Birch Bay Water Quality Update

posted Aug 5, 2014, 1:23 PM by Ingrid Enschede   [ updated Aug 5, 2014, 1:23 PM ]
Mouth of Terrell Creek
County staff have been receiving questions from Birch Bay residents concerned about water quality and increasing amounts of algae and purple sulfur bacteria in Birch Bay this summer. This post provides answers to frequently asked questions.  More information is provided in the August 4, 2014 press release.  

Is the water in Birch Bay safe to swim and wade in?  Yes, the Whatcom County Health Department collects water samples every two weeks from locations in central Birch Bay as part of the Beach Environmental Assessment, Communication and Health (BEACH) program.  The purpose of this program is to monitor and determine whether or not recreational beaches are safe to swim in. For more information and links to the BEACH program click here.

What is the pink stuff and why does the beach smell?  The pink stuff is purple sulfur bacteria.  It grows on the beach in the summer time when excess algae growth leads to anaerobic decay and the production of smelly hydrogen sulfide gas.  For more information click here.

Is it safe to harvest shellfish?  Not right now because of biotoxins but generally yes.  As of July 2, 2014 there is a DSP biotoxin shellfish harvesting closure for all beaches in Whatcom County.  For more information read the press release.  Once the biotoxin closure is lifted, most areas are open to shellfish harvesting in Birch Bay.  Read the Washington State Department of Health Annual Growing Area Review for 2013.  The community should avoid harvesting shellfish within 670 yards from the mouth of Terrell Creek.  For more information on this closure are click here.  

How is the water quality?  On-going monitoring data in Terrell Creek and the small coastal drainages flowing into Birch Bay show variable levels of bacteria.  These monitoring sites frequently do not meet state health standards. Information on water quality monitoring is posted on the water quality program pages.  Residents and visitors to Birch Bay can help improve water quality and reduce algae growth by picking up pet waste, keeping food away from wildlife, maintaining septic systems, keeping manure out of waterways, and limiting fertilizer use.