Monitoring Water Quality at Mission Beach

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

It has been a hot summer at Tulalip this year, with record-breaking heat during the last week of June reaching over 100-degrees, and multiple 80-degree days so far, people are getting out and having fun in the sun, taking advantage of weather that comes very seldom to the Pacific Northwest.

There are many ways Western Washingtonians can enjoy the clear skies and warm weather and some of those summertime activities include hiking and exploring nature, taking a scenic cruise with the windows down and good tunes blasting, visiting a zoo or a waterpark, catching a Mariners game, floating the river, or enjoying a cookout with your closest friends and family members. 

Tulalip tribal members have additional options to connect with their culture, traditions and people during the summer months such as huckleberry picking, cedar-harvesting, fishing, canoe-pulling, participating in the Salmon Ceremony and Spee-Bi-Dah festivities, and of course you can’t forget, spending the day at Mission Beach. Whether swimming, exercising, relaxing, or simply creating good times with good friends, Mission Beach is a staple destination for the local community, especially when blessed with gorgeous weather.

To ensure the safety of the public, Tulalip Natural Resources has monitored the waters at Mission Beach every summer since 2016, with the exception of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The local waters are integral to the Tulalip people whose ancestors traveled upon and procured nourishment from since time immemorial. With each passing generation, memories are made at Mission Beach by Tulalip youth who splash amongst the waters and laugh along the shoreline. By monitoring the bacteria present in the Mission Beach waters, the Natural Resources department is making sure the kids, elders and everyone in-between can safely continue swimming at the beach. 

“We do the Mission Beach sampling every year during the summer,” said Tulalip Natural Resources Storm Water Planner, Valerie Streeter. “We’re catching the times that people are out in the water and we take a sample in the areas where people will swim.”

Samples are taken from three separate spots along the beach when the tide is in and the average bacteria level is calculated and recorded based on those samples. 

Valerie stated, “If we get too much bacteria, people start to get sick. I heard stories of people who contracted a stomach illness, some had diarrhea or they got a skin rash. Sometimes it can be more serious like typhoid fever. If it’s not healthy, it basically means there’s a lot of sewage in the water and that’s what we’re measuring. We use one particular indicator that the EPA said correlates with human sickness, so that’s why we chose that and that’s really why we’re monitoring the water, trying to protect us humans.”

Over the years, Mission Beach has had great water quality, and the bacteria level never once rose over the 104 bacteria threshold limit. Twice in 2016, during the first year of testing, the bacteria levels reached 80 or above. There were three readings in 2017 that showed the bacteria level exceeded 20. But other than that, all the measurements from 2018, 2019 and 2021 have been low and the bacteria level remained under 20. In fact, the highest it has reached this summer is 14. 

The water samples are collected and recorded by volunteers of the WSU Beach Watchers. Every year prior to summer, Valerie and the Beach Watchers hold a training over the course of one day to teach volunteers how to take accurate bacteria level samples. Samples are taken on a weekly-basis for the duration of summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. After the volunteers collect the water sample, they deliver it to the Tulalip Water Quality Lab, based at the Tulalip Fish Hatchery, where Harvey Eastman, the Water Quality Program Manager, grows the bacteria to get an accurate reading of how much bacteria is actually present in the three samples. 

With low bacteria readings so far, the water quality at Mission Beach has been great all summer long. Valerie encourages the community to have some safe, healthy fun and to enjoy some of the remaining days of summer down in the waters of Mission Beach. The volunteer WSU Beach Watchers will continue collecting samples through Labor Day, so be sure to give them a friendly wave and ask any questions if you are feeling inquisitive about the local water quality.  

Valerie shared, “If you’re interested, come out to our training next year and learn how to collect water samples and measure it’s temperature and salinity. It’s not that hard and every time you collect a sample, you get to enjoy a beautiful morning at Mission Beach.”

For more information, please contact Valerie at (360) 716-4629.