Water Quality Improvement Project
Bellingham Bay Area:
Contaminated Sediments


Bellingham Bay is an urban bay located in the city of Bellingham in northwest Washington State. The bay is important for navigation, commerce, and recreation in the region.

Water quality issues

Bellingham Bay was put on the 1998 303(d) list for contaminated sediments. Studies show that the presence of contaminated sediments in inner Bellingham Bay is due to historical industrial practices.

Sediment sampling in Bellingham Bay found mercury and other contaminants exceeding levels allowed by the state sediment standards in several areas of the bay. Those areas were subsequently placed on the 303(d) list of areas with contaminated sediments.

Why this matters

Like many urban bays in Puget Sound, contaminated marine sediments are a legacy of past industrial practices that can pose a present threat to marine life and public health. Contaminated marine sediments are a problem because sediments collect contamination from the water column. These contaminants can be transferred to aquatic life and then potentially to humans through the food chain.

Status of the project

For several years, the Bellingham Bay Demonstration Pilot Work Group pursued a comprehensive approach to the contaminated sediment problems in Bellingham Bay. The Pilot Work Group is made up of 15 federal, state and local entities charged with addressing and coordinating contaminated sediment cleanup needs and other key management issues. The purpose of the Pilot Project is to expand opportunities for achieving multiple goals in Bellingham Bay beyond sediment cleanup and sediment disposal, including source control, habitat restoration, and aquatic land use.

The Bellingham Bay Demonstration Pilot determined that there are no ongoing sources of contamination. The focus is on cleaning up the contaminated sediments caused by historic contamination sources.

Bellingham Bay, as seen from Fairhaven, WA.  Photo courtesy of Stephen Curtin, via Flickr.  

© Stephen Curtin, Flickr.


What is being done?

The Department of Ecology developed the inner Bellingham Bay contaminated sediment TMDL to bring the bay's sediment quality into compliance with Washington State's water quality standards. Source control and monitoring activities are used to verify predictions about whether stormwater sources cause sediment contamination or recontamination. The TMDL does not address the inner Bellingham Bay water column impairments on the 303(d) list (fecal coliform and pH).

EPA approved the TMDL on December 31, 2001. Ecology, along with stakeholders in the area, developed an implementation plan. A copy was provided to EPA in June 2003.

The cleanup of existing contaminated sediments is conducted under the authority of the Model Toxics Control Act cleanup regulation (MTCA; Chapter 173-340 WAC), as implemented by Ecology.

Technical information

Inner Bellingham Bay Contaminated Sediments Total Maximum Daily Load -- Submittal Report (Ecology Publication)

Inner Bellingham Bay Contaminated Sediments TMDL - Detailed Implementation Plan (Ecology Publication)

Related information

Toxics Cleanup Program's (TCP) Bellingham Bay website

WRIA 01: Nooksack Watershed Information (Water website)


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Last updated September 2012
  WRIA 1 map, Washington State.


WRIA(s): #01 (Nooksack)
County: Whatcom

Water-body Name:
Bellingham Bay

Contaminated Sediments

# of TMDLs: 10

Approved by EPA
Has an implementation plan

Contact Info:
Steve Hood
Phone: 360-738-6254
Email: Steve.Hood@ecy.wa.gov

Bellingham Field Office
Department of Ecology
1440 - 10th Street, Suite 102
Bellingham, WA 98225