Puget Sound Innovation Stories

Drayton Harbor




CITY, COUNTY: Blaine, Whatcom County

Project Summary

For decades, Drayton Harbor provided ideal growing conditions for shellfish and jobs for many in the local community. By 1995, much of Drayton Harbor was classified as prohibited for shellfish harvesting because fecal bacteria from livestock, on-site sewage systems, boats and marinas, and the local sanitary sewer system were contaminating the shellfish beds.

The downgrade of shellfish beds prompted a community-wide effort to reduce pollution and clean up the harbor. To address human waste, septic systems were repaired, sewer pipes were fixed, and a new sewage treatment plant was built. Pump-out facilities were relocated to reduce the risk of accidental spills from boats. To address waste from agriculture, the Whatcom Conservation District helped farmers voluntarily improve their manure-handling practices and stop application of liquid manure during shellfish harvesting season.

This community-led effort paid off in November, 2016: after 25 years of hard work and dedication, 810 acres of shellfish beds in Drayton Harbor were reclassified as “approved” for shellfish harvest. Year-round harvests resumed for the first time in 22 years.

Key Actions

Human waste:

  • Replaced failing sewage collection system and separated stormwater from sewage collection
  • Broken sewer lines were fixed, pipe joints sealed, and manholes patched
  • Boat pump-out stations relocated to increase use

Animal waste:

  • On-site sewage systems were inspected, failing systems repaired, and evaluation requirements for on-site sewage systems were established
  • Technical assistance was offered to landowners with low-and-moderate-impact farms to help develop farm plans
  • Liquid manure application was prohibited from September to March to bare or post-harvest ground
  • New policies helped form dairy nutrient management plans and set up regular farm inspections
  • Fish processors improved their management practices and reduced effluent

Community efforts:

  • Drayton Harbor Shellfish Protection District Citizens Advisory Committee formed to advise Whatcom County Council and educate the broader community about issues relating to restore water quality in the Harbor
  • Puget Sound Restoration Fund supported local shellfish restoration efforts and developed new community-based partnerships which complimented ongoing efforts of the Drayton Harbor Shellfish Committee
  • A core community project was developed –  Drayton Harbor Community Oyster Farm – leading the hands-on effort to re-seed Drayton Harbor shellfish beds


  • Community led and organized efforts in Drayton Harbor were key to the shellfish growing area upgrade in 2016.
  • An intensive community effort brought together 30 partners to tackle pollution sources and achieve measurable water quality improvements.
  • Actions taken to reduce bacterial pollution required a multi-faceted approach that included evaluation and monitoring, fixing common pollution sources, targeted outreach and planning, and secure investments in wastewater and stormwater management systems.

Project Partners

  • Community of Blaine, Washington
  • Port of Bellingham
  • Puget Sound Restoration Fund
  • Shellfish Protection District
  • The City of Blaine
  • EPA’s National Estuary Program
  • Washington Department of Ecology
  • Washington Department of Health, Office of Shellfish Programs
  • Washington State Department of Agriculture
  • Western Washington University
  • Whatcom Conservation District
  • Whatcom County
  • Whatcom County Public Works

Cover photo credit – Steve Seymour, Drayton Harbor Oyster Company

More Info

Publish Date: September 25, 2017
Congressional Districts: Congressional Dist. 2
Legislative Districts: Legislative Dist. 42
Counties: Whatcom
Habitat Types: Marine | Rivers & Streams | Estuary