Autumn 2022 starts our second two-year stormwater sampling campaign. This time with a twist: new citizen scientists in three more cities will be monitoring city stormwater outfalls in addition to continuing our work in Anacortes. Oak Harbor, Mukilteo, and Edmonds are now part of the expanded monitoring work that Friends of Skagit Beaches is leading in the North Sound.
This work is funded by a grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundations’ Southern Resident Killer Whale Conservation Program for the purpose of improving habitat, food sources, and conducting research to support recovery of the Southern Resident Orca population within our region. The grant covers the costs for volunteer coordination, recruiting, training, equipping, and managing the data captured by our volunteers.
During the summer of 2022 Friends established a partnership with the Snohomish County Beach Watcher program and the Sound Waters Stewards on Whidbey Island to connect to eager citizen science volunteers in their programs. We recruited, trained, and equipped volunteers in Oak Harbor, Mukilteo, and Edmonds, as well as new volunteers for Anacortes. All three groups of eager volunteers are ready to get down to the beach and sometimes even in the water (photo left) to sample and take monitoring measurements.
This volunteer effort addresses a shortcoming in our federal Clean Water Act: no required periodic monitoring of stormwater outfall pipes. Local towns would have difficulty in financially supporting the manpower and equipment costs for this activity. That’s where Friends of Skagit Beaches and our citizen science volunteers come to the rescue.
We have also partnered with the WA Department of Ecology’s regional municipal stormwater permit manager for the area stretching from Everett north to the Canadian Border. On a monthly basis the data captured by the volunteers is supplied to the town's stormwater manager and the state stormwater discharge permit manager. Between them they engage in the detective work to find the specific source for pollution discharges that our volunteers detect. We’ve had a number of successful resolutions of pollution sources found by monitoring Anacortes outfalls in the past two years and expect to continue with this great track record. [Photo right: volunteer measured turbidity from silt being discharged into Fidalgo Bay from a large construction project.]
In this new campaign, Friends added E. coli bacteria detection to the stormwater monitoring activity (photo left). E Coli is a bacterium that is indicative of the presence of fecal coliform in the water and is the standard way to detect it in water source monitoring. There is a possibility that perhaps 10% of our stormwater outfall pipes also discharge E. coli bacteria in concentration levels that harms marine life. Shellfish beds are common around our shorelines and can experience closures when levels are too high. High E. coli concentrations render the shellfish harmful to humans, birds, and animals.
Our volunteers follow the Department of Ecology guidelines for analysis. If an outfall pipe is found to consistently exceed a state chemical or bacteria threshold then local and state inspectors investigate for the source, triggered by our data. This action component of the project makes this monitoring work satisfying for volunteers when they see they’ve made a difference. They see the dynamic nature of man-made pollutants that are discharged into our marine waters.
Friends assembled a dedicated group to organize, recruit, and train these volunteers. Through the summer of 2022 this group visited all four cities and hosted training sessions for the volunteers on the use of the test equipment and the micro-biology processes.
Particular thanks goes to Sue Spadoni, Wayne Huseby, Chris Wood, Betty Carteret, Sherry Johnson, and Tim Gohrke. This project expansion was a heavy lift but the group succeeded in organizing and training thirty-three volunteers among all four cities.