A water sample taken from the Skykomish River near Sultan has tested positive for high levels of a bacterial contaminant known as fecal coliform. Nonorganic pollutants known as surfactants were also discovered.
Sultan resident Gerry Gibson took the water samples from the river on Tuesday, Aug. 11, after he and other residents of the Dyer Road area became concerned about a sudsy-looking substance on the river's surface. Gibson spoke during the Sultan City Council meeting on Thursday, Aug. 27, providing its members with an overview of the situation.
"This all started about a month and a half ago. Several of us that live on the river noticed bubbles and stuff floating down the river in unusual quantities,GÇ¥ Gibson said. "It was every single day in the morning ' there was thick, foamy, sudsy stuff with brown junk in between.GÇ¥
Gibson told council that the river would typically clear up around noon.
"It would clear up and be like a normal river in the mid-day,GÇ¥ he said. "But in the mornings, it's horrible.GÇ¥
He began making calls and sending emails, first alerting the city of Sultan. He soon discovered that locating an agency with jurisdiction over the river was problematic, so he took matters into his own hands, submitting water samples to Am Test Laboratories in Kirkland for analysis and paying for the tests himself.
The tests were positive for nonorganic pollutants known as surfactants, which were present in the water sample at a rate of .260 milligrams per liter. Fecal coliform was discovered at a level of 1900 Colony Forming Units (CFU) per 100 milliliters.
Sultan City Council members have asked that residents use caution when swimming in the Skykomish River. The city of Sultan will be actively involved in further investigation of the issue.
"They just closed down Juanita Beach and Seward Park Beach for levels around 300 and 400,GÇ¥ Gibson said. "And this was 1900.GÇ¥
Juanita Beach is currently closed due to high levels of fecal coliform, as is Seward Park, which is currently being monitored for levels of fecal coliform after a sewage spill. Washington Administrative Code 173-201A dictates levels of fecal coliform in fresh water should not exceed 200 CFU where there is primary recreational contact like swimming.
The code stipulates that multiple tests should be performed.
According to the Washington State Department of Ecology fecal coliform is "an indicator of bacterial contamination from human and other warm-blooded animals.GÇ¥ The live organism is commonly found in the feces of livestock, wildlife, pets and people, and it can contain illness-causing pathogens. Failing septic systems can cause excessive levels of fecal coliform.
Fecal coliform can have a detrimental effect on the watershed and is viewed as a public health risk. According to the DOE website, swimmers who are exposed to high levels of fecal coliform may experience upset stomach, rashes or diarrhea. The DOE states that it can also be an indicator of organisms that cause diseases such as E coli, hepatitis and salmonella. Accidentally swallowing water with high levels of fecal coliform or consuming contaminated shellfish can expose a person to the pathogens associated with fecal coliform.
Surfactants are a nonorganic contaminant caused by chemicals frequently found in laundry detergents and cleaning products. They are often present in septic system effluent ' the waste that is commonly discharged into a waterway.
Gibson explored the river in a kayak, attempting to discover where the contamination was coming from, but was unsuccessful. He observed the soapy substance on both Wallace River and the Skykomish, but the route of the contamination wasn't entirely clear. He also located soapy deposits in the Startup area. Finally, said Gibson, his discovery earned the attention of the DOE, who will be out to perform additional testing on Tuesday, Sept. 1.
The night before the council meeting, said Gibson, was exceptionally bad.
"I got a call from a neighbor that said it was worse than ever out there; we went out with our flashlights,GÇ¥ Gibson said. "I could have walked across the river with all the stuff floating out there. It was awful ' brown chunks and sudsy stuff.GÇ¥
The Monroe Monitor and Valley News will update this story as more information becomes available. For more information on fecal coliform, visit https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/documents/0210010.pdf.A side-by-side comparison of the Skykomish River with visible contamination and without. Photo courtesy of Gerry Gibson.