From the ‘in case you wondered’ file: About that smell

At least once a day, someone asks us about a sewer-ish stink in the Beach Drive vicinity or upslope. While busy with other stories this past week-plus, we’ve been replying by pointing them to Beach Drive Blog‘s explanation – but it’s time, while we have a moment, to mention it here for anyone else who wondered but hasn’t inquired. BDB says it’s the rotting sea lettuce that turns up every so often, more notoriously a ways further south at Fauntleroy Cove. This isn’t unique to West Seattle, nor even to Washington, nor even to the U.S. – a Google search for the term “rotting sea lettuce” turns up reports from other nations including Canada, China, and the UK.

10 Replies to "From the 'in case you wondered' file: About that smell"

  • martin September 14, 2015 (10:13 am)

    the next kale!

  • astrogirl30 September 14, 2015 (10:13 am)

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been wondering about the smell and found a reference to it on reddit.

  • herongrrrl September 14, 2015 (10:50 am)

    “Sea lettuce” is a common name for several different seaweeds. The offender in this case in enteromorpha, a seaweed that grows rampantly in areas where there are excess nutrients present (as from fertilizer and pet/livestock waste runoff, poorly treated sewage, or leaking septic systems). I think it is interesting that this problem didn’t exist throughout our long, hot summer…until the recent rains.

    As a 45 year resident of the Beach Drive neighborhood, I have noticed this problem growing worse year after year. I suspect some of it is the result of system-wide “nutrient loading” throughout Puget Sound as the local population increases…but the sudden onset of this following the rain makes me wonder about excess fertilizer and pet waste in the neighborhood (including up along the ridge top…it all flows downhill, as they say!). Please be mindful about what you’re using (or leaving) in your gardens and on your streets, folks. The smell really is eyewatering and nauseating, and some research has shown that chemicals released by decomposing enteromorpha can contribute to ideal conditions for other toxic algal blooms.

  • HelperMonkey September 14, 2015 (11:00 am)

    ok, but can someone explain the overwhelming smell of dog poo when you’re at the intersection of SW Graham and California?

  • SeattleEditor September 14, 2015 (11:08 am)

    We had the sewer smell at California and Andover very strong yesterday but it had nothing to do with this. Looks like there was some kind of construction issue with the condos going up nearby and they had to tear up the whole road on California and THAT was where the smell was coming from. We walked right up next to it and it stank to high heaven. Stank from there for blocks and blocks. So no, it’s not ALWAYS this.

  • elle September 14, 2015 (12:34 pm)

    I had an idea that that’s what it was, but thanks [WSB]for confirming it. I feel for the people who live there and I wonder if they get used to it. When I’ve gone to walk at the Emma Schmitz viewpoint, I can hardly stand it!

  • Jeanie September 14, 2015 (4:00 pm)

    Martin FTW!

  • Chuck and Sally's Van Man September 14, 2015 (5:24 pm)

    @HelperMonkey: Good question! I’ve smelled a sewer smell off and on all summer at that location. The irony that this is the corner that O’Neill Plumbing resides on makes it almost comical. Almost. Something obviously ain’t right…

  • Angela September 14, 2015 (8:09 pm)

    @Elle no, no you definitely don’t get used to it. Haha

  • SWguy September 17, 2015 (9:29 am)

    To herongrrrls point, there are other sources of nutrients in stormwater runoff that are exacerbated by our recent weather. Decomposing plant material, compost, and manure fertilizers on garden plots are also potential sources. In research I’ve observed coffee colored nutrient laden runoff from freshly applied compost soil amendment. This year – instead of being “lightly moistened” by periodic summer rains, which would have allowed those nutrients to gradually leach and be absorbed by the soil and plants – we likely had more of an abrubt flushing once the rains returned. Everyone in Seattle loves compost I suppose but sometimes having it spread widely through our landscape may have unintended side effects.

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