In 1992, state Department of Health officials ruled 1,000 acres of commercial shellfish tidelands off-limits to harvest whenever it rained more than a half-inch in 24 hours because of unsafe bacterial contamination in the marine waters.
But by the end of this month, the entire area should be back in an approved status for harvesting clams, oysters and geoducks, rain or shine, state health officials said.
Its a milestone, said Bob Woolrich of the health departments Office of Shellfish and Water Protection. All 1,000 acres will be open to harvest all of the time.
About 900 acres was fully approved for harvest in July 2002 after years of work to better manage and reduce livestock waste in the Nisqually Valley, as well as repair failing on-site septic systems serving homes in the watershed. The last 37 acres to recover, including 12 acres of prime growing area just west of the state Department of Fish and Wildlifes Luhr Beach boat launch, should be approved for unrestricted use by late October, when a state Department of Health interim order signed Sept. 23 becomes final.
The most recent water-quality improvements in the Luhr Beach area are related to on-site septic system repairs in the neighborhood above the beach, said Mark Swartout, Thurston County natural resources program manager.
State law required the county to form a shellfish-protection district for the Nisqually Reach in 2001, as well as develop a plan to correct the pollution problems.
Nisqually Reach resident Fred Michelson is one of several stakeholders who have worked with the county on the shellfish-protection district plan.
The plan has definitely paid dividends, Michelson said. But theres still work to do to reduce pollution in the McAllister Creek drainage.
The only commercial grower in the Nisqually Reach area is National Fish & Oyster Co., a third-generation shellfish company that has been farming on 300 acres near the mouth of the Nisqually River since 1939.
Having all the growing area in the health departments approved status means the company wont have to rely on dry weather for some of its harvest operations or relay shellfish to approved areas to cleanse themselves before going to market.
Its good news, said the companys assistant plant manager, Shane Oliva.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444