Water Quality Improvement Project
Padilla Bay Watershed:
Fecal Coliform Bacteria

Padilla Bay, facing west towards March Point, Washington State.  Photo courtesy of Danielle DeVoe, Washington Department of Ecology.


The Padilla Bay watershed is located in the northwest section of Skagit County in Washington State. It consists of four major sloughs and many interweaving drainage systems. The watershed is relatively flat with high water tables, making drainage a challenge for the communities in the watershed.

People also share the local waters with Chinook, Coho and Steelhead salmon, as well as other resident fishes and animals. The salmon are for the most part confined to the lower watershed due to lack of suitable habitat and clean water upstream. Padilla Bay is one of 28 reserves in the National Estuary Research Reserve program. Each year local families and tourists visit the Padilla Bay Reserve (Reserve) and Bayview State Park, where the beach and tide pools attract curious children and adults alike. The Reserve is also used to teach visitors and students about the importance of conservation and protection of the water and natural places.

To preserve the use and enjoyment of Padilla Bay and her tributaries, the water must be safe and healthy.


Water quality issues

Padilla Bay and its freshwater tributaries have high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. Currently, Padilla Bay and the freshwater tributaries do not meet the bacteria state water quality standards for wadding and swimming. (See Study Area map)

Status of the project

The TMDL study is just getting started. You may see Ecology staff or one of our many partners out collecting water samples this fall and throughout 2016. Once enough data is collected, we will have a better idea of where and how to focus cleanup efforts. In the meantime, here are some things you can do to prevent pollution to Padilla Bay:

  • Pick up after your pets, whether large animals or small. It does not take much fecal matter to make someone downstream sick.
  • Have septic systems inspected regularly. Not only does this keep septic waste out of the water, it could prevent more costly septic repairs in the future.
  • Fence out animals from creeks. Even though we all love to dip our toes in the water on a hot day, animals pooping and drinking out of the same water is not healthy for anyone, it damages creek beds, and degrades a precious resource; clean water. For healthier alternatives and funding opportunities, please contact John Schuh at the Skagit Conservation District.
  • Adopt agricultural practices that conserve water and soil. For many farmers in the Padilla Bay watershed, water and soil management is a constant struggle. Adopting alternatives that result in better water and soil conservation and less water run-off will benefit everyone.

Want to start now? Here are some contacts and resources to get you started:

  • Skagit Conservation District: John Schuh, john@skagitcd.org, 360-428-4313
  • Western Washington Agricultural Association: Brandon Roozen, broozen@westag.org, 360-424-7327

Why this matters

Noname Slough, Washington State.  Photo courtesy of Meghan Rosewood-Thurman, Department of Ecology.

Fecal coliform is a type of “bacteria” common in human and animal waste. It indicates that sewage or manure is entering a water body. As the level of fecal coliform increases, the risk of people getting sick from playing or working in the water increases. Bacteria can get into our waters from untreated or partially-treated discharges from wastewater treatment plants, from improperly functioning septic systems, stormwater drainage systems, and from livestock, pets and wildlife.

Because Padilla Bay is a popular destination for swimming and playing, we need to reduce the amount of bacteria getting into the water to keep the area safe for people, animals, and our food sources like fish and shellfish.

For the health of the community and the environment, federal law requires the Department of Ecology to develop a water cleanup plan to reduce pollution to levels that are safe for people and animals to use the water for its designated purpose. This plan is called a Total Maximum Daily Load – or TMDL.

Technical information

Quality Assurance Project Plan:  Eastern Padilla Bay Tributaries Fecal Coliform Bacteria Total Maximum Daily Load (Ecology publication)

Related information

Focus on Pollution in Padilla Bay: What is in our water?

WRIA 03: Lower Skagit-Samish Watershed Information (Water web site)


Padilla Bay National Reserve logo Padilla Bay National Estuary Research Reserve
Skagit County logo Skagit County Public Works Clean Water program


Back to top of page

Last updated April 2016
  Water resource inventory area (WRIA) 03 map, Washington State.


WRIA(s): #03 (Lower Skagit-Samish)
County: Skagit

Water-body Names:
Padilla Bay
No Name Slough
Big Indian Slough
Little Indian Slough
Joe Leary Slough

Fecal Coliform Bacteria

# of TMDLs: ---

Under development

Contact Info:
Danielle DeVoe
Phone: 425-649-7036
Email: Danielle.DeVoe@ecy.wa.gov

Northwest Region
Department of Ecology
3190 160th Ave SE
Bellevue, WA 98008-5452