EDMONDS, Wash. -- The water bubbles from the small plastic container in Tim Ellis' hands.
He's holding it about six inches under the surface of the nearly totally clear water a few feet from shore at Bracket's Landing Beach in Edmonds.
"It’s been a ton of fun," says the retired Boeing employee of 34 years. "I’m having a great time."
Tim is knee-deep not only in the chilly Puget Sound water, but his WSU Beach Watcher volunteer hours, too. He's one of more than a hundred volunteers that will take weekly water samples at 70 Puget Sound beaches this summer.
This beach in Edmonds is already busy and it's only mid-May. Kids playing, mothers watching attentively, people on benches nearby drink coffee and chatting. Yellow signs indicating caution and red signs indicating danger will warn these beach-goers between Memorial Day and Labor Day if the weekly tests turn up unsafe bacteria levels that can make people sick.
In a rocky corner of the beach, 3-year-old Raymond Hanson is laser focused on the crab he found.
"One crab," he pauses. "With one claw left."
His mother, Susan Hanson, didn't even think to worry about bacteria levels in water as big as Puget Sound. "I guess if it’s a concern I’m glad that they’re checking on it," says the Edmonds mom.
Experts with the State Ecology Dept. say that while the tide often pulls contaminated water away from beaches, last summer's record warmth brought record numbers of people to the shore and the problems those people bring with them.
Thirty of the 70 beaches the state monitors had some form of closure last season. This year, you can help.
"Pick up after your pet," says Julianne Ruffner with the Dept of Ecology. She's been with the state's B.E.A.C.H. program for two years now. BEACH is a clever acronym that stands for Beach Environmental Assessment Communication and Health. It tries to get the word out on the water quality off of our saltwater beaches, but also the ways we can prevent dangerous bacterial outbreaks in the first place.
"Keeping toddlers in swim diapers and giving young kids frequent bathroom breaks. All these things help keep the beach healthy."
Other things you can do to keep bad bacteria out of our water is by not feeding wildlife. When you do, you encourage them to hang out and they leave waste behind. Leaving your trash behind also is a way to accidentally feed the wildlife and is a big problem, too.
Ellis says being a good beach citizen can help turn the tide of the declining health of our inland waterways.
"Things are going downhill over time for the Salish Sea or for Puget Sound that the animal counts and it’s getting tougher and tougher for the orcas to exist here. Something we have to watch out for."
He says a cleaner Puget Sound is something that's up to all of us.
Experts also say it's important to note, that water testing is done on Mondays and Tuesdays. So, be aware that after a big summer rain, it's a good idea to stay out of the water for 24-48 hours afterwards. The Ecology Dept's BEACH program is primarily for saltwater beaches along Puget Sound. http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/eap/beach/
Many swimming beaches on area lakes are monitored by respective county health departments. Here's the link to the King County. Health Department's beach monitoring site. http://green2.kingcounty.gov/swimbeach/
The motto officials want you to think this swimming season: surf the web before you surf the water.