Coast Seafoods Company and local environmental organization Humboldt Baykeeper are teaming up once again to identify the sources of contaminants within local waterways that spill into Humboldt Bay, presenting a danger to the local shellfish industry.
“The oyster industry has to stop harvesting — on average 30 days a year — when the rain flushes E. coli into the North Bay, so (Coast Seafoods) has been concerned about water quality in the bay (tributaries) for years,” Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt wrote in an email to the Times-Standard. “The bay itself has very low E. coli when it’s not raining — if it didn’t, there wouldn’t be a thriving oyster industry here.” While the two have worked together on similar projects observing E. coli concentrations in Humboldt Bay, they have yet to seek out and quantify the source of the pollutants. To accomplish this, Coast Seafood will be price matching all funds raised by Humboldt Baykeeper until Dec. 31 to help pay for the study due to state funding being more difficult to acquire for the project.
“We’ve been working on gathering this type of information and this project for a long time,” Coast Seafoods Manager and Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Commissioner Greg Dale said. “What we realized is, we can’t afford to do the whole thing. So this is kind of putting your money where your mouth is in terms of water quality status.”
Coast Seafoods has pledged a $10,000 price match challenge, with Kalt saying that their own organization has raised about $7,500 as of Monday.
The North Coast Regional Water Quality Board recommended in August that six local waterways be federally listed as impaired due to their high fecal bacteria concentrations, which if approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, will allow these streams and rivers to obtain government-backed pollution control plans. The data to support these recommendations was gathered by Humboldt Baykeeper over several years.
The State Water Resources Control Board currently includes the Little River, Widow White Creek, Martin Slough, lower Elk River, Jolly Giant Creek and Campbell Creek in its 2012 federal Clean Water Act’s list of impaired waters due to higher concentrations of fecal coliform bacteria, such as E. coli, than allowed by state regulations.
Jolly Giant Creek was shown to have about 600 times the maximum concentration allowed, according to a Humboldt Baykeeper study.
While the recommendation shows promising change, the recovery plans can take several years to implement. During that time, Kalt said the contaminating sources — whether they be leaky septic systems, transient camps, animal droppings or agricultural runoff — would continue to add pollutants to the waterways.
“Lots of studies have been done to set the limits on oyster harvest following rain storms, but without any idea of the sources, no one is willing to take steps to prevent the pollution in the first place, whether it be septic upgrades, fencing livestock away from riparian areas, or what have you,” she wrote.
Dale said the current levels of fecal contaminants entering Humboldt Bay are not causing a major impact on the bay or its operations, but the sources that still exist should not be left ignored.
“There are a couple areas we will see higher fecal counts,” he said. “In order to identify them, so you can fix the problem, you have to start going up tribs and that’s where this effort is going to go, to start moving up some of these tribs. Once we define the specific problem, then you can go and get the state money to fix the problem.”
Kalt said some areas of focus would be Little River as well as Janes Creek, which did not make it to the recommended list of waterways due to a lack of data.
“But since then, we have data showing (Janes Creek) may be contributing the highest volume of E. coli to North Bay,” Kalt said.
TO LEARN MORE
Information on donations for the survey can be found at Humboldt Baykeeper’s website at http:// www.humboldtbaykeeper.org/ or by calling 707-825-1020.