Pollution partially closes nearly 500 acres of Portage Bay shellfish beds

Ralph Solomon holds clams at the sea sea pond on the Lummi Reservation in this 2003 photo, shortly before the tribe reopened shellfish beds that were closed in 1996 due to poor water quality.THE BELLINGHAM HERALD


Ralph Solomon holds clams at the sea sea pond on the Lummi Reservation in this 2003 photo, shortly before the tribe reopened shellfish beds that were closed in 1996 due to poor water quality.
THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

 

By Kie Relyea, Bellingham Herald

 

LUMMI RESERVATION — Commercial shellfish harvesting is being banned on nearly 500 acres of Portage Bay for about half the year because of worsening water quality caused by fecal coliform bacteria, the Washington state Department of Health announced Tuesday, March 24.

Portage Bay is home to Lummi Nation’s ceremonial, subsistence and commercial shellfish beds.

State health officials last week changed the classification of nearly 500 of the 1,300 commercial shellfish harvesting acres in the bay from “approved” to “conditionally approved” because of water quality. That means harvesting in the conditionally approved area will be closed each year April through June and again October through December.

Those are the months when tests show the bay is affected by polluted runoff from the Nooksack River carrying higher levels of bacteria into the shellfish harvesting area, the state said.

The partial closure will remain until water quality improves, said Scott Berbells, manager of the growing area section for the department’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety.

The state’s action follows one taken by Lummi Nation in September, when the tribe closed 335 acres in Portage Bay to shellfish harvesting.

The tribe consulted with the state Department of Health and volunteered to do so Sept. 3 after levels exceeded federal standards for commercial shellfish harvest.

Those 335 acres are within the 500 acres downgraded by the state.

“This closure is devastating for the approximately 200 families on the Lummi Reservation who make their living harvesting shellfish,” Lummi Nation Chairman Timothy Ballew II said in a news release.

Fecal coliform bacteria come from human and animal feces. The bacteria enter Whatcom County’s waterways in several ways — horse and cow manure, pet and wildlife waste, and failing septic systems — and indicate there could be pathogens absorbed by the shellfish that may sicken people who eat them.

This isn’t the first time the tribe has closed its shellfish beds in Portage Bay because of fecal coliform pollution. It did so in 1996 because of high levels of fecal coliform in the Nooksack River and streams that empty into Portage Bay.

At that time, the state Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency led a cleanup plan using state legislation approved in 1998 that required dairy farms to undergo routine inspections and create written plans for how they would contain manure and prevent it from washing into public waterways. Before 1998, dairy farms were inspected only if a complaint was made about a farmer.

Failing septic systems and municipal sewage systems also were addressed.

The effort cleaned up the Nooksack River and its tributaries and allowed 625 acres of tribal shellfish beds to reopen in 2003, and the last 115 acres to reopen three years later.

“During the last 10-year closure, the tribal community lost jobs and millions in revenue. Ultimately, the closure affects all Lummi people because this shellfish area is sacred to our people and critical to our way of life,” Ballew said.

In recent years, the Lummis have expressed concern about water quality once again degrading because cuts to budgets and enforcement created regulatory gaps.

State officials also have been warning about worsening water quality.

“We’ve seen declining water quality in Portage Bay since about 2008. A number of stations have been steadily getting worse,” Barbells said.

Cleanup efforts are once again underway in the watershed.

In 2014, Whatcom County received funding from the EPA to strengthen a locally led effort to identify and clean up pollution sources.

Lummi Natural Resources, Whatcom Conservation District, and the state departments of Health, Agriculture and Ecology are working with Whatcom County and the Portage Bay Shellfish Protection District on the Portage Bay cleanup.

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2015/03/24/4204838_pollution-partially-closes-nearly.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

Lummi Nation closes shellfish harvesting in part of Portage Bay because of pollution

Ralph Solomon holds clams at the sea sea pond on the Lummi Reservation in this 2003 photo, shortly before the tribe reopened shellfish beds closed in 1997 due to poor water quality. Fecal coliform contamination has again led Lummi Nation to close 335 acres of shellfish beds in September 2014.THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Ralph Solomon holds clams at the sea sea pond on the Lummi Reservation in this 2003 photo, shortly before the tribe reopened shellfish beds closed in 1997 due to poor water quality. Fecal coliform contamination has again led Lummi Nation to close 335 acres of shellfish beds in September 2014.
THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

 

By: Bellingham Herald

LUMMI RESERVATION — Lummi Nation has closed 335 acres in Portage Bay to shellfish harvesting because of worsening water quality caused by fecal coliform bacteria.

The tribe consulted with the state Department of Health and volunteered to do so Sept. 3 after levels exceeded federal standards for commercial shellfish harvest.

Portage Bay is home to Lummi Nation’s ceremonial, subsistence and commercial shellfish beds.

Fecal coliform bacteria come from human and animal feces. The bacteria enter Whatcom County’s waterways in several ways — horse and cow manure, pet and wildlife waste, and failing septic systems — and indicate there could be pathogens absorbed by the shellfish that may sicken people who eat them.

The closure affects about 200 families on Lummi Reservation who make a living harvesting shellfish and as many as 5,000 tribal members who rely on Portage Bay shellfish for ceremonial and subsistence needs, according to the tribe.

This isn’t the first time the tribe has closed its shellfish beds in Portage Bay because of fecal coliform pollution. They did so in 1996 because of high levels of fecal coliform in the Nooksack River and streams that empty into Portage Bay.

At that time, the state Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency led a cleanup plan using state legislation approved in 1998 that required dairy farms to undergo routine inspections and create written plans for how they would contain manure and prevent it from washing into public waterways. Before 1998, dairy farms were inspected only if a complaint was made about a farmer.

Failing septic systems and municipal sewage systems also were addressed.

The effort cleaned up the Nooksack River and its tributaries and allowed 625 acres of tribal shellfish beds to reopen in 2003, and the last 115 acres to reopen three years later.

That decade cost the tribal community about $8.5 million in revenue, Lummi Nation said in a news release.

But in recent years, the Lummis have expressed concern about water quality once again degrading because cuts to budgets and enforcement created regulatory gaps.

“Everybody knows the reason that this is happening is there’s a lack of compliance and a lack of enforcement,” said Merle Jefferson, director of Lummi Natural Resources Department.

Lummi Tribal Chairman Timothy Ballew II echoed those concerns.

“Failure of our upstream partners to follow the policies developed to respond to the last closure has led to this disaster,” Ballew said in a news release. “Immediate actions are needed to right the problem. We are committed to doing the work required that will reopen the shellfish beds.”

Multiple agencies at the federal, state, local and tribal level are once again coordinating their efforts to lower fecal coliform in Whatcom County’s waterways, with county officials saying that the levels in the Nooksack River and Portage Bay have increased in the past five years.

That push includes a proposal for the County Council to create a locally driven, and ongoing, effort called the Whatcom County Pollution Identification and Correction Program. It goes before the County Council on Tuesday, Sept. 30.

“We feel like we’re making progress,” said Doug Allen, manager of Ecology’s Bellingham field office. “I’m still confident that we’re going to turn this around. It’s going to take all of us working really hard to do it.”

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2014/09/26/3879712_lummi-nation-closes-shellfish.html?sp=/99/100/&rh=1#storylink=cpy