Just days after a visit from Gov. Jay Inslee to discuss progress being made in cleaning up bacterial pollution in Samish Bay, the bay failed an annual state evaluation.

Rain during Inslee’s visit Monday increased the flow of the Samish River, prompting water sampling and a precautionary shellfish harvest closure on Tuesday.

Skagit County Water Quality Analyst Rick Haley said Wednesday afternoon that the amount of bacteria in the water samples was about 15 times the limit set by the state Department of Health.

The Department of Health closes shellfish harvesting in Samish Bay when the Samish River reaches certain flows that have been associated over the years with high concentrations of fecal coliform bacteria.

Fecal coliform and other bacteria found in human and animal waste can contaminate shellfish and cause illness if oysters are eaten raw.

Skagit County and other agencies have been working through the Clean Samish Initiative since 2009 to find and fix sources of the pollution in the watershed.

The goal is to reduce pollution enough for the Department of Health to upgrade Samish Bay, meaning the bay would no longer close for shellfish harvest based on river flow.

To achieve the upgrade, between March 1 and June 30 the river must reach the threshold flow at least six times and pollution must not exceed state standards more than once.

The high level of bacteria this week is the second failed test for the Samish River, meaning the bay will not receive the upgrade this year.

The bay did, however, make it the furthest yet into the four-month evaluation period, surpassing the previous record of April 7 by about six weeks.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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