On 6/22, the Squaxin Island Tribe and other partners on an advisory committee made a report to the Oakland Bay Clean Water District Board of Directors (aka the Mason County Commissioners) on the status of Oakland Bay. The review was generally positive, but cautious. Below summarizes some of my and others comments.
Water quality has improved since 2005, no portion of the bay is listed as “threatened” by DOH, and harvest restrictions have been removed for the fall-winter-spring months at the head of the bay. The bacteria sources forcing the remaining summer restrictions still must be studied and corrected.
While larger climatic/weather patterns certainly play a role in the transport and fate of bacteria in the bay and consequentially, improvement of water quality, increased maintenance of septic systems around Oakland Bay helps. In the last year, septic system inspection reports to Mason County have jumped by 26%. This has occurred only in the Oakland Bay watershed; in other areas like Hood Canal and Case Inlet, reporting levels remained flat.
This difference between Oakland Bay and the rest of Mason County is the result of partial implementation of a social marketing plan the Clean Water District developed to encourage residents around Oakland Bay to check their septic systems. The plan refocused messaging away from slogans like “Saving Puget Sound” to more personal consequences of poor water quality like threats to children’s health, property values, and local jobs. The new messaging included straightforward suggestions for what to do and incentives to make doing it cheaper and easier. With this new approach, the residents of Oakland Bay responded in quick order.
Today 63% of the residents around Oakland Bay are up-to-date with their septic maintenance, but that is not good enough in the long run. As the local population continues to grow, we are going to need even higher levels of compliance to sustain the opportunity to harvest shellfish in Oakland Bay.
The bottom line is that we have a plan, the social marketing plan, to get beyond 63%. It is only partial implemented and funding is the biggest impediment to further action.
The real problem is future funding. So far we have gotten by on grants and other special funds. The sporadic nature of this kind of funding won’t allow us to achieve our ultimate goal: designation of all of Oakland Bay as “approved” without restriction for shellfish harvest. To achieve that sort of water quality improvement, we will need a sustained, perpetual effort and that is going to take a reliable, predictable funding source.