Samish Bay in Skagit County. Photo courtesy of Danielle DeVoe, WA Department of Ecology.
Samish Bay in Skagit County.

Counts of bacteria at Samish River monitoring sites chart.
Courtesy of Skagit County Public Works.

Small Farm Program

The Skagit Conservation District provides free technical assistance to local small farm landowners interested in improving their property and developing and implementing a farm plan. A farm plan is a series of actions developed to meet the goals of each individual landowner while protecting water quality and the natural resources.

Some of the things considered in a farm plan are farm size, soil type, slope of the land, proximity to streams or bodies of water, and types of livestock or crops.

Onsite sewage system inspection in Skagit County, Washington.  Photo courtesy of Steve Olsen, Skagit County Health Department.
Where does Skagit County Health Department’s requirement for Onsite Sewage System Inspections come from?

Samish Bay Water Quality: Yours to Protect

EPA approved the Samish Bay Watershed TMDL and Implementation Plan in the fall of 2009. Reductions in FC bacteria were shown to be necessary to protect the public from pathogens in freshwater and to protect marine water and shellfish harvesting in Samish Bay. Currently, the TMDL is in active implementation, with Skagit County and a number of local organizations and Tribes working together to reduce fecal coliform. Many activities are described on Skagit County’s website.

The Clean Samish Initiative (CSI) is a consortium of federal, state, and county, and tribal governments, as well as non-governmental organizations, all focused on cleanup efforts in the Samish Bay Watershed. The CSI was formed in 2009 after high levels of fecal coliform bacteria were confirmed through our 2008 TMDL study. The CSI program is led by Skagit County Public Works and is a coalition of more than 20 partners working together to identify and eliminate fecal coliform bacteria sources in the Samish Bay Watershed. More information about CSI activities can be found on our Clean Samish Initiative webpage.

Landowners have accomplished a lot to reduce bacteria pollution, but there is still more to do.

Although the load carried by the river appears to have decreased over the past several years, there is still too much pollution in the watershed and shellfish bed closures are still a problem.

There has been tremendous effort in the Samish Bay Watershed to clean up fecal coliform pollution sources. The efforts of federal, tribal, state and local governments, NGO’s, non-profit organizations, and individual citizens, resulted in significant progress towards reaching clean water goals. Even with that progress, the goal of a shellfish classification upgrade for the Samish Bay has yet to be achieved. You can follow progress towards cleaner waters by reading the most recent Clean Samish Initiative accomplishments are in a quarterly report.

For more information about our TMDL:

TMDL and Implementation Plan (Ecology publications):

Samish Bay and the river, creeks and sloughs that drain to it are heavily impacted by bacteria-laden runoff after storm events.

Public health is at risk: All the closures were related to rain events that carried high numbers of fecal coliform bacteria to the bay from throughout the watershed. The fecal coliform bacteria and nutrients that end up in Samish Bay can prevent us from safely using the Bay for recreation and shellfish harvest. Samish Bay closes to shellfish harvest when fecal coliform loading is greater than 4.7 trillion bacteria per day. This maximum loading limit is set by the state Dept. of Health to protect people from infectious diseases.

What is causing the problem?

Fecal coliform bacteria enter streams and ditches when rainfall washes bacteria off of the landscape. The bacteria may come from non-functioning onsite sewage systems or from improperly managed animal waste. It can also come from commercial and small non-commercial farms when nutrients are over-applied. Even our pets and wildlife can contribute if not properly managed.

What can Samish residents do to protect the water?

Where does Skagit County Health Department’s requirement for Onsite Sewage System Inspections come from?

The annual inspection requirement for alternative septic systems (and once every 3 years for conventional systems) is in state law (WAC 246-272A, Section 0270). All 12 counties bordering Puget Sound were required to adopt the code by July 2007, and establish onsite sewage management plans. The Samish TMDL does not set the Operation & Maintenance (O&M) requirement for inspections. The requirement is already firmly established by the Washington State Board of Health and each county’s Board of Health. If anything, the establishment of the Marine Recovery Areas (based on data showing water quality problems) and the TMDL study itself indicate there is a good basis for requiring annual O&M inspections.


Last updated April 2017

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