NPS steps up to tackle water contamination

There’s hope yet for decreasing the amount of fecal matter in the water at Ebey’s Landing.

A recent report by Island County Public Health showed that surface water in the area tested high in fecal coliform, but the National Park Service worked with the Whidbey Island Conservation District to try and solve the problem.

Source identification testing traced much of the water contamination to agricultural operations being performed on land owned by the National Park Service.

“It was our responsibility to get the funding and figure out how to fix it,” said Roy Zipp, superintendent of National Park Service operations at Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

A farmer operating under a permit from the National Park Service has a concentrated animal feedlot on the park service’s land.

According to a report on the operation, “years of system neglect and poor maintenance practices by the farms” and “benign neglect by NPS officials” led to a partial failure of the farm’s existing manure containment system.

The park service has sought to divest itself from the farm property since it bought the land in the early 2000s, Zipp said.

The intended short-term nature of the land ownership and the permitting system used by the farmers led to a lack of incentive to perform the kind of maintenance and large capital investments that would have normally been done, he said.

Once the problem had been identified, the Park Service worked with the conservation district to create a new manure runoff system.

The project cost the park service over $180,000, although the conservation district was able to assist by securing $16,000 in cost-share grant funds.

“If there’s a hero in this ongoing effort, it’s the conservation district,” Zipp said.

The district, on a voluntary basis, works with both private land owners and government entities to implement best management practices to improve water quality, Karen Bishop, district manager, said in an email.

The project, as recommended by the conservation district, involved repairing and cleaning thousands of feet of drain pipes and gutters and reconnecting downspouts to drains.

The park service then worked with a contractor to construct a large farm lagoon for the manure-laden water to be piped into. Water kept in the lagoon can be used as supplemental irrigation during long dry spells in the summer, Zipp said.

The project was completed in June 2017, and preliminary results seem to show an improvement in water quality.

“We are seeing positive results of these efforts and we hope the trend continues,” Bishop said.

Caitlin Budd, a water quality specialist with the county, said fecal coliform levels do seem to be lower after the completion of the project.

However, she said the department will require data over two years with at least 12 samples per year to draw a conclusion on the effectiveness of the project.

Budd also said there are many other smaller pollution sources that are dispersed throughout the Ebey’s Landing watershed that also likely contribute to the poor water quality designation.

Zipp acknowledged the need for continued work to improve water quality in the area, but he remained optimistic about the future.

“It doesn’t involve rocket science to find a solution,” he said. “It just requires some money and people working together.”