Water Quality Improvement Project
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
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
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
Union River Fecal Coliform Water Cleanup: Detailed Implementation
Union River Watershed Fecal Coliform Total Maximum Daily Load: Water
Quality Effectiveness Monitoring Report
Focus Sheet: Union River Needs Your
Help! (Ecology publication)
WRIA 15: Kitsap
Watershed Information (Water web site)
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