Water quality victory in Quartermaster Harbor

Parts of Quartermaster Harbor are reopened to shellfish harvesting, thanks to improvements in water quality. The harvest had been closed for decades because of contamination, primarily due to faulty or failing septic systems.

originally posted on December 9, 2016


Thanks to improved water quality, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has opened 180 acres of shellfish beds in Quartermaster Harbor at Vashon and Maury islands to commercial and recreational shellfish harvesting for the first time in more than 20 years.

The opening is considered a tremendous victory for homeowners, for the Puyallup Tribe, which has reserved treaty harvest rights in this area, and for everybody who wants a clean and healthy Puget Sound.

Since water quality rules were instituted more than two decades ago, Quartermaster Harbor has been closed to shellfish harvest because of fecal contamination primarily from faulty or failing septic systems. In response, Public Health began working eight years ago to ensure the homes surrounding Quartermaster Harbor have functioning septic systems.

Primarily using federal and state grant funding, and with assistance from King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, Public Health staff addressed the problem through water sampling; educating shoreline homeowners about the need to inspect and fix their septic systems; holding numerous product fairs and presentations about new septic technologies; and providing other technical assistance to homeowners so that they could be in compliance with state and local clean water laws.

Homeowners have responded by complying with the regulations, which led to the continued monitoring and ultimate approval by DOH to upgrade previously closed areas.

“Cleaner water in Quartermaster Harbor is a victory for the Puyallup Tribe, the people of Vashon and Maury islands, and everyone who wants a healthier Puget Sound,” said Executive Constantine. “The success we celebrate today is the result of years of effort by our dedicated staff who worked closely with the island communities along with state and federal agencies. We will continue to work together to ensure that this shared victory is a lasting one.”

Improperly treated wastewater from septic systems can flow into waterbodies and contaminate shellfish with human disease-causing bacteria. Thanks to improved water quality, homeowners can collect shellfish from their beaches and the Puyallup Tribe can resume harvesting from traditionally fished shellfish beds.

In a statement, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians called the shellfish bed upgrade good news.

“King County staff worked very hard with very few resources, and it is our hope that this success can lead to additional upgrades. There are still large areas of Quartermaster Harbor that are prohibited. We are looking forward to the day when the entire harbor is clean enough for everyone to safely enjoy recreating and clam harvesting.”

“This is wonderful news because this is an essential asset for the Tribe and community” said Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health – Seattle & King County.

A key priority for Public Health will be to maintain this success in Quartermaster Harbor. The DOH regularly samples marine waters for fecal coliform bacteria and evaluates the watershed for pollution problems.

Homeowners can help assure that the area continues to meet safe standards by having their septic systems inspected annually, reporting inspections to Public Health as required by law, and making prompt repairs in consultation with Public Health and certified onsite septic system maintainers.

Bacteria are not the only threat to health from shellfish. Toxins like paralytic shellfish poisoning can cause temporary closure of harvesting.  Always visit the Shellfish safety website before harvesting shellfish anywhere in Puget Sound.

Providing effective and innovative health and disease prevention services for more than two million residents and visitors of King County, Public Health — Seattle & King County works for safer and healthier communities for everyone, every day. More at www.kingcounty.gov/health.

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