Water Quality Improvement Projects
Whatcom, Squalicum and Padden Creeks all flow into Bellingham Bay. They
are popular places for people to play, fish and sightsee. Trails and
parks are located along all three creeks. (See
Water quality issues
Whatcom, Squalicum, and Padden Creeks are on the Washington State
for impaired waters for temperature. Summer temperatures warm the water in the
creeks above the 60.8°F (16°C) temperature that is optimal for fish in the
Whatcom Squalicum and Padden Creeks are on the Washington State 303(d) list
for impaired waters for fecal coliform bacteria. Bacteria concentrations exceed 200
colony forming units (cfu)/100
ml more than 10 percent of the time.
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
discharges from leaking sewer lines, from improperly functioning septic systems,
and from livestock, pets and wildlife.
Everybody can help keep water safe by:
- Reporting water that smells like sewage or detergent that flows to
streams or storm drains so that human sources are discovered and eliminated.
- Picking up pet waste both at home and in public places.
- Keeping trash cans covered, and picking up spills to discourage
Water temperature influences what types of organisms can live in a
water body. Cooler water can hold more dissolved oxygen that fish and other
aquatic life need to breathe. Warmer water holds less dissolved oxygen. Many
fish need cold, clean water to survive.
One way to cool water temperature is to shade the water body by adding or
retaining streamside vegetation.
Status of the projects
In 2002 the city of Bellingham collected data to calibrate models to predict
the temperature of Whatcom Creek. When we analyzed the data we found that warm
water from Lake Whatcom cooled as it passed through Whatcom Falls park, but then
warmed as it traveled from Woburn Street to Dupont Street. Peak daily
temperatures exceeded the state surface water
quality standards' numeric criteria of 16 °C (60.8 °F) during the summer.
The numeric criteria is the temperature that would be optimal for aquatic
life we expect to live in the water body. This is very common in lowland western Washington streams. The criteria are
established to provide optimal habitat for aquatic life.
In summer in lowland
western Washington natural conditions frequently do not support the optimal
conditions. For temperature we consider the natural condition the
temperature the creek would be if it has fully vegetated banks. When that is the case, we set the natural conditions as the
criteria. In the case of Whatcom creek a calculation of how much shade would
result from natural vegetated stream side is set as a target to achieve natural
summer time temperatures.
In 2008 the Environmental Protection Agency gave Ecology a grant to try
establishing temperature TMDLs where we expect that providing shade is the
solution to correcting warm streams. We selected Squalicum and Padden creeks.
The work that was done on Whatcom Creek showed that the numeric criteria are not
achievable, which meant we could instead look at how much shade is achievable
and set that as our target.
When the shade targets are met on Whatcom, Squalicum and Padden creeks, the
water will likely warm to higher than optimal temperatures for fish but it will
not warm beyond the natural temperature for those stream.
Stormwater improvements that focus on infiltration in the city of Bellingham
will make the water a bit better habitat. The effect of increasing the amount of
rainfall that is stored as groundwater and flows into the streams in the summer
was not quantified, but will cool streams a small amount in addition to the
cooling provided by shade.
Ecology prepared a draft TMDL that shows how much shade we expect to be
provided on different parts of the three creeks. We believe that the existing
buffers on the stream can provide that level of shade when they are fully
vegetated. The public comment period for the TMDL ended on June 8,
2011. After addressing the comments received and finalizing the document, the
TMDL was submitted to EPA for approval on June 30, 2011. EPA approved the
temperature TMDL on August 18, 2011.
In 2002 the city of Bellingham started collecting water samples to determine
levels of fecal coliform in Whatcom Creek and its tributaries. Ecology published
a draft TMDL in 2006. That TMDL was never completed. Analysis of additional data
that has been collected gives us an even better idea of how much bacteria needs
to be reduced. A revised draft TMDL will be published and available for public
comment. Information on the public comment period will be on this page when it
Whatcom Creek Fecal Coliform Total Maximum Daily Load Study (Ecology
Whatcom Creek Fecal Coliform Total Maximum Daily Load Report: Water Quality
Improvement Plan -- DRAFT (Ecology publication)
Whatcom, Squalicum, and Padden Creeks Temperature Total Maximum Daily
Load: Water Quality Improvement Report (Ecology publication)
Focus on Urban Stream
Temperature: Several Creeks Flowing to Bellingham Bay Need Your Help
Focus on Whatcom Creek (Ecology publication)
WRIA 1: Nooksack
Watershed Information (Water web site)
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