitors 37 miles of shoreline, 4 streams (21 water quality sites), and 6 marine sites in Discovery Bay. When JCEPH staff find high levels of E. coli, we will investigate the cause and re-sample the area to monitor changes. Along with monitoring the shorelines, marine stations, and 4 streams, JCEPH staff go door-to-door throughout the project area. We ask homeowners to take part in a 10-15 minute survey, in addition to visually inspecting their on-site septic system for proper function. This is a time for the homeowners to ask any questions about their system.  Homeowners will also be given copies of permits and inspection reports that staff used to research their property.

Quilcene-Dabob Photo

Water Quality in Quilcene and Dabob Bays

The Quilcene and Dabob Bays Pollution Identification & Correction (PIC) Project will be complete at the end of March 2019. There was a public meeting on Monday, March 18th, 5:30 to 7:30 pm at the Quilcene Community Center to provide the results of the project. There are some shoreline hot spots (sites with consistently high bacteria results) that are still being investigated through research of properties located upstream of the hot spots, septic records, dye testing, and sanitary surveys with homeowners. Aside from follow-up sampling and investigative sampling, all regular water quality sampling has concluded for the project.

Preliminary results from the fecal coliform testing done on the streams indicate that 7 of the 9 streams sampled, with at least 3 years of applicable data, have a trend of decreasing fecal coliform concentrations. The two streams with an increasing trend are the Little Quilcene River at river mile 0.8 and the Big Quilcene River at river mile 2.8. The increasing trend on the Big Quilcene River can almost entirely be attributed to one sample result, from February 2017, with a fecal coliform concentration more than 13 times larger than the mean of all of the samples taken over the past 3 years at the site. Preliminary marine water monitoring results also indicate that nutrient and fecal contamination in Dabob, Quilcene, and Tarboo Bays are relatively low and not substantially different from each other.

Just started! Water Quality updates from Oak Bay & Mats Mats south to Tskutsko Point (Toandos Pensinsula)

Two new water quality projects began in early 2019: the Oak Bay-Mats Mats Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) Project and the Northern Hood Canal PIC Project. Together they encompass 75 square miles, which includes Oak Bay, Mats Mats Bay, Port Ludlow, Paradise Bay, Shine, and the east side of the Toandos Peninsula. These projects, which will last approximately two years, will involve monitoring freshwater outflows for E. coli bacteria along 65 miles of shoreline, from Liplip Point on Marrowstone Island to Tskutsko Point on the southern Toandos Peninsula.

Also included will be monthly monitoring of freshwater streams for E. coli, temperature, pH, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen. These streams include Little Goose Creek, Piddling Creek, Cooper Creek in Paradise Bay, Hubbard Creek near W.R. Hicks County Park, Shine Creek in Shine, Thorndyke Creek at the north end of the Toandos Peninsula, and several unnamed streams. The water quality monitoring will help prioritize areas for further investigation of potential sources of nonpoint source pollution that can affect public health. Also, in Oak Bay and Mats Mats Bay only, we will collect Enterococcus samples (another type of fecal indicator bacteria) from marine nearshore stations. During 2019/20, we will participate in a Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife monitoring program that tests for a wide variety of heavy metals and organic toxins in shellfish.

Along with all this monitoring, JCEPH staff will conduct sanitary surveys of properties near surface water and/or water quality hot spots (areas where we have seen consistent high bacteria levels). These surveys involve evaluating the use and health of individual septic systems, as well as providing outreach and education to the public when we visit residential and commercial properties. The overall goal of these projects is to protect human health from risks of waterborne pathogens, keep shellfish beds open, and keep waters safe for recreation.

Water Quality in Central Hood Canal: Dosewallips to Triton Cove

Since the downgrade of the shellfish beds at the mouth of the Duckabush River this past year by the Washington State Department of Health, Jefferson County Environmental Public Health (JCEPH) Water Quality staff have completed the first full year of water quality monitoring of shorelines, rivers, and nearshore marine waters under the Central Hood Canal Project. As expected, higher bacteria levels were seen in some of the summer samples in both shoreline and river sites. The map below provides the results from both winter and summer, and shows that a total of 4 confirmed hot spots (sites with consistently high bacteria results) were found along the shoreline, with 18 high hits (sites with single results over 100 MPN/100mL).

Central Hood Canal Map

For river and stream sites, all 14 stations sampled in winter passed the State standards but four failed the standard in summer. When we compared these results against previous summer sampling in the area, we found that in 2012 there were two stations that failed the State standard (86% passing rate). We are now down to a 71% passing rate for our river and stream sites. Note that local seals get a lot of the blame for rising bacteria levels in the marine environment but they have little to no impact on bacteria levels in the upstream river and stream stations.

Marine sampling by JCEPH showed only slightly elevated bacteria levels in August and September. The State Department of Health saw some elevated levels at the mouth of the Duckabush in August and September and one elevated reading in October at the mouth of the Dosewallips.

Monitoring results have been used to help us target our door-to-door sanitary survey work, which has identified a number of failing and/or unpermitted septic systems in the area. We are working with homeowners to resolve these issues.

The Central Hood Canal Project will continue until early 2020 and biannual water quality updates will be made on the project. Visit our Central Hood Canal Project website.

WADOE logo

Projects supported by the Centennial Clean Water Program

Jefferson County Environmental Public Health Clean Water Projects, including the Central Hood Canal, Northern Hood Canal, Strait Priority Basins, Quilcene-Dabob, and Oak Bay-Mats Mats PIC Projects, are funded by Centennial Clean Water grants from the Washington State Department of Ecology with matching funds from the Jefferson County Clean Water District.

Sewer Man

FREE Homeowner Septic System Care and Maintenance / Homeowner Inspection Certification Trainings

  • Quilcene, Thursday, April 25, 2019 , Quilcene Community Center. 294952 US 101, Quilcene WA  9:30 am to 2:30 pm.
  • Chimacum, Wednesday May 1, 2019, Tri Area Community Center, 10 W Valley Rd, Chimacum, WA  9:am to 2:00 pm
  • Chimacum, Thursday, May 16, 2019, Tri-Area Community Center, 10 W Valley Rd, Chimacum, WA  4:00 pm to 8:30 pm

Classes do fill up, so call
(360) 385-9407 to register
Online classes are also available.

Need help paying for repairs to your septic  system?

Low interest loans are available in Jefferson County. Craft3 is a non-profit organization that offers Clean Water Loans to help families repair or replace their failing septic system with no money down.

The United States Department of  Agriculture (USDA) also offers grant and low-interest loan programs to assist homeowners with installing or replacing septic systems.


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If you want to be on our mailing list, sign up to receive future Water Quality News by visiting the Jefferson County website and selecting "Stay Informed" on the county homepage. Enter your email address and under the title "Notify Me" select "Water Quality". The East Jefferson County Water Quality News comes out biannually.

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