Bacteria levels in the Burley Lagoon are reaching the upper limits of the Washington State Department of Health standard. If the levels go above the limit, the lagoon will be closed to shellfish harvesting. Photo by Hugh McMillan

Burley Lagoon is one of 16 on the list of threatened shellfish areas by the Washington State Department of Health. The lagoon is one of 102 of Washington’s classified commercial shellfish growing areas.

“Some very productive shellfish harvesting areas in Puget Sound, Willapa Bay, and Grays Harbor are meeting the water quality standard, but are on the verge of closure,” said Bob Woolrich, growing area manager for the department.

Though the higher bacteria levels still meet the standards, the trend is not looking good, said Scott Berbells, health services consultant with the department.

“Bacteria levels may exceed the standard and we may have to close harvesting in the area,” he said.

Sampling of the area is conducted 12 times each year, he said, and though levels of bacteria are elevated, he said it doesn’t mean the area is failing. There are three stations listed as threatened and if the water quality continues to deteriorate, it could mean closure of the sight.

“People should maintain on-site sewage systems, make sure there is no runoff during rainfall, and remove pet waste while walking the dog,” Berbells said.
The threat is to shellfish, not other fish in the lagoon, he said.

“This is for the protection of public health,” he said. “When people eat shellfish they consume whatever the shellfish have filtered through them.”

Bacteria levels are approaching the upper limits, he said, and there is a restoration project in place to continually identify potential pollution sources.

“Improvements are being made, and many of them wouldn’t be happening without the good work of the Department of Health and its partners. But we can’t deny the fact that, despite this progress, Puget Sound is still exhibiting signs of trouble,” said David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, which recently adopted the Action Agenda to restore the Sound. “Fortunately, with the Action Agenda in place, we are now in a position to move forward cleaning up Puget Sound.”