Category Archives: Watershed

March 2015 Spotlight – Island County Environmental Health

Island County Environmental Health monitors many essential services on Whidbey and Camano Islands. We inspect schools, pools, restaurants and recycling centers. 

Maribeth Crandell collecting samples of toxic algae.

Maribeth Crandell collecting samples of toxic algae.

We are members of ECO-Net because we also care about water quality, from drinking water, to salmon restoration projects.  We take water samples for testing at popular swimming beaches, test shellfish and work with State and local agencies to monitor them for toxic algae blooms, paralytic shellfish poisoning, fecal coliform or other health hazards.  Our outreach efforts help prevent any public safety or health problems.

schematic diagram of relationship of house, septic system, well, and groundwater

From what goes down the drain inside, to protecting the drain field outside, Home Owner Septic Training will help you live well with your septic system and learn how to avoid costly repairs or replacement.

A number of our staff work with home owners on septic system issues. In Island County, roughly 70% of homes depend upon septic systems for waste water treatment and 70% are dependent on ground water for drinking.  Many people have moved to the Islands from urban areas where they were on a city sewer system.  Septic systems can be very different. In order to protect our water and public health we offer educational programs for home owners with septic systems.   

Septic 101 is offered for free to teach people how to live with their septic system in a way that helps that system work well and last as long as possible.  Septic 201 classes teach people how to inspect their system.  If you have a conventional gravity or pressure system, and pay $28, you could get certified to inspect your own system.  Both of these classes are taught both online and in person.

For those with an alternative system like a mound, sand filter or aerobic treatment unit, you can attend our new free Alternative Septic System Class taught in partnership with the Whidbey Island Conservation District.  (This class is offered for education, not certification.)  Alternative Systems require a licensed Maintenance Service Provider to inspect the system annually.

Inspections, like a tune-up for your car, help catch any problems before they become expensive repairs or failure. Inspections are required by local and state laws every 1-3 years depending on the type of system you have. If, during your inspection you discover the system has problems, we have financial assistance available for repairs or replacement. 

If you live in the Penn Cove Watershed, we have a Rebate Program that will probably cover the cost of your inspection.  It is available while supplies last for 2015 inspections in the Penn Cove Watershed. Those who are up-to-date with their inspections will get a PC sticker for their car.

For a list of Septic System professionals, and a link to registration for our online or in person Septic classes, information on our financial assistance or Rebate Programs visit: or call 360-679-7350.

ECONet’s Help for Whidbey’s Shorelines

Whidbey ECONet members doing social research for good

The shores of Whidbey Island are prized by all whether it be for the spectacular views, opportunities to walk and watch our marine wildlife, the habitat it provides for salmon or for a chance to dig clams.  To keep those shores clean and productive, our ECONet members join forces to do many kinds of projects. One of those projects lead by Whidbey Watershed Stewards was intended to aid our work by doing research into what our population cares about, and how we can better serve the people of Whidbey. Our partner organizations learned alot about social research along the way, with help from Pameal Jull, of Applied Research Northwest and with help from our funders at the Puget Sound Partnership.

Our Research

First, we held focus groups to get a sense of what it is that people know and what they think about in terms of water quality and our marine shorelines. See those focus group finding here WI ECO Net Focus Group findings. We followed it up with an electronic survey of 300 Whidbey resident. Our research was targeted toward our retired population, and we found out some interesting things that Whidbey folks care about:

  • People move here or stay here because they love the rural environment and natural beauty here, and in particular love being close to the sea.
  • Most folks reported that being near the sea was superior to being near fresh water lakes or rivers, and preferred the constantly changing and dynamic nature of the sea.
  • Whidbey residents are concerned about the quality of their drinking water, and the marine waters although they are less aware of the dangers posed to our marine waters.
  • Everyone recognized that we are all responsible for water quality, but put the emphasis on regulation by local government, particularly the County Department of Health.
  • Residents want to know that food and in particular shell fish on our beaches are safe to eat.

Our Programs

We did this social research to make sure we were serving our population in the best way, and to identify what people cared about. Our outreach followed up with activities involving many partners and a diversity of programs:

Digging for Dinner

Eugene Thrasher showing off types of clams

WSU Beachwatchers offer this program each year, and this year new beachwatchers took over the helm and they included new information about water quality and how we all affect water quality on the beach. You get to dig clams, and learn about what types we have as well as important tips of eating safely.

Orcanet Salmon films

Juvenile salmon by Roger Tabor

Our shorelines are an integral part of the Puget Sound food web, and from the very small young salmon that seek harbor along the shallows of pocket beaches and salt marshes to the mighty Orca, it’s all connected. Our Southern Resident Orcas depend on Chinook salmon for their food source and Orcanet hosted two movie nights to explore the relationships between salmon production and Orcas.

Whidbey Watershed Stewards and the Whidbey Island Conservation District at Farmer’s Markets

Who doesn’t love free food! Our shores provide a tidewater cuisine that is healthy and free to all. But it comes with a catch – we have to keep it healthy. The health of our shores are dependent on our upland stewardship. In our interactive displays we talk about how water moves through our soils and aquifers, our shellfish and the specific water quality problems around Whidbey. We brought samples of plankton from our waters, and explored the variety of aquatic life that supports our shellfish. Finally, the conservation district brings it all home with good farm and yard practices.

Rick at our Farmer's Market display