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Cows may not be to blame for bacterial contamination in Bellingham Bay and Nooksack River

The Whatcom County Health Department reports significant improvements in water quality that could allow the Lummi’s Portage Bay shellfish beds to re-open for much of the year
The Whatcom County Health Department reports significant improvements in water quality that could allow the Lummi’s Portage Bay shellfish beds to re-open for much of the year The Bellingham Herald file

An Environmental Protection Agency and Lummi Nation report shows no evidence that cows are to blame for bacterial contamination in the Nooksack River and Bellingham Bay, Whatcom Family Farmers said in a news release.

No fecal material from cattle was found in DNA testing of any of the water samples collected, the report indicated. The Whatcom County Health Department also reports significant improvements in water quality that could allow the Lummi’s Portage Bay shellfish beds to re-open for much of the year, according to the news release.

The testing in Bellingham Bay and Nooksack River “showed low levels of DNA from ruminant and avian sources as well as undetermined sources,” according to the group’s website. Ruminant refers to animals that chew their cud, including sheep, goats and deer.

“Analyses with the cattle, dog and human biomarkers revealed no fecal material from these sources was detected within any of the samples,” the EPA report indicated.

The report, however, pointed out the results may indicate no cattle DNA in the water, or the amount of cattle DNA “is too low to detect or their tests are unreliable.”

In recent years, bacterial pollution had closed the shellfish beds for months, but the exact source of the pollution was unclear. Whatcom farmers and the Lummi Nation joined together in 2016 to form the Portage Bay Partnership to push for solutions.

“Water quality is definitely improving, and the results show what we have been saying all along, that the assumption that dairy farms are causing shellfish contamination is simply wrong,” said Fred Likkel, executive director of Whatcom Family Farmers, in the news release.

Also, a new state Department of Ecology study shows improving groundwater quality in northern Whatcom County. Nitrate levels are declining or remaining steady in all but one of the wells Ecology tested.

In a Nov. 8 Capital Press story, an Ecology researcher said the study shows manure lagoons and manure-management plans farmers have been using over the last 20 years may be working to improve water quality.

For information, go to whatcomfamilyfarmers.org/great-news-on-water-quality.html.

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