Water Quality Improvement Project
Puyallup River Basin Area:
Fecal Coliform


The Puyallup River basin, Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 10, drains an area of approximately 1,065 square miles. The watershed contains more than a dozen cities and towns, including Washington State’s third largest city, Tacoma. The major rivers of the basin are the Puyallup River and its two largest tributaries: the White and Carbon Rivers. The study area excludes the Clarks Creek and South Prairie Creek watersheds, where separate total maximum daily load projects (TMDLs) for bacteria have been done.

The White River enters the Puyallup River near the cities of Puyallup and Sumner and drains a 494 square-mile basin. Mud Mountain Dam, located at about river mile (RM) 28 on the White River, affects flow in the White River. Water is removed from the White River at about RM 24, stored in Lake Tapps, and then returned to the White River at about RM 4.

The Puyallup River watershed within the TMDL study area serves as receiving water for six municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs): Puyallup, Orting, Enumclaw, Sumner, Buckley, and Rainier School. It also includes 5 Phase I stormwater jurisdictions and 11 Phase II stormwater jurisdictions.

Water quality issues

The Puyallup River, several of their tributaries have fecal coliform (FC) bacteria levels higher than Washington State’s allowed levels (standards) for freshwater streams. These typically harmless bacteria tend to exist along with disease-causing bacteria and viruses (i.e., pathogens), so they serve to indicate the potential for pathogens in the water.

Why this matters

Fecal coliform is a type of bacteria found in the feces of warm-blooded animals and humans. When found in water bodies it can be an indicator of the presence of other disease-carrying organisms. Fecal coliform bacteria can get into water bodies from failing septic systems and animal waste. High levels of fecal coliform in the water can affect the public health, economy, and environmental quality of a community.

A long history of illness outbreaks and epidemics have demonstrated a relationship between the presence of fecal coliform bacteria and the presence of illness-causing viruses and bacteria, called pathogens. These pathogens can be accidentally swallowed with water. People swimming or playing in water can be exposed to pathogens when they enter the body through small cuts, abrasions or mucus membranes.

Some of the symptoms of illnesses associated with fecal coliform pathogens are minor, such as upset stomach, diarrhea, ear infections, and rashes. However, some pathogens, such as E coli, hepatitis, and Salmonella, can have very severe health effects. Washington State’s water quality standard for fecal coliform bacteria is set to protect public health. Meeting the FC standards is important because it helps make our rivers and streams to be safe places to swim, fish, boat, and do other recreational activities.

Status of the project

Ecology worked with many different local governments, citizens groups and permit holders to come up with actions needed to reduce fecal coliform inputs in the Puyallup River Watershed. The resulting water quality improvement report (WQIR) contains the results of the TMDL study and an implementation plan. The plan identifies implementation activities for various partners, many of which are already underway. The WQIR was available for public review and comment May 18 - June 20, 2011. After Ecology addressed the comments received and the appropriate updates were made, we submitted the final WQIR to EPA for approval on June 30, 2011. EPA approved the TMDL on September 20, 2011.

The TMDL is now in its implementation phase. Two tributaries to the White River, Bowman and Pussyfoot Creeks, are currently being monitored to determine fecal coliform sources.

Ecology is currently working with partners in the Puyallup River watershed on a focused TMDL implementation effort. This work includes increased education and outreach, a greater field presence to identify and eliminate nonpoint sources, and work with NPDES permit managers and permitees to ensure TMDL point source requirements are met. These efforts should help to reduce the fecal coliform problem.

Technical information

Puyallup River Watershed Fecal Coliform Total Maximum Daily Load: WQIR-IP


Related information

Unless otherwise specified, the following documents are Ecology publications:

Quality Assurance Project Plan: Puyallup River Watershed Fecal Coliform Bacteria Total Maximum Daily Load Study

Quality Assurance Project Plan: Bowman Creek Fecal Coliform Bacteria Characterization

Quality Assurance Project Plan: Pussyfoot Creek and Second Creek Fecal Coliform Bacteria Characterization Monitoring

Pussyfoot Creek and Second Creek Fecal Coliform Characterization Monitoring


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  Map of Puyallup-White water resource inventory area 10.


WRIA: #10 (Puyallup-White)

Water-body Name:
Puyallup River

Fecal Coliform

# of TMDLs: 12

Approved by EPA
Has an implementation plan

Contact Info:
Donovan Gray
Phone: 360-407-6407
Email: Donovan.Gray@ecy.wa.gov

Southwest Region
Department of Ecology
P.O. Box 47775
Olympia, WA 98504-7775
Last updated December 2015