Water quality has gone back down to safe levels at Short Sands beach and the Oregon Health Authority has lifted the advisory for recreational contact. Responding to local concern for the high level of bacteria over the past weekends, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has been very supportive in helping to mediate what locals and recreational users think may be the source of some of the bacteria, the restrooms and septic field adjacent the upper trail. According to North District OPRD Manager Mike Stein, “We’re not positive we can point to the septic field, but we certainly can take preventative measures until our engineer can do a full inspection”, which is scheduled to occur next week. Do that extent, OPRD has begun pumping the septic tanks on a regular basis, an added measure to prevent any possible excess sewage from actually reaching the drain field.

OPRD North District Manager Mike Stein discusses walks volunteers and concerned citizens through the area of the septic drain field at Oswald West State Park

Charlie Plybon, Oregon field Manager for Surfrider Foundation, north coast members and a representative from the watershed council were able to meet with the Mike Stein on Tuesday, to walk the site and learn more about the issue and history of the drain field and septic system and talk about solutions. We spent about two hours walking around Oswald West, mucking around the drain field and discussing how to best approach the issue of limited resources and increased use. If you’ve ever walked down to short sands, you’ve probably picked up the smell of the drain field on the south side of the trail, just as you descend from the 101 bridge. The primary concern with the septic drain field is it’s age and size. The drain field was never built to accommodate the type of use that the Short Sands parking lot today gets. In 2006, an additional lateral was added to the drain field to help accommodate expanding loads (pun intended); as well as additional surface water laterals to help drain surface water and runoff that was compromising the drain fields ability to properly infiltrate sewage into the soil.

So what’s next? OPRD is going to treat the septic tank as a holding tank for the rest of the summer during peak use, pumping out waste and not allowing the waste water to enter the drain field. Before the end of the month, the agency’s engineer will be out to look further into the capabilities and make recommendations for the septic tank and drain field. Additionally, the old campground bathroom has been reopened to ahelp alleviate the pressure on the upper bathroom. The lower bathroom by the main beach entrance has a relatively new system that seems to be functioning well. We’ll be continuing to follow this issue, sampling water quality regularly and working with Mike Stein and Matt Rippee from OPRD as they hear back from their civil engineer on next steps. Stay tuned and tip of the hat to OPRD for their diligent attention to this issue!

And, if you’ve ever wondered how we do our lab work or are interested in volunteering, here’s a quick and dirty video of us running the sample from the leach pipe pictured at right, after our meeting with OPRD staff on Tuesday afternoon. And, the leach pipe came back results came back clean on Wednesday. If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved in the program, go here.