Vaughn Bay shellfish harvesting expands

The Washington State Department of Health recently opened 50 additional acres of Vaughn Bay to commercial shellfish harvesting after a successful effort by the Pierce County Shellfish Partners to restore water quality.

In total, more than 150 acres have been restored, including 104 acres reopened in 2008 after being closed for more than 30 years due to health concerns from water pollution.

The Department of Health protects human health by ensuring that shellfish harvested from local waters  — both commercially and recreationally — only come from areas with clean water and are safe for consumption.

Vaughn Bay, located on the east shore of Case Inlet about 20 miles west of Tacoma, had been closed to harvesting since the mid-1970s. The mile-long bay is shallow with extensive shoreline development, which makes it prone to pollution from surface water runoff. High levels of fecal coliform bacteria from failing septic systems and poorly managed livestock manure made the bay unsafe for commercial shellfish harvesting.

The Pierce County Shellfish Partners program, a coalition of eight public, private and nonprofit organizations, was established in 2006 to improve water quality along marine shorelines. Members of Pierce County Shellfish Partners made the following efforts to reduce the level of fecal coliform in Vaughn Bay:

— The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department used funding from Pierce County Public Works and Utilities to identify failing septic systems and work with property owners to complete repairs;

— The Pierce Conservation District provided local farm owners with techniques to keep manure from reaching the bay;

— Pierce County Public Works and Utilities provided drainage improvements, stormwater inspections, water quality sampling, and public education.

“This is another great success in Pierce County’s water quality program,” said Dan Wrye, the Water Quality and Watersheds section manager for the Surface Water Management division. “Shellfish Partners has worked hard these past several years to make this possible. Working together to prevent water pollution will ensure that Puget Sound waters are safe for everyone to enjoy.”

A key success of Shellfish Partners is the septic repair grant and loan program. Using funds from the Washington State Department of Ecology, the grants provide financial assistance to homeowners to make septic repairs. The program has funded more than 25 repairs, fixing some systems that have caused problems for decades.

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