Water Quality Improvement Project
Union River Area:
Fecal coliform bacteria


The Union River is located on the Kitsap Peninsula, which is on the eastern portion of the Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington State. Its tributaries drain approximately 23 square miles (14,500 acres) of land in Kitsap and Mason Counties. The Union River flows into Lynch Cove at the southeastern end of Hood Canal, near the town of Belfair. The largest tributaries to the river are the Northeast Fork, Bear Creek, Hazel Creek and Courtney Creek.

The mainstem is mostly a broad river valley. The basin is largely rural with few prominent urban areas or major point sources. Belfair is the largest urban area in the basin. Casad Dam, above McKenna Falls (a natural fish barrier), impounds the headwaters of the Union River to form the Union River Reservoir in the upper watershed. The reservoir provides 65% of the drinking water for the city of Bremerton. Below McKenna Falls, the most common land uses are commercial/industrial, forestry, residential and hobby farm (small agricultural or livestock operations). Other land uses in the basin include the Olympic View Sanitary Landfill (closed), Bremerton National Airport, the Port of Bremerton Industrial Park, Christmas tree farms, and several sand and gravel operations.

The lower Union River contains salmon habitat for small runs of chum, chinook, coho, cutthroat, and steelhead (CTC, 2000). Lynch Cove contains shellfish beds.

Water quality issues

Since 1990, the Union River has had fecal coliform bacteria (FC) levels that are higher than Washington State’s water quality standards. In 1987, portions of shellfish beds in Lynch Cove, adjacent to the mouth of Union River, were closed due to FC contamination. The Mason County Department of Health Services (MCDHS) created a shellfish protection district and programs to address the shellfish closure problem. In the early 1990s MCDHS began sampling water quality and performing sanitary surveys to determine the sources of FC in Lynch Cove.

Why this matters

Fecal coliform is a type of “bacteria” common in human and animal waste. It can make people sick and cause the closure of shellfish harvesting beds. 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. Properly collect, bag, and trash dog poop. Check your on-site sewage system to make sure it is maintained and working properly.

Status of the project

The Hood canal Coordinating Council is leading an effort to identify and correct pollution sources in the Hood Canal watershed, including the Union River. Ecology and other local agencies and organizations are participating in this effort to implement corrective actions in Hood Canal including Union River water quality improvement.

Numerous pollution sources have been corrected, but portions of Lynch Cove remain closed to shellfish harvest due to bacterial contamination.

Ecology recently conducted an effectiveness monitoring study to determine whether the Union River and tributaries have attained the TMDL targets for fecal coliform bacteria load allocations. As of the writing of that monitoring study, while samples at some monitoring points meet water quality standards, fecal coliform concentrations in the Union River and its tributaries have not yet met the targets established in the 1999 TMDL study.

Ecology Northwest Regional Office plans to conduct monitoring in Union River during 2011 to continue identifying and correcting pollution sources. Ecology continues to give extra points to TMDL-related projects in its annual grant programs.

Technical information

Unless otherwise noted, the following documents are Ecology publications.

Union River Fecal Coliform Total Maximum Daily Load Study

Union River Fecal Coliform Total Maximum Daily Load Submittal Report

Union River Fecal Coliform Water Cleanup: Detailed Implementation Plan

Union River Watershed Fecal Coliform Total Maximum Daily Load: Water Quality Effectiveness Monitoring Report

Related information

Focus Sheet: Union River Needs Your Help! (Ecology publication)

WRIA 15: Kitsap Watershed Information (Water web site)


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Last updated December 2013


WRIA: #15 (Kitsap)
County: Kitsap

Water-body Name:
Union River

Fecal coliform bacteria

# of TMDLs: 2

TMDL Approved by EPA
Has an implementation plan

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