Padilla Bay fecal coliform bacteria TMDL

Padilla Bay and its freshwater tributaries have high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. To preserve the use and enjoyment of these waters, we're working to make the water safe and healthy again. We are studying the Padilla Bay watershed to determine the best method to bring the water quality back to state standards. Padilla Bay is a popular destination for school groups and recreational activities. We need to reduce the amount of bacteria getting into the water to keep the area safe for people, animals, and food sources like fish and shellfish.

Water quality issues

The Padilla Bay watershed is located in the orthwest Skagit County. It consists of four major sloughs and many interweaving drainage systems. The watershed is relatively flat with high water tables, making drainage a challenge for communities in the watershed.

People share the local waters with Chinook, coho and steelhead salmon, as well as other resident fishes and animals. The salmon are, for the most part, confined to the lower watershed due to lack of suitable habitat and clean water upstream.

Currently, Padilla Bay and the freshwater tributaries do not meet the bacteria state water quality standards for wading and swimming.

What we have done

A water quality improvement study called a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) is underway. We and one of our many partners have been collecting water samples and will wrap up data collection in 2017.

Status of the project

Once we have collected the data and analyzed it, we will have a better idea of where and how to focus cleanup efforts.

How you can help

Here are some things you can do to prevent pollution from entering Padilla Bay:

  • Pick up after your pets. It does not take much fecal matter to make someone sick downstream.
  • Have septic systems inspected regularly. Not only does this keep septic waste out of the water, it could prevent more costly septic repairs in the future.
  • Fence out animals from creeks. Animals pooping in and drinking the water is not healthy for anyone; it damages creek beds, and degrades water.
  • Adopt agricultural practices that conserve water and soil. For many farmers in the Padilla Bay watershed, water and soil management is a constant struggle. Adopting alternatives that result in better water and soil conservation and less water runoff will benefit everyone.

Here are some contacts and resources to get you started:

  • Skagit Conservation District: John Schuh,, 360-428-4313
  • Western Washington Agricultural Association: Brandon Roozen,, 360-424-7327

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 water from untreated or partially-treated discharges from wastewater treatment plants, from improperly functioning septic systems, stormwater drainage systems, and from livestock, pets, and wildlife.