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.
Averaged by month, the counts of bacteria at Samish River monitoring sites are lower in 2012 (green columns) than in 2010 or 2011. Click the chart to see the full size version.

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. Currently, in 2010 to 2014, the TMDL is in active implementation, with Skagit County and a number of local organizations and Tribes working together to reduce fecal coliform through a new, 3-year grant from EPA (Skagit County's Focusing on the Samish website). Many activities are described in Skagit Conservation District’s newsletter.

In the fall of 2009, working with more than 20 state, federal, and local agencies and nonprofit organizations and Tribes, Ecology spearheaded the Clean Samish Initiative (see Ecology’s Focus on Clean Samish Initiative). This speeded-up effort provided coordination with agencies and citizens to implement cleanup actions that would quickly lead to improvements in water quality. In 2011, additional attention and resources were focused on the Samish through the Puget Sound Partnership because the state Department of Health downgraded the shellfish harvest classification for Samish Bay. The downgrade was a response to high bacteria loads carried by the Samish River to the bay during storm events in the spring.

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 five years, there is still too much pollution in the watershed and shellfish bed closures are still a problem.

In spring and fall of 2012, fourteen out of 31 shellfish bed closures were confirmed (45%). In comparison, in 2013 fourteen out of 26 closures were confirmed (54%). Under the Clean Samish Initiative, Ecology and Skagit County are working together to inspect properties along highly-polluted reaches of the Samish where livestock access may affect the river and stream. The most recent Clean Samish Initiative accomplishments are in a quarterly report.

How Ecology conducts inspections presentation

With help, we've found sound sources.

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: 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. Between Oct 1, 2012 and March 1, 2013, there were 18 shellfish-bed closures in Samish Bay. 13 of them were immediately reopened after bacteria levels were found to be below conditions requiring closure. 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.)

Washington State Department of Ecology completed a study of the Samish watershed to determine the sources of bacteria and develop a plan for cleanup. Partners in this effort are Skagit County agencies, state departments of Health and Agriculture, Skagit Conservation District, and Skagit Stream Team, an organization of citizens who help monitor water quality.

The study shows that 70% of bacteria loading to Samish Bay comes from the Samish River, above the locations around the Bay where waterfowl congregate. Any bacteria loading from the waterfowl is in addition to the heavy load discharged from the river.

What is causing the problem?

Fecal coliform bacteria enter streams and ditches when rainfall washes bacteria off our backyards and farms. The bacteria may come from onsite sewage systems or from improperly managed animal waste. It can come from either commercial or small non-commercial farms.

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 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.

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

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