Thurston County is full of water. We depend on it for our recreation, drinking water and industries. How do we ensure it stays healthy and safe?
Every month, Thurston County Public Health & Social Services staff members visit 31 streams around Thurston County to measure water quality. In summer, we monitor the water at lakes and saltwater beaches. During those months we also test shellfish to ensure they are safe for the public to harvest.
The goal is to keep track of the health of our waters. Keeping streams and beaches healthy helps us stay safe so we can enjoy wading, swimming and fishing. It also protects our plentiful Northwest wildlife, including the salmon and shellfish we eat.
When we monitor our waters, we look for bacteria, nutrients and other qualities important to health. We want to meet the water-quality standards Washington sets to keep streams and lakes safe for people and animals.
A lot of water pollution problems are caused when rain washes pollutants off the land into storm drains, ditches, streams and lakes. Human and animal waste, human activities, and pesticides and fertilizers can all affect water quality.
Did you know that everybody can do their part to protect our streams? Taking the following steps will help keep our waters (and us) healthy.
Pick up after your pet: Animal feces is full of bacteria. If it’s left on the grass or street, it washes away. The bacteria hitch a ride in the water and spread far and wide. Bring plastic bags when you walk your dog to clean up the waste. Throw dog waste and kitty litter in the trash.
Limit the use of pesticides and fertilizers: Pesticides and fertilizers are easily washed off your lawn into lakes and streams. Use organic gardening techniques that reduce or eliminate the need to use pesticides and fertilizers. Grow plants that are naturally suited to Northwest conditions. For helpful advice, visit the Thurston County Public Health Common Sense Gardening page, or keep an eye on the Thurston County WSU Extension’s Master Gardener program for events and classes: tinyurl.com/kluac5d or visit the new Grow Smart Grow Safe site at growsmartgrowsafe.org.
Car washing: When cars are washed in the driveway or on the street, harmful soap and detergents drains into our waterways. Use commercial car washes that dispose of their wastewater safely. If you do wash your car at home, wash it over your lawn and use water by itself or phosphate-free detergents.
Keep your septic system in order: Many houses depend on septic systems to treat and dispose of wastewater, but failing systems can pollute our waterways. Get septic systems inspected every three years and pumped when needed — typically every three to 5 years. Prevent failures by using water efficiently and keeping harmful products out of the system, including caustic household chemicals and garbage disposal waste. You can see helpful videos at tinyurl.com/kcz5vbe.
There are many ways to keep water healthy for your family. We are all connected, so every healthful choice you make to protect the quality of our water makes a difference, not just for you and your family, but for the community where you live.
Water quality reports are available through Thurston County’s website. Reports through 2014 are available, and the 2015-2016 report is expected this summer.
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.