We have been experiencig heavy rains this week, and rain is certainly a good thing that we need more of. However, there is one situation when rain is not 100 percent good: That is, when it carries pollutants into coastal watersheds. The “first flush,” or first big rain event, of the year washes away all the sediments that have built up over the dry summer. Faulty septic systems, pet and livestock feces, leaky sewage pipes are all possible culprits for contributing to high levels of bacteria.
Even though we are not as impacted by development as Southern California, Humboldt County coastal waters have been shown to be just as polluted. Last year Clam Beach was identified as the third most polluted beach in the state, and received an F on Heal the Bay’s annual Report Card. Humboldt County Environmental Health Department monitors five local beaches between Mckinleyville and Trinidad, and all five have dangerous levels of e. coli and pathogenic material that could make you sick. Entering the water after a rain puts people at risk of contracting infectious diseases, skin rashes and pink eye. A simple rule-of-thumb to live by is to avoid swimming or surfing 24 hours after a major rain event.
So what is this bacteria, and where does it come from? Bacteria found in water samples is generally fecal bacteria from the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals. These microorganisms are likely to indicate the presence of disease-causing pathogens, but are not pathogenic themselves. Humboldt Baykeeper and the Humboldt County Public Health Lab is getting ready to do a study on bacteria from water samples to identify the source animals, whether they be humans, cattle, dogs, birds or something else. Determining this will provide direction for ways to solve the problem of high bacteria levels and restore water quality.
As we continue to relish in our heavy rains this winter remember, all water drains to the ocean and bay. There are simple things you can do to reduce the amount of pollutants flowing down the drain.
- Don’t wash your car in the street
- Maintain your septic systems
- Pick up your pet’s waste
- Support cities when they need to do water testing
- Plant an Ocean Friendly Garden
- Fence your cattle (if you’re a livestock owner)
- Be a water quality steward:
For spills in Humboldt Bay:
- California Office of Emergency Services (800) 852-7550
For spills in or near storm drains (which drain to creeks and Humboldt Bay)
- Eureka Public Works Dept. (707) 441-4192
- Arcata Environmental Services Dept. (707) 822-8184
- Humboldt County Public Works Dept. (707) 445-7491
The North Spit Waverider buoy located off Humboldt Bay is expected to reach 27 feet today! While it’s awe-inspiring and will get your adrenalin through the roof to see these giants in person, remember — Mother Nature is the boss. The ocean has been known to claim beach-going victims in Humboldt in the past. Let’s learn from these horrific tragedies and enjoy the beach safely.
Never underestimate the power of awareness and observation when near the ocean. Long-interval swells mean the water can look like a pleasant lake for 20 minutes at a time and then a freight train of 20-foot waves the next. Sneaker waves may be hard to predict and generally occur when two large peaks converge and create one monster wave. Even if you are far from the water, if you are walking on wet sand that is probably an indicator that a wave was there moments before. We have a magnificent coastline and winter can be one of the most exciting times to experience it as long as you take proper precautions.
- Never turn your back on the water.
- Practice the buddy system
- Be mindful of upcoming weather conditions.
- Be aware of potentially dangerous waves in areas of strong currents that are near shore or shallow banks.
- Remember that sneaker waves are hard to predict.
- Remain aware of your surroundings.
- Do not play on jetties or rocks
- Do not overestimate your swimming abilities.
- Do not underestimate the power of the sea.
People in an emergency and need of Coast Guard assistance should use: VHF-FM Channel 16 (156.8 MHz), dial 911, or call their nearest Coast Guard unit.
Delia Bense-Kang serves as the Northcoast Environmental Center’s Marine Protected Area Outreach Coordinator and chairs Surfrider Foundation’s Humboldt Chapter.