Water Quality Improvement Projects
Swamp Creek Watershed


Swamp Creek is polluted with fecal coliform bacteria and needs your help.

Fecal coliform bacteria, found in the waste of warm-blooded animals and humans, is a major concern in the creek because it indicates that people may be exposed to a variety of harmful bacteria and viruses. Ecology developed the Swamp Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan to help explain the bacteria pollution problem and point out solutions to get these waters clean again.

The Swamp Creek watershed spans about 12 miles in length from top to bottom. Starting just below State Highway 526 in Everett, the mainstem of the creek winds 14 miles through the watershed before it flows into the Sammamish River. Scriber Creek, Little Swamp Creek, and Martha Creek are the largest of the 19 tributaries to Swamp Creek. Major lakes include Scriber Lake, Martha Lake, and Stickney Lake.

Swamp Creek is classified as an extraordinary primary contact waterbody in Washington’s Water Quality Standards. Streams like Swamp Creek should be suitable for a wide variety of uses, including water supply; stock watering; fish migration, rearing, spawning, and harvest; wildlife habitat; and recreation (swimming, fishing, and aesthetic enjoyment).

Water quality issues

Pollution in the Swamp Creek watershed comes from thousands of sources that may not have clearly-identifiable emission points. This category of pollution is called “non-point” pollution. These non-point sources can contribute a variety of pollutants that may come from failing septic systems; livestock and pet wastes; at-home car washing; lawn and garden care; leaky machinery; and other daily activities. Some of these non-point sources create fecal coliform bacterial pollution that indicate the presence of fecal wastes from warm-blooded animals and humans. Ecology has confirmed that high levels of fecal coliform bacteria exist in Swamp Creek.

Although wildlife contribute to bacteria pollution in Swamp Creek, the majority of the problem occurs because of human activities. The way we do things, not the activities themselves, are typically the problem. For example, having dogs, cats, horses, and other animals as part of our life is not a problem; rather, it is the way that we care for these animals. Similarly, roads and parking lots are a necessity of our modern society, but the way we build roads, neighborhoods, and shopping centers causes our local streams and creeks to be polluted. There are solutions that can be undertaken by local governments, businesses, organizations, and citizens to solve the problem. These solutions are discussed in the Swamp Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan.

Why this matters

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, and from livestock, pets and wildlife.

Although Swamp Creek is a relatively small urban stream, there are several lakes and many small locations along the mainstem where children can play and be exposed to polluted water. In addition, Swamp Creek ultimately flows into Lake Washington, which is an important recreational area during the summer months.

Status of the project

During 2005-6, Ecology worked with local governments to discuss the creek’s high bacteria levels and solutions for getting it cleaned up. A technical study and detailed implementation plan were published in 2006. The Technical Information section of this webpage contains a link to this document.

All of the local governments in the watershed have been working to resolve the bacterial pollution problems in Swamp Creek as part of their NPDES Municipal Stormwater Programs. They are mapping and cleaning their stormwater systems, installing pet waste stations, educating the public, monitoring bacteria levels in local streams, and looking for sources of bacteria as part of their illicit discharge detection efforts. You can learn more about the programs at each city, and in unincorporated Snohomish County, by visiting their websites and reading their Bacteria Pollution Control Plans and Stormwater Management Plans. Links to their websites are provided below.

Ecology has funded several special projects to help clean up Swamp Creek. In 2007, grants were awarded to both the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation (AASF) and the Snohomish Conservation District. The AASF finished their outreach campaign by reaching out to 829 streamside landowners. They knocked on the doors of 440 properties to provide on-the-spot education and assistance to landowners, held numerous workshops, collected water quality data, restored 3,202 linear feet of riparian zone using 4,603 native plants, and installed 90 conifer logs and root wads to form 23 large woody debris structures. The Snohomish Conservation District is just now completing their project working with selected schools in the watershed.

Ecology has been conducting targeted water quality monitoring in Swamp Creek in order to locate bacteria pollution sources. One problem was found in Little Swamp Creek at the Country Village Shopping Center where large numbers of waterfowl, chickens, and crows are contributing large amounts of bacteria to the creek. Country Village has been working with the city of Bothell to educate visitors and discourage the feeding of the birds. Right now, Ecology evaluating bacteria levels in Golde Creek and lower Scriber Creek.

Citizens are also involved in sharing information on the health of Little Swamp Creek. If you live in that part of the watershed, you may be interested in visiting the Little Swamp Creek blog webpage!

Technical information

Swamp Creek Fecal Coliform Total Maximum Daily Load: Water Quality Improvement Report and Implementation Plan

WRIA 8: Cedar-Sammamish Watershed Information (Water web site)


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Last updated February 2014


WRIA: #8 (Cedar/Sammamish)

Water-body Name:
Swamp Creek watershed

Fecal coliform bacteria

# of TMDLs: 3

Fecal Coliform TMDL - approved by EPA.
Has 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