Water Quality Improvement Project
Snohomish River Tributaries Area:
Fecal Coliform


The study area for this water quality improvement project included the Quilceda, Allen, Woods Creek, French Creek, Marshlands, and Pilchuck River watersheds, which drain 244 square miles of land into the mainstem Snohomish River. These streams provide important fish habitat and recreational opportunities.

Water quality issues

Pollution in the Snohomish tributary streams comes from thousands of sources. Some are easily identified by the presence of a pipe; we call these point sources. Stormwater pipes and ditches that take water from local roads is an example of point source pollution. Other pollution problems are dispersed throughout the landscape and are harder to find and fix. We call these non-point pollution sources. These nonpoint sources can contribute a variety of pollutants that may come from failing septic systems; improperly managed livestock and pet wastes; runoff from at-home car washing; excessive use of lawn and garden chemicals; leaky machinery; and other daily activities. Some of these non-point sources discharge fecal coliform bacterial pollution. Fecal coliform bacteria indicate the presence of fecal wastes from warm-blooded animals. When fecal bacteria levels are high, our risk of becoming ill after swimming or wading increases.

Ecology confirmed that high levels of fecal coliform bacteria exist in the lower Snohomish tributaries.

Why this matters

Fecal coliform is a type of bacteria common in human and animal waste. High levels of these bacteria show us people are more likely to become sick after recreational activities in the water, or after eating local shellfish. Bacteria can get into our waters from untreated or partially treated discharges from wastewater treatment plants, from improperly functioning septic systems, and from livestock, pets and wildlife.

People can help keep bacteria out of the water. Two things you can do are 1) properly collect, bag, and trash dog poop, and 2) check your on-site sewage system to make sure it is maintained and working properly.

What is being done

Many people are working to reduce bacterial pollution in the Snohomish Tributaries TMDL area. Ecology helped fund several major projects with the Snohomish Conservation District, Snohomish County, and the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation. Ecology also issued new stormwater management permits to Snohomish County and the cities of Arlington, Everett, Lake Stevens, Marysville, Snohomish, and Monroe in 2007. These permits require action to reduce pollutants in local waters. In the future, Ecology will perform a formal effectiveness monitoring study for the Lower Snohomish Tributaries Fecal Coliform TMDL to determine if our efforts to reduce bacteria levels have been successful. Until that study is undertaken, we will provide periodic updates on state and local efforts to improve water quality in the Snohomish Tributaries TMDL area.

Fall 2008 Quilceda/Allen Watershed Update

How you can help

Residents can do many things to reduce the amount of pollution reaching water bodies and to improve water quality. Here are some ways that you can help:

  • Be responsible for proper septic tank maintenance or repair. If you have questions about your on-site septic system (exactly where it is located, how to maintain it), you can contact the Snohomish Health District for technical assistance.
  • If you own a farm (or just a horse or two!), contact the Snohomish Conservation District to see how their free services can make your livestock healthier and happier while also protecting your local stream! Farmers and others that raise livestock (horses, cows, cattle, llamas, etc.) can also visit the “Better Ground” website to see videos and get more great information on caring for livestock and small animals. If you live near a stream or ditch, the Snohomish Conservation District may be able pay for 75% of the cost of improvements to your farm to help protect local water quality.
  • Keep pet and other animal wastes out of your local streams. Educate yourself on the need to control pet waste and how to do it. Encourage your local government to install pet waste collection stations where they are needed.
  • Use landscaping methods that eliminate or reduce fertilizers and pesticides. If fertilizers are needed, organic products break down more slowly and help prevent big flushes of pollution when we have heavy rains; they also improve soil structure.
  • Wash vehicles on lawns or take them to a commercial car wash (remember that virtually all storm drains in Snohomish County go to a local stream, not to a sewage treatment plant).
  • Join local volunteers in planting trees and performing other activities that help local streams. Trees and wooded areas next to all streams help filter out pollutants, improve water oxygen levels (good for the fish!), and do a host of other good things. The Sound Salmon Solutions (formerly Stilly/Snohomish Task Force) and Adopt-a-Stream Foundation work to improve water quality by helping with stream restoration activities. They can help you to plant trees on your property to help water quality (you can also volunteer to plant trees in other areas that need help too).
  • Get involved in your local government’s programs. Folks interested in sampling their local waters can contact Snohomish County or your local city to explore the availability of volunteer monitoring opportunities or review their stormwater management plan. If you are a teacher, visit Snohomish County’s webpage to see if the any of the “Water Lessons for Snohomish County Students” can be integrated into your class work. These 13 lesson plans are coordinated by Snohomish County and Snohomish Conservation District staff.
  • Share your ideas with others. Let local elected officials know your wishes to improve water quality and fish habitat and your ideas for clean local streams. Make sure you let them know that clean water is important to you. Because they deal with so many important issues in trying to provide for the needs of their local citizens, they need to hear from you so they know that this is one of your priorities.

Technical information

Unless otherwise specified, the following documents are Ecology publications.

Water Quality Assessment of Tributaries to the Snohomish River and Nonpoint Source Pollution TMDL

Snohomish River Tributaries Fecal Coliform Total Maximum Daily Load Submittal Report

Lower Snohomish river Tributaries Fecal Coliform Bacterial Total Maximum Daily Load: Detailed Implementation Plan

Related information

Pet Waste Management Tools:

Other Information Resources:


Back to top of page

Last updated May 2014
  Snohomish Watershed map


WRIA: #7 (Snohomish)
County: Snohomish

Water-body Names:
Snohomish River and tributaries

Fecal coliform

# of TMDLs: 6

TMDL approved by EPA
Has an implementation plan

Contact Info:
Ralph Svrjcek
Phone: 425-649-7165
Email: Ralph.Svrjcek@ecy.wa.gov

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