Water Quality Improvement Project
North Pacific Coast Beaches Bacteria:
Fecal Coliform Bacteria Source Investigation Study


We partnered with the state Department of Health (DOH), Grays Harbor County, and the Quinault Indian Nation to find and reduce or eliminate significant sources of fecal coliform bacteria. Fecal coliform can cause shellfish beach closures and downgrades parts of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growing Area, more commonly referred to as North Beach.

Water quality issues

The North Beach area extends approximately 22 miles from Ocean Shores northward to Moclips. The area is a tourist destination, a spot for recreationallly harvesting razor clams, and supports Quinault Indian Nation tribal harvest treaty rights. (See study area map).

Recreational shellfish harvest areas of concern, like beaches near the mouths of Moclips River and Joe Creek, were downgraded to conditionally approved in 2011 by the DOH Office of Shellfish and Water Protection. In July 2013, DOH closed a popular spot for razor clam digging near Oyehut/Illahee (north end of Ocean Shores) because of high fecal coliform bacteria concentrations. In 2016 they upgraded the area around the mouth of the Moclips River to Approved due to improved water quality.

What has been done

In January 2014, we gave Grays Harbor County a grant to form the North Beach Shellfish Protection District (SPD). The purpose of an SPD is to adopt a shellfish protection program to reduce or eliminate nonpoint sources of fecal coliform pollution. To support the efforts of the SPD, we conducted a study to monitor key beach locations, significant freshwater tributaries, and stormwater ditches that could be contributing to higher bacteria levels in the North Beach area. The SPD was subsequently incorporated into the Grays Harbor County Marine Resources Committee (MRC).

We sampled both freshwater and marine water at strategic locations along the entire 22-mile stretch of beach to augment existing data from DOH, Grays Harbor County, and the Quinault Inidan Nation. The goal was to identify potential bacteria sources and recommend best management practices to reduce and eliminate those sources. These will help guide the MRC and other watershed partners to reduce fecal coliform contamination in the North Beach shellfish growing area.

We conducted water quality sampling from April 2014 to April 2015 to characterize bacteria concentrations during different times of the year. Our researchers use the information gathered to find sources of high bacteria concentrations with the potential to pollute marine waters and beaches in the project area.

The 2016 data summary report identifies areas where water quality violated or met criteria for bacteria. A web map is available to view those results.

Moclips River, near the river mouth.  Photo courtesy of Dustin Bilhimer, Washington Department of Ecology.

Status of the project

We are working together with the MRC and other watershed partners to eliminate or reduce human-caused bacteria sources in the North Beach area. We are doing this through:

  • Investigating residential on-site septic systems to identify and correct any not functioning properly.
  • Identifying areas which already have, or need, pet waste stations.
  • Identifying best management practices for nonpoint source pollution.
  • Developing educational material for website and hard copy distribution.

Technical information

Document Type Title Publication # or Link
Data Summary Report North Pacific Coast Beaches Fecal Coliform Source Investigation Study: Data Summary 16-03-021
Focus Sheet Bacteria Study Digs Up Concerns for North Beach Shellfish Harvest Areas 16-03-024
Study QAPP The North Ocean Beaches Fecal Coliform Bacteria Source Investigation Study Water Quality Study Design 14-03-108
Web Map North Ocean Beaches Bacteria Source Investigation Map http://arcg.is/1LX7aL3
Supporting Documents Estimation Methodology: Spending Near Mocrocks and Copalis Beaches from Razor Clam-Related Trips North Beach Razor Clam Economics Analysis.pdf

Shellfish Pollution Warning sign.  Washington Department of Health.

Why this matters

People and animals contribute to the problem. Human-caused sources of bacteria could be coming from malfunctioning onsite septic systems, leaky sewer infrastructure, improperly managed dog and horse manure on the beach, and people who don’t use the restrooms and portable toilets provided at beach access points. Warm-blooded wildlife, like shorebirds, racooms and deer, can also contribute bacteria to the beaches.

Too much fecal bacteria will keep prohibited shellfish harvest areas closed. Other harvest areas may be degraded if steps aren’t taken to reduce and remove bacteria sources causing impairments. When razor clam beaches are closed due to bacteria, the local economy suffers. Ecology estimates (see Technical Information) that razor clam digs bring around $13.5 million in total dollars spent by diggersers and their families in the North Beach area. That estimate includes money spent near the beaches on hotels, camping, restaurants, groceries, gas, shopping, gambling, and other related expenses. Future razor clam beach closures could cost the local economy $4.5 to 6 million in lost revenue due entirely to razor clam digs.

Related information


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Last updated April 2017
  Water resource inventory area (WRIA) 21 map, Washington State.


WRIA: #21 (Queets-Quinault)
County: Grays Harbor

Water-body Names:
Boone Creek
Connor Creek
Copalis River
Elk Creek
Joe Creek
Moclips River
North Beach
Pacific Ocean
Unnamed Creeks

Fecal Coliform Bacteria
E. coli Bacteria

STI in Development

Contact Info:
Donovan Gray
Phone: 360-407-6407
Email: Donovan.Gray@ecy.wa.gov

Southwest Region
Department of Ecology
PO Box 47775
Olympia, WA 98504-7775