While ignorance can be bliss, information can bring something better.
The state has announced the start of the 2021 recreational beach water monitoring program, which includes Ketchikan for the fifth consecutive year since 2017.
While the testing is for fecal coliform and enterococci bacteria that we’d prefer not to have to think about in places where we recreate and gather foods, we’re grateful that the program is available to keep the community regularly informed about water quality in specific areas from May to September — and to accumulate data for addressing circumstances going forward.
Funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and coordinated by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation with involvement by the Ketchikan Indian Community, City of Ketchikan, Ketchikan Gateway Borough and the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition, the local monitoring program tests marine water weekly from about 12 sites along Ketchikan waterfront.
Information from the tests — including sample collection dates and advisories for which beaches have produced test results above guideline levels — are made available on the DEC’s Alaska Beach Grant Program website at beaches.alaska.gov. Individuals can sign up there to receive email updates, and DEC also posts advisories about elevated bacteria levels on its social media pages.
This is good information for the many Ketchikan residents who enjoy interacting with Ketchikan’s seashores.
It’s also good information that’s been accumulating since 2017, helping us to understand more about the occurrence of these bacteria.
As noted in the 2017-2020 Ketchikan Beach Monitoring Comprehensive Report that was published in January by the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition, the Ketchikan coastline has “numerous potential bacteria sources.”
And at present, according to the report, the “data collected to date are not sufficient to determine explicitly which bacteria sources in which beach locations are negatively affecting the marine water uses.”
The report adds that the program is working with other DEC programs, stakeholders and municipal governments to collect samples from other potential pollution sources, and that another DEC grant program is paying for the development of a watershed management plan “designed to address the current pollution sources in Ketchikan and protect high quality waters.”
While it might be easier to keep things out-of-sight and out-of-mind, blissful ignorance has a way of running into hard reality at some point. The longer it takes, the harder reality can be.
Ketchikan benefits by having a program that can provide information in almost real time for current users, and can assist in the process of keeping our beaches safe for many years to come.