Keeping beaches safe
The Beach Environmental Assessment, Communication & Health (BEACH) Program ensures that marine water is safe to swim and play in and informs the public if water doesn't meet swimming standards.
During the 2016 beach season, 61 public beaches on coastlines were sampled from Memorial Day through Labor Day. High-use beaches were sampled weekly or biweekly for enterococcus, a type of fecal bacteria. High enterococcus levels are linked to swimmer illness.
Whatcom County saltwater swimming beaches
We monitored four Whatcom County beaches weekly during the swimming season. Birch Bay County Park and Port of Bellingham Marine Park were sampled every other week from May 23 through Aug. 29, 2016. Larrabee State Park and Little Squalicum Park were sampled by Surfrider volunteers weekly during the same time period. Details on each beach are below.
Birch Bay County Park beach
We monitored Birch Bay County Park beach eight times during the sample season. Water quality at this beach was excellent with bacteria levels meeting swimming standards during all periods sampled.
Larrabee State Park beach
This beach has had bacterial water quality problems for the past several years. A permanent swimming advisory is in place.
The likely source of the bacterial contamination is a raccoon latrine at the headwaters of a small stream that drains to this beach. Bacterial source-control efforts have been ongoing, including a public education effort at the park and surrounding neighborhoods.
In early 2014, raccoon access to a portion of their latrine was blocked off by laying chicken wire over the latrine area. This has appeared to be effective at reducing the volume of raccoon feces. Therefore, it is important to maintain the chicken wire to continue preventing raccoon access to the stream headwaters.
During the 2016 swim season, Larrabee State Park beach had very good water quality. This beach met the swimming standards for all periods sampled. The 2016 monitoring season was unusually dry and the natural drainage (sample site WHA 034F-ND) was dry for most of the summer. As a result, freshwater input to this beach was limited to the early season. Whatcom County Health Department is considering removing the permanent advisory at this beach. This decision will be made after consulting with the Larrabee State Park manager.
Little Squalicum Park beach
Little Squalicum beach has consistent low to moderate bacteria levels, with occasional high bacteria spikes. A permanent swimming advisory is in place for this beach. Little Squalicum Park beach was sampled 15 times during the sample season.
During the 2016 swim season, there was an improvement in water quality. On June 14, sampling results were in the advisory range, but results from samples taken on June 20 showed that bacteria results had dropped back down into the safe swimming range. This beach met the swimming standards for all other periods sampled and seasonally met the geometric mean and 90th percentile for the recreational swimming standard.
Although Little Squalicum met the swimming standard for 2016, it did not meet the standard for the previous two years. Therefore, the swimming advisory will stay in place pending additional data collection at this beach.
Port of Bellingham Marine Park beach
Port of Bellingham Marine Park beach was sampled eight times during the sampling season. Water quality at this beach was excellent with bacteria levels meeting swimming standards during all periods sampled.
Data summary: Bacteria results compared to standards
The chart below summarizes the bacteria levels in these four beaches in relation to the EPA swimming standard:
|EPA Swimming Standard
|Birch Bay County Park Beach
|Larrabee State Park Beach
|Little Squalicum State Park Beach
|Port of Bellingham Marine Park Beach