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Ketchikan BEACH Monitoring Program

Updated September 2019

Download the PDF Version of the Ketchikan Beach Monitoring Program FAQ (PDF)

What is the BEACH program?

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2002 in response to increased occurrences of water-borne illnesses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers grant funds to states, tribes and territories under the Act to establish monitoring and public notification programs. The BEACH program has established national marine water quality monitoring and reporting standards for fecal waste contamination and notifies the public when levels exceed state standards. 

Why monitor Ketchikan beaches?

The Alaska BEACH program includes Ketchikan to evaluate potential health risks by fecal coliform and enterococci bacteria, and to notify the public when levels exceeded state recreation standards. Marine water samples are collected along the Ketchikan coastline to monitor fecal waste contamination during the recreation season. Coastal marine water was monitored in 2017 from July through September, in 2018 from May through September, and in 2019 from May through September.

What areas are being monitored?

In 2017, water samples were collected at nine coastal beach areas in Ketchikan including: Knudson Cove, Beacon Hill, South Point Higgins, Shull, Sunset, South Refuge Cove State Recreation Site, Thomas Basin, Seaport, Rotary Pool.

In 2018, two additional coastal areas were recommended by the Our Way of Life Committee of Ketchikan. These areas are situated in Mountain Point and Herring Cove. The Mountain Point area had 2 separate beaches monitored:  Surprise Beach and Cultural Foods. Also, the Rotary Park area was divided into two monitoring locations:  Rotary Pool and Rotary Beach.

In 2019, water samples were collected at 12 coastal beach areas in Ketchikan including: Knudson Cove, South Point Higgins, Shull, Sunset, South Refuge Cove State Recreation Site, Thomas Basin, Seaport, Rotary Beach, Rotary Pool, Mountain Point Surprise Beach, Mountain Point Cultural Foods, Herring Cove.

Why were these locations chosen for monitoring?

Monitoring site selection for the 2017 program was based on information collected from the Alaska Beach Survey. The survey assessed the types of recreational activities and the level of use during the recreational season for beaches around Ketchikan.  Since the survey was conducted and sampling began, two additional locations, Mountain Point Coast area and Herring Cove have been identified as having high recreational use (e.g., recreational diving, marine foods harvesting).

What are the potential sources of bacteria?

Potential bacteria sources present along the Ketchikan coast include: boats in harbor and launch areas, small cruise ships, private watercraft and ferries, individual septic tanks, private and/or public sewer treatment system outfall(s), public treatment system emergency bypasses, sewer line breaks, pet feces, and wildlife.

Is there evidence that cruise ships are a source of bacterial contamination?

There is no evidence of large cruise ships being a source of bacterial contamination. Large cruise ships must operate with wastewater treatment technology designed to filter and disinfect wastewater. The general permit requires them to meet the most stringent, raw shellfish water quality criteria at the point of discharge. There is no mixing zone for bacteria for large cruise ships and no spills of sewage have been reported near Ketchikan by cruise ships.

Small cruise ships and ferries must have working wastewater treatment equipment and must minimize discharges near shore. They do not have permit limits but they have relatively low volumes of wastewater discharges.

How are local sewage outfall sources being regulated?

There are various local sewage outfall sources to Tongass Narrows from single family homes, common collector developments, and separate City and Borough wastewater treatment plants. The City wastewater treatment plant has primary treatment and is regulated through an EPA-administered Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The Borough wastewater treatment plant (secondary treatment) and approximately eight common collectors are regulated through DEC-administered Alaska Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (APDES) permits.  Several common collector and single family homes with sewage outfalls to Tongass Narrows do exist that do not have a wastewater discharge permit; however, many (but not all) of them have at least gone through engineering plan review.  DEC is evaluating these systems to determine best approaches to control the discharges, which may include plan review and/or wastewater discharge permits in the future.

