Pollution levels rising in several North Kitsap streams

Eva Crim

POULSBO — Despite a county-wide trend of less pollution, Little Scandia Creek gained the dubious distinction last year of becoming the fifth Kitsap stream so polluted the health district warned people not to touch the water.

Now two of the county’s five streams contaminated with high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, an indicator of potentially infectious diseases, are in North Kitsap. Little Scandia, which drains into Liberty Bay, joins Lofall Creek, called “very polluted,” located on the Hood Canal.

Little Scandia contains “moderately high” levels of bacteria, ranking it in the middle of streams with health advisories, and lower than Lofall Creek.

The Kitsap County Health District’s 2009 Water Quality Report, released last week with the updated health advisory, also notes that all three of the Kitsap County streams that grew more polluted over the past year are in North Kitsap.

Those creeks, which “significantly worsened,” are Big Scandia Creek and the South Fork of Dogfish Creek near Poulsbo, and Port Gamble Creek which drains into the south end of Port Gamble Bay.

Despite the locations of the creeks in the North End, John Kiess, water protection program manager for the health district, said the geographic location of the creeks in North Kitsap is coincidence.

“If you looked at the same report a couple years ago you’d say, ‘The central part of county is a disaster. What’s going on there?’” Kiess said.

The district is working to identify and remedy the sources of the pollution, testing the streams regularly and sending employees to talk to residents. The cause of the pollution is usually tied to malfunctioning or inadequate septic systems and pet and livestock waste.

“Beyond that there is no real rhyme or reason why we are seeing more in the North End,” Kiess said.

Most residents are cooperative, but many have mixed reactions because of the cost involved in fixing malfunctioning or outdated septic systems.

“They don’t want to be dumping poop on the beach, and they know if they need a new system that’s going to be expensive,” said Stuart Whitford, the county’s Pollution Identification and Correction program manager.

He said fixing or replacing a septic system can cost $20,000, but financial help is available.

Although the latest report calls out some streams as worsening, Whitford noted the short-term trend doesn’t mean the stream is polluted. Port Gamble Creek is a good example.

“It’s worsening from essentially a pristine condition to a slightly less pristine condition,” Whitford said.

The district works with property owners to fix the problems. Higher levels of pollution usually is related to older developments and highly urbanized areas, which is the case with the North Kitsap streams.