Good water quality means good quality of life


Staff Report

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department wants residents to know more about how their actions influence water quality –– and quality of life –– on/in the Key Peninsula.

In late may, the department shut down the Purdy sandspit area for swimming due to high counts of fecal bacteria in the water.

“When water quality is good, residents can enjoy swimming and wading near the Purdy Spit. When water quality is poor, it’s not safe for people and pets to enjoy,” said Frank DiBiase, assistant director of Environmental Health at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and Key Peninsula resident.

Swimming or wading in salt water with high levels of fecal coli form bacteria can increase risk of illness.

Unhealthy swimming and wading conditions have been an issue for the Purdy Spit since 2008 when swimming and wading advisories began to frequently appear.

Everything from pet waste left on the beach, pesticides and fertilizers used in your yard to how well you maintain your septic systems can affect the quality of marine water.

To help protect water quality, proper septic system operation and maintenance has become a focus of Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s work on the Key Peninsula. “Because failing septic systems that go unrepaired can directly impact the bacteria levels in nearby marine water,” said DiBiase.

Since 2008, the health department has worked with seven homeowners near the Purdy Spit to ensure that several failing septic systems were replaced or repaired. Some of these repairs were quite costly; others required thoughtful and careful design that balanced needs such as proper treatment of septic effluent, protecting drinking water sources and available space on the property.

To monitor water quality, the health department and Washington State Department of Health (DOH) analyze for bacteria. The health department takes water samples weekly, and DOH takes samples monthly. “Together these tests tell us how safe the water is for people,” said DiBiase.

After consistent recording of a decrease in the amount of bacteria present in the area, DOH and the health department lifted the swimming advisory in 2010.

The health department also monitors for bacteria in other areas of the Key Peninsula, including Rocky Bay, Vaughn Bay, Filucy Bay, Minter Bay and Burley Lagoon.

Recent efforts have involved Pierce County Surface Water Management, Pierce Conservation District, Washington State Department of Health, Friends of Burley Lagoon and the health department working with the community to reach the common goal of improving water quality along the Purdy Spit.

Community events call attention to supporting a healthy environment

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department will host several community events where residents can learn more supporting a healthier environment. Join us for these events in August:

Aug. 1—Family Fun Night: Worms and Dirt–Composting Fun! 6:30-8:30 p.m., Gateway Park 10215 State Route 302, Gig Harbor, WA 98329

Aug. 8—Natural Yard Care Workshop–Landscaping, 2:30-4:30 p.m., Gateway Park, 10215 State Route 302, Gig Harbor, WA 98329

Aug. 8—Family Fun Night: H2Oh!–Exploring Water, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Key Peninsula Civic Center, 17010 South Vaughn Road KPN, Vaughn, WA 98394

For more information of any of these events or water quality in the Key Peninsula, contact Ji Hae Yi at (253) 798-4754 or Learn more about the health department’s water quality improvement efforts at

Source: Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department