Treatment Type Maximum Daily Discharge
Permitted Effluent Levels of Fecal Coliform
(cfu/100 ml)
Alaska Marine Water Quality Standards for Fecal Coliform
(cfu/100 ml)1
Mixing Zone Size
City of Ketchikan - Charcoal Point Wastewater Treatment Facility
Primary 7.2 million (365 days) 7-day average 1.25 million

30-day average 1 million

Daily maximum 1.5 million
Secondary recreation avg. 200
Raw shellfish consumption avg. 14

Secondary recreation  max 400
Raw shellfish consumption max 31
3200 long
250 wide rectangle
30 depth
Ketchikan Gateway Borough - Mountain Point Wastewater Treatment Plant
Secondary 700,000 (365 days) 30-day average 200
Daily maximum 800
Same as above 100 radius circle
Cruise Ships

Advanced Wastewater Treatment Systems
303,800 gallon/day max

174,400 gallon/day median

May-September (161 days) only2
30-day average 14

Daily maximum 40
Raw shellfish consumption avg. 14
Raw shellfish consumption max 40

Most stringent criteria (consumption) used, not recreation
No mixing zone

Must meet permit limit at point of discharge


18 AAC 70 Alaska Water Quality Standards (amended as of April 6, 2018) - (14) Fecal Coliform, For Marine Water Uses

(B) Water Recreation (ii) secondary recreation
In a 30-day period, the geometric mean of samples may not exceed 200 fecal coliform/100 ml, and not more than 10% of the samples may exceed 400 fecal coliform/100 ml.
(D) Harvesting for Consumption of Raw Mollusks or Other Raw Aquatic Life (most stringent)
The geometric mean of samples may not exceed 14 fecal coliform/100 ml; and not more than 10% of the samples may exceed; 31 CFU per 100 ml for a membrane filtration test.


14 of 26 vessels are authorized to discharge in port. The largest vessel in 2019 does not discharge in port, and uses a treatment system with a manufacturer capacity of ~413,700 gal/day. The largest vessel authorized to discharge in Ketchikan in 2019 has a treatment system of ~380,400 gal/day.

What did the bacteria results say?

The 2017/2018 analytical tests for enterococci revealed that 11 of the 13 monitoring sites failed to meet the Alaska water quality standard (WQS) statistical threshold value (STV) criterion for recreation use, and 11 of the 13 sites failed to meet the Alaska WQS 30-day geometric mean criterion for recreation use.

The 2017/2018 analytical tests for fecal coliform bacteria revealed that 11 of the 13 of the monitoring sites failed to meet the Alaska WQS single sample criteria for aquaculture, seafood processing, and harvesting for consumption uses, while 10 of the 13 sites failed to meet the Alaska WQS geometric mean criterion for harvesting for consumption use.

In addition to bacteria testing, DEC conducted a more comprehensive source investigation of the pollution in 2018 using more microbial source testing for bacteria genetic identification for 11 of the 13 beach locations. The human host marker and the gull host marker were detected at all 11 monitoring locations. Nine of the 11 monitoring locations also had dog host markers detected.

The 2019 monitoring program is nearly complete, and the data will be evaluated and reported within the next month or so.

Is the water safe to swim in?

When elevated fecal bacteria levels are present in the marine water, precautionary measures are advised. DEC recommends people avoid exposure, such as swimming in the water, and wash after contact with the marine water. Commonly documented health issues from swimming in bacteria contaminated recreational waters include gastrointestinal illness, respiratory illnesses, skin rashes, and ear, eye, and wound infections.

Is the fish safe to eat?

When elevated fecal bacteria levels are present, precautionary measures are advised. DEC recommends rinsing fish with clean water after they have been harvested from the area. As always, people should cook seafood to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit to destroy pathogens.

What are the plans for 2020?

DEC plans to:

  1. Conduct a fourth year of monitoring at several of the beach monitoring locations
  2. Include the use of the EPA’s Virtual Beach model to augment the monitoring data
  3. Notify the public when levels exceed water quality recreation criterion

What happens if there are elevated results?

DEC will continue to share the test results with the stakeholders such as Ketchikan Indian Community, City of Ketchikan, Ketchikan Gateway Borough, and community members. If the levels exceed state recreation standards, DEC will issue a press release and post the advisory and monitoring results on the Alaska BEACH Program website, forward a weekly email update to interested stakeholders, and post updates on social media. The City and Borough may post an advisory sign at the affected beach. The Alaska BEACH Program website also has the updated data tables, monitoring location maps, 2017 and 2018 reports, and past press releases.

What happens next?

The monitoring program will help support the development of recommendations for best management practices and treatment of wastewater to reduce bacteria levels along the Ketchikan coastline. The data collected will then be compared to Alaska Water Quality Standards to determine if an impairment decision is warranted, and to document this decision in the 2020 Integrated Report. 

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