The North Coast regional water board has sounded the alarm. After examining nine years of data gathered by Humboldt Baykeeper, a nonprofit environmental watchdog group, the board is moving to ask California for help.

The problem? Six local waterways -- Little River, Widow White Creek, Martin Slough, Elk River, Jolly Giant Creek and Campbell Creek -- have alarming levels of fecal bacteria. At least one, Jolly Giant, has recent samples showing over 600 times the acceptable level under state regulations. The source? Unknown. Suspects include septic failures, leaky pipes, ag runoff, pets and transient camps.

The good news is that the water board can ask the state to declare these waterways impaired, making them eligible for pollution programs.

The bad news is that even if local authorities get Sacramento's attention, cleanup takes time. Just getting on the list for funding can take years, if not a decade, according to Humboldt Bay Harbor Commissioner and Coast Seafoods Southwest Operations Manager Greg Dale.

As Dale and others know, contaminated waters can not only threaten recreational water users but also, if left unchecked, Humboldt County's oyster industry. If enough tainted runoff is carried into the bay by sustained rainfall, shellfish harvesting is shut down.

At a time in which Humboldt County waterways are already under ecological assault by industrial trespass marijuana grows, we can hardly afford delay in responding to further threats. We urge the public to support further efforts by Humboldt Baykeeper to root out the source of the pollution, and by the water board to obtain state assistance in cleaning it up.

To that end, the public comment period on the regional board's recommended waters for the draft integrated report will last until April 18. The report will be available on Monday at www.waterboards.ca.gov/northcoast/water_issues?programs/tmdls/303d/. If you have any problems seeing the documents on the website, call Katharine Carter at 707-576-2290.

The board will also conduct a workshop to present the report on May 8 in Fortuna at the River Lodge Conference Center, 1800 Riverwalk Drive.

Dirty water affects us all. Support your friendly neighborhood water watchers.


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