The shellfish downgrade in Dungeness Bay required Clallam County to form a shellfish protection district pursuant to RCW 90.72. On October 11, 2000, a recommendation was made by the Dungeness River Management Team (DRMT) to the Board of Clallam County Commissioners to call the shellfish protection district a "Clean Water District" and to have its boundaries be the same as the management area of the DRMT. The DRMT management area includes the Dungeness watershed and those waters influenced by it through the irrigation system and the Sequim Bay watershed.
The Sequim-Dungeness Clean Water District was formed by the Board of Clallam County Commissioners in June 2001, by ordinance CCC.27.16. The legal boundaries of the Clean Water District include the following areas within Clallam County: the Dungeness Watershed and those waters influenced by it through the irrigation system, and other independent tributaries to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, from Bagley Creek east to, and including, the Sequim Bay Watershed. The general Boundaries of the Clean Water District were used to designate a Marine Recovery Area in Clallam County as required by State code in 2006.
The Board of County Commissioners also adopted a nonpoint pollution plan called the Clean Water Strategy for Addressing Fecal Coliform in the Dungeness Bay Watershed. The purpose of the strategy is to guide and coordinate cleanup actions to improve and protect water quality in Dungeness Bay and the Dungeness River watershed. A local work group of citizens and government agency representatives known as the Clean Water Work Group developed the strategy and coordinates cleanup activities. The Strategy was updated in 2004 with information from the two fecal coliform TMDL studies. The updated Clean Water Strategy is part of Ecology's Water Cleanup Detailed Implementation Plan for the Lower Dungeness Watershed and Dungeness Bay Total Maximum Daily Loads.
Water Quality Studies
Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs)
A number of streams and ditches in the Dungeness watershed have sections called "reaches" that exceed state water quality criteria for fecal coliform. Matriotti Creek, a tributary to the Dungeness River, has been on Washington State's 303(d) list of impaired waters since 1996 for not meeting fecal coliform criteria. With help from Clallam County and the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, Ecology conducted a comprehensive freshwater monitoring program in 1999-2000 to evaluate bacterial contamination in tributaries to the Dungeness River and Dungeness Bay. As required by the federal Clean Water Act, Ecology performed fecal coliform Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) studies of the lower Dungeness watershed (Sargeant 2002) and Dungeness Bay (Sargeant 2004). These technical studies established bacteria level targets that must be met to restore water quality for beneficial uses such as water contact recreation and shellfish harvest.
The TMDL studies found bacterial pollution comes from many small (nonpoint) sources in the watershed such as birds and wildlife, failing septic systems, farm animals, and pets. Ecology developed two water cleanup plans for the lower Dungeness watershed (Hempleman and Sargeant 2002) and Dungeness Bay (Hempleman and Sargeant 2004) to address sources of bacterial pollution, and one combined detailed implementation plan to guide both cleanups (Streeter and Hempleman 2004). Ecology performed a follow-up effectiveness monitoring study in 2008-2009 to determine if TMDL targets and water quality criteria were being met (The Cadmus Group 2010). The study found some stream reaches, including the lower Dungeness River, were meeting fecal coliform targets, while others continued to exceed TMDL targets or water quality criteria.
The Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe received a Targeted Watershed Initiative Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a number of studies and demonstration projects addressing nonpoint source pollution in the Dungeness watershed (and other watershed threats), including an Effectiveness Monitoring Study, a Microbial Source Tracking Study, and a Mycoremediation Demonstration Project. Please visit the Tribe's Environmental Planning page for more information and to view technical reports prepared by Battelle Marine Sciences Laboratory.
Potential Impacts from Bacterial Pollution
The variety of impacts from bacterial pollution in the Dungeness watershed and Bay range from increased public health risk to decreased economic potential. Most importantly, bacterial pollution presents an increased health risk to residents and visitors to the area. Fecal coliforms are used as an indicator of bacterial waste and are a type of bacterium found in the feces of warm-blooded animals (e.g., humans, birds, and livestock). Most fecal coliform bacteria are not harmful, but their presence is used to indicate the potential for a variety of disease-carrying microorganisms, known as pathogens. If present, these pathogens are also transported in human and animal feces and can cause illnesses in humans ranging from stomach upset to more serious diseases, like hepatitis and typhoid. Increased amounts of fecal coliform in surface water indicate an increased chance that pathogens are in the water.
Humans are exposed to pathogens when wading or swimming in water and when we eat contaminated shellfish. People are exposed to pathogens when water is swallowed (via splashing or hand-to-mouth contact) or when water comes into contact with open cuts or wounds. Pathogens enter the shellfish (oysters, clams, and mussels) as they filter the water for food. There is concern that some people will continue to harvest shellfish in the closed area, either unaware of the posted closure or simply ignoring the closure signs. These people will have an increased risk of illness if they eat shellfish.
The closure of commercial shellfish growing areas within Dungeness Bay decreases the economic potential for the local community. The shellfish closure also results in a loss of harvest opportunities by residents and visitors, due to the official closure of the tidelands at the Dungeness boat ramp and recreational areas within the Dungeness Bay Wildlife Refuge. Finally, high levels of bacteria in the streams, river, and bay tarnish the "pristine" reputation of the Dungeness Bay and Dungeness River, which could affect tourism to the area.