Children playing at Moonstone Beach courtesy Jen Kalt, Humboldt Baykeeper.

One of the problems with water is how many of the problems pass by undetected. The ocean looks fine from the beach, the rivers race along merrily and the streams serve as poster children for bucolic photos illustrating our high quality of life.

Burbling along in those streams, however, is  notable amount of poop-related bacteria. If we’re not attentive, we may find ourselves up that proverbial creek without a paddle. Back in March, we noted Humboldt Baykeeper’s winter flow study on Janes, Jolly Giant, Jacoby and Campbell creeks. You’ll remember that those results showed Janes Creek is responsible for more than 75 percent of the fecal coliform (E. coli) going into Humboldt Bay – a whopping 375 lbs. per day. (During dry weather, Jolly Giant Creek carries the majority of E. coli- polluted runoff.)

Runoff polluted with fecal coliform has long been a significant water quality problem in the Humboldt Bay watershed, affecting the Bay ecosystem, water-based recreation and the commercial oyster industry. The County Environmental Health monitors local beaches and posts warnings, but little has been done to pinpoint the sources and solve the problems.

Due to the continued presence of fecal coliform in our streams, Regional Water Board staff is recommending six streams for listing under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act due to bacterial pollution:

  • Little River: The Little River at Moonstone Beach County Park is a popular spot for children to play in the shallow river all year long. Many people surf, boogie board, fish and crab at Moonstone Beach, and they kayak, stand up paddle, and even swim in the Little River.
  • Jolly Giant Creek & Campbell Creek in Arcata: These two creeks flow into the region of Humboldt Bay that support commercial oyster farms. Although the Bay itself does not have high E. coli levels when oysters are harvested, the farms are required to stop harvesting after major storms, when E. coli washes into the creeks and flows into the Bay. On average, the oyster industry shuts down 30 days each year to protect public health and safety.
  • Widow White Creek/Mad River: This creek winds through suburban neighborhoods of McKinleyville, where children play in the water. Children often play in the creek where its lower reach flows onto a popular public beach before reaching the Mad River.
  • Martin’s Slough/Lower Elk River: The Elk River supplies drinking water to many residents. Martin’s Slough attracts children to play in its waters where it flows through suburban neighborhoods. People have been known to surf at “Stinky Beach” near the Elk River mouth in Humboldt Bay.

Note that Humboldt Bay is not being considered for listing, since monthly samples collected by the Shellfish Technical Advisory Committee (under the California Department of Public Health’s Management Plan For Commercial Shellfishing In Humboldt Bay) are below the threshold for shellfish harvest. These samples are collected when shellfish can be harvested, so the 303(d) listing will not negatively affect the oyster industry. 

Humboldt Baykeeper is encouraging residents to write brief comments supporting the recommended listing so that this type of pollution will become a higher priority for state and local agencies.

Baykeeper’s Jen Kalt will discuss all this today on Coastal Currents at noon on KHUM 104.7 FM (stream here).

Further reading: “Northern California rivers and fish doomed.

Navy still killing whales

The U.S. Navy continues to be implicated in mass whale strandings while “playing war games.” The comment period for the Navy’s plans to utilize sonar technology, electromagnetic devices and explosives in its testing and training grounds that run offshore from Humboldt to Alaska has been extended to April 15. The Northcoast Environmental Center has a summary and petition signing effort here.

Arcata still celebrating birds

The 19th annual Godwit Days Spring Migration Bird Festival kicks off April 16. Tune into KHSU 90.5 FM’s The EcoNews Report tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. for an overview of all the different ways in which our feathered friends are being celebrated.

PacOut Green Team still cleaning up

Pacific Outfitters’ effort to rid Humboldt County beaches of trash continues every Saturday. Join the weekly event on a regular basis or as you’re able. 

Additionally, several local organizations are celebrating Earth Day by collecting garbage off local beaches and rivers – and then continuing the celebration in Humboldt’s County’s best building

Jennifer Savage is the Northcoast Environmental Center’s Coastal Programs Director and chairs the Surfrider Foundation’s Humboldt Chapter.