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Fish & Wildlife | Water | Environment | Agriculture

Tribe, Farmers Agree to Keep Cows From Fouling Puget Sound Shellfish Beds


Low tide at Portage Bay in Washington's Whatcom County.

Low tide at Portage Bay in Washington’s Whatcom County.

Eilís O’Neill, KUOW/EarthFix

A northwest Washington tribe’s shellfish beds are a step closer to getting cleaned up after years of contamination.

On Thursday, the Lummi Nation signed an agreement with dairy farmers to keep cow manure out of streams that drain into Portage Bay, where the tribe’s shellfish operations have been closed because of contamination by fecal coliform. Over the past two years, Lummi clam diggers have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The agreement was signed onto by seven of Whatcom County’s 94 dairy operators. Each farm will come up with a plan, such as stream buffers and above-ground steel containers for storing manure. Dairy farmer Larry Stap says those are expensive, but litigation would be even more so.

“Any time we can stay out of the courts, it’s a win-win for everybody,” Stap says.

The dairy farmers will also contribute money for the Lummi shellfish hatchery and for families that have lost income.

Lummi Nation Tribal Chairman Tim Ballew says these are important first steps, but there’s still more work to do.

“Both Lummi and the signatories are going to work toward signing on more members—preferably all of the dairy farmers in Whatcom County,” he says.

And, no matter what, he adds, it will be years before the water is clean enough for the shellfish beds to reopen.

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