Water Quality Improvement Project
Johnson Creek Watershed Area:


Johnson Creek Watershed is located in north central Whatcom County, Washington. The 21-square-mile watershed includes lands drained by Clearbrook Ditch and Squaw, Pangborn and Sumas creeks. Johnson Creek originates from springs north of Everson and flows northeast, eventually to the Fraser River in British Columbia. Land use in the watershed includes about 80 percent pasture and haylands for dairies, with the remaining land uses distributed among sweet pea and corn crops, urban development, woodlands and wetlands. (See Study Area map)

Water quality issues

Water quality studies in 1995 and 1996 determined that high fecal coliform levels and chronically low dissolved oxygen are two key pollutants in the watershed. Other water quality issues found were high water temperatures, especially in the summer; low pH; high turbidity; and excess nutrients (ammonia, nitrate, and phosphorus).

Why this matters

Fecal coliform, also known as “bacteria”, is from human and animal waste. It can get into our waters from untreated or partially treated discharges from wastewater treatment plants, from improperly functioning septic systems, wildlife and from unknown sources. It can make people sick.

Sufficient dissolved oxygen in water is vital for fish and aquatic life, who need it to “breathe”.

Cool water temperatures are vital to threatened and endangered salmon that need cold, clean water to survive.

pH is the measure of how acidic or alkaline the waterbody is. Fish and other aquatic species thrive in water with pH values between 6.5 to 8.5 (7 is considered neutral). When pH values are outside this range, other contaminants in the water may become more harmful to aquatic life. pH levels are affected by water temperature, turbulence, carbon dioxide levels in the water, and other factors.

Phosphorus and other nutrients in the water fuel the growth of algae. When algae die, they remove oxygen from the water, reducing the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. Fish and aquatic life need sufficient oxygen to survive.

Turbidity is a measure of the amount of fine sediments suspended in a body of water. The sediment can come from eroding streambanks. They can also be washed into drainages during storm events. Pollutants such as fertilizers, fecal coliform bacteria, and toxics can be carried into rivers and streams along with suspended sediments. Too much sediment in the water makes it less transparent, "muddy". Turbid water absorbs more energy from the sun, resulting in higher stream temperatures.

Status of the project

Ecology submitted the water quality improvement report (WQIR, also known as a TMDL) to EPA. EPA approved the WQIR in June 2000. Later Ecology sent a copy of the detailed implementation plan to EPA. The plan describes, in greater detail, how Ecology and other state agencies, federal agencies, and local governments will apply the wasteload allocations and load allocations, and carry out other recommendations in the WQIR. The goal is for water quality in the Johnson Creek watershed to meet water quality standards for fecal coliform bacteria.

What is being done?

This water quality improvement project targets these key areas: dairy waste management; rural residential septic waste; commercial and residential pollution prevention;, and riparian re-vegetation.

There are things citizens can do to help clean up water in the Johnson Creek watershed and keep it clean:

  • Keep fecal coliform bacteria out of the water by bagging and properly disposing of dog poop. Check your on-site sewage system to make sure it is maintained and working properly.
  • Participate in the Whatcom Watersheds Pledge Program.

Technical information

Johnson Creek Watershed, Total Maximum Daily Load -- Submittal Report (Ecology Publication)

Johnson Creek Watershed Bacteria Total Maximum Daily Load: Detailed Implementation Plan (Ecology Publication)

Related information

Focus Sheet: Johnson Creek Watershed -- Cleaning up water pollution (Ecology Publication)

WRIA 01: Nooksack Watershed Information (Environmental Assessment Program web site)


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Last updated December 2008
  WRIA 1 map, Washington State.


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

Water-body Name:
Johnson Creek Watershed

Dissolved Oxygen
Fecal Coliform

# of TMDLs: 8

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