Several beaches that closed Friday after a sewage spill will most likely welcome swimmers and paddle boarders back later this week.
After 3 million gallons of untreated sewage spilled from the West Point Treatment Plant into the Puget Sound on Friday morning, half a dozen beaches in the area temporarily closed, banning visitors from making direct contact with the water.
The Washington Department of Ecology initially reported that nine sites in King County closed Friday morning, but a spokesman from Public Health – Seattle and King County said the only King County beaches that were closed were Discovery Park’s north and south beaches.
After the spill, health department officials tested water from all the beaches in the area, but haven’t received the results yet, said James Apa, a spokesman from King County’s public health department. They decided to close Discovery Park’s two beaches as a precaution, pending further testing, Apa said.
“We’ll be looking at a few tests from Friday, Saturday and Sunday to help us determine if we can reopen early in the week or not,” Apa said Sunday afternoon.
Officials also temporarily blocked off three beaches in Kitsap County: Fay Bainbridge Park, Indianola Dock and Joel Pritchard Park. All three will reopen Monday, said Camille St. Onge, spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Ecology.
Contact with contaminated water could result in skin rashes, upper respiratory infections, gastroenteritis and other illnesses, according to the Department of Ecology website.
But St. Onge said the public can still enjoy other nonwater activities (including bonfires and sunbathing) at the area’s beaches, even at those that are closed.
“It’s just no contact with water,” she said.
She added that she’s gotten several calls throughout the weekend from people trying to plan their beach days but are worried for their kids and families.
“It is Washington, and we know that when we get a good patch of sunny weather, people flock to the Puget Sound. It’s an iconic part of our life here,” St. Onge said Sunday.
The crowds aren’t a surprise — it’s the warmest weekend Seattle has seen so far this year, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Johnny Burg, though he added that there was a 95-degree Wednesday in June. Saturday hit a high of 80 degrees and Sunday is expected to get up to around 87 degrees, Burg said Sunday morning.
The rest of the week should stay mostly sunny and hover between the mid-70s and low-80s during the day, said NWS meteorologist Chris Burke.
Karyn Collins, 57, who lives in Colorado but owns a boat in the Elliott Bay Marina, said she was at Discovery Park on Saturday and saw the big, red warning signs to stay out of the water and refrain from fishing.
“Anything like that that happens to the environment is horrible,” said Collins, who was walking her dog by the water Sunday. “We don’t take care of our environment enough to start with … It’s really kind of scary. People don’t even seem to be paying much attention.”
St. Onge said the number of beach closures this year has been higher than in recent years, though she didn’t have an exact number. Golden Gardens Park was also closed to swimming and fishing for five days after a sewage overflow in June.
“Heavy rains may have contributed to that … Often times, there might be a sewer overflow whenever there’s rain. That will sometimes cause a beach closure,” St. Onge said. “The heavy rains wash a lot of the stormwater, which can carry fecal bacteria, down to the shoreline … and then that raises bacteria levels.”
She urged the public to remember two things when trying to preserve the region’s shorelines: Get swim diapers on toddlers and don’t leave food for bird congregation, she said.
“It takes a whole community to manage our environment and our ecology … We have such a beautiful region,” St. Onge said. “Let’s just take care of it.”