Using Humboldt Baykeeper’s 2005-2009 Citizen Water Monitoring data, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board staff recently recommended six waterways for listing under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act due to bacterial pollution (E. coli).
Photo: Children play in Little River at Moonstone Beach, one of the waterways recommended for listing. March 22, 2014.
On May 8, the Regional Board held a workshop in Fortuna to discuss the recommended listing, which will prioritize research to pinpoint the sources and ultimately work towards improving water quality. On Aug. 14, the Regional Board will hold a hearing on the proposed listing.
Runoff polluted with fecal coliform, specifically E. coli, has long been recognized as a significant water quality problem in the Humboldt Bay watershed, impacting the Bay ecosystem, water-based recreation, and the commercial oyster industry.
E. coli is a type of fecal coliform bacteria found in the guts of warm-blooded animals, including humans. It is an indicator of a range of pathogenic bacteria and viruses found in feces, all of which can make people sick. The state sets a limit of 235 to 576 MPN/100 mL (the unit of measurement for the number of bacterial colonies) for waterways that are used for contact recreation, such as swimming, wading, fishing, surfing, or boating. Children are especially susceptible to illness from playing in small streams and coastal waters polluted with coliform bacteria, which can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting.
While County Environmental Health monitors local beaches and posts warnings, little has been done to identify the sources and develop strategies to address polluted runoff that impacts local coastal waters.
Good news for oyster growers and eaters: Humboldt Bay itself is not proposed for listing due to overall low E. coli levels. The proposed listing should benefit the oyster industry, which is required to suspend harvest during and after major rainstorms due to the high levels of bacteria being flushed from the Bay’s tributaries.
Special thanks to the Eureka Times-Standard editorial board for supporting the proposed listing and our work in general! (see A Call to Action, April 12).
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