News

Bacteria prompts swim warning at Windjammer

By JESSIE STENSLAND

Staff reporter

Island County Health Officer Roger Case has issued a swimming advisory for part of Oak Harbor's Windjammer Park, also known as City Beach Park, because of elevated levels of fecal bacteria.

City workers have tried to trace the source of the bacteria, but haven't found the exact origin.

"There are no sewer overflows or blocked lines," said Cathy Rosen, Oak Harbor's superintendent of public works. "We know that it's not coming from the city's sewer system."

Kathleen Parvin, an environmental health specialist with Island County Public Health, said the advisory covers the immediate vicinity of a boat ramp near the RV park on S. Beeksma Drive as well as the entire beach west of the the swimming lagoon.

The swimming advisory does not include the designated swimming area in the lagoon.

Parvin said the boat ramp is posted with a yellow swimming advisory sign due to persistently elevated levels of Enterococcus bacteria, a type of fecal bacteria detected in the storm-water drainage discharge located just east of the boat ramp.

Parvin said the health department regularly tests water at the park. She noted that the bacteria levels have gone noticeably up and down over the last few months. The levels finally became elevated and persistent enough this week that health officials decided to issue the warning.

Parvin said the fecal bacteria came from a storm drain outfall near the boat ramp. She said the health department is working with the city to identify the source within the storm water system.

Tuesday, city official said they had no luck. Since the bacteria isn't coming from the sewer system, Steve Bebee, public works field supervisor, said it's probably from a failing septic system or from animal waste.

Rosen pointed out that elevated levels of fecal bacteria are more common in the summer, especially after periods of dry then wet weather.

"With low flows, the bacteria can multiple in the lines and then it's flushed out when it rains," she said.

In fact, the health department recommends that people avoid contact with marine waters 48 hours following rainfall.

Contact with fecal contaminated bacteria can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections and other illnesses. The risk is greatest for young children, the elderly, or anyone with a compromised immune system.

Parvin said the type of bacteria found at Windjammer Park doesn't pose a great danger in itself, but she's more concerned with the viruses and other bugs that may go with it.

"This type of bacteria is a good indicated of the risk of illness from swimming in marine waters," she said.

Parvin said the swimming advisory will remain in effect until the water quality improves.

To view water quality monitoring results go to www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/ts/WaterRec/beach. For more information, contact Island County Public Health at 360-679-7350, Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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