Clean Samish Initiative

Clean Samish Initiative: Overview for Skagit County Commissioners presentation

Skagit County Clean Samish Initiative website

Rope Swing on the Samish River
Rope swing on the Samish River at the Grip Road bridge—one of the recreational activities that put people in contact with the river.

Samish Bay Watershed map, Washington State
Fecal coliform bacteria reductions needed for reaches of Samish waterbodies to meet state water quality standards and to open more Samish Bay area to shellfish harvest (Ecology TMDL study November 2008).

More than 20 governmental, business and non-profit organizations have a role or interest in improving water quality in the Samish watershed and Samish Bay. Ecology agreed to coordinate these efforts. The member organizations have welcomed this coordination and interest and support development of a workplan for fall 2009 to speed up cleanup activities. They are actively taking actions that will lead to improved water quality, and adopted a name for the overall effort: Clean Samish Initiative.

Ecology took the extra step to act as coordinator of the Clean Samish Initiative, but not to run the various activities. This was a natural outgrowth of Ecology’s recent work with Skagit County agencies, other organizations and Tribes to develop a water quality improvement plan (Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL) that identifies priority areas and actions for cleanup. EPA approved the TMDL in October 2009.

The Clean Samish Initiative workplan describes member-organization projects and a schedule aimed at making significant improvements in water quality by the end of the coming wet season.


The Samish watershed has had problems with bacteria pollution for a couple of decades. Bacteria in the river, other streams and the bay frequently reach levels too high for safe shellfish harvest (and eating) and safe family recreation. In addition, farmers, especially those who irrigate from surface waters, are concerned about water quality. They want to provide assurance to consumers that their food products are safe.

In recent years, significant efforts by citizens and local agencies have led to measurable improvements in water quality. In the Edison area, for example, locally-led efforts, helped with County and state funding, led to the replacement of many failing onsite septic systems with a community wastewater treatment system. The marine waters off the village of Edison are measurably cleaner than before. Similar work in Blanchard led to replacement of individual onsite systems. Education and outreach by Skagit Conservation District has encouraged many farmers and landowners to adopt farm plans and add best management practices. Ongoing work by Skagit Health Dept. has resulted in a steady increase in the number of onsite systems throughout the County getting inspections and repairs.

Despite these valuable efforts, much work remains to be done. Samish Bay was closed to commercial shellfish harvest for a total of 10 weeks in 2008 and 2009. All the closures were related to rain events that carried high numbers of fecal coliform bacteria to the bay from throughout the watershed. (The state Dept. of Health monitors marine waters and has the authority to keep commercial shellfish beds open or close them if marine water quality is compromised.)

The TMDL implementation plan, developed in cooperation with state agencies, Skagit County, local organizations, and Tribes, identifies the major potential sources of polluting bacteria in the Samish as:

All these potential sources, if managed or practiced appropriately with water quality protections in place, need not pose a threat to water quality.

Clean Samish participating organizations and projects include:

Full list of Clean Samish members

  • Skagit County Public Works
  • Skagit County Public Health
  • Skagit County Planning & Development Services
  • Washington Department of Agriculture
  • Washington Department of Health
  • Washington Department of Natural Resources
  • Puget Sound Partnership
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Skagit County Public Works
  • Skagit County Public Health
  • Skagit County Planning & Development Services
  • Skagit Conservation District
  • Department of Ecology
  • Governor's Office of Regulatory Assistance
  • WSU Skagit County Cooperative Extension
  • Washington State Conservation Commission
  • Western Washington Agricultural Association
  • Taylor Shellfish Farms
  • Skagit Conservation Education Alliance
  • Washington Sea Grant / UW
  • Washington State Dairy Federation
  • Washington Cattlemen’s Association
  • Upper Skagit Tribe
  • Samish Indian Nation
  • RE Sources for Sustainable Communities – North Sound Baykeeper
  • Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group

For more information

Dave Garland, Samish TMDL Lead
Washington Department of Ecology


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Last updated November 2010