Water quality declining in Whatcom County – but work is underway

Water quality is the topic of many conversations in Whatcom County these days. And sometimes the conversations aren’t easy.

Little girl walking in several inches of water at beach
We live in a beautiful region of the state where we prize our views and waterways. It might surprise you that many of the waterways flowing through our communities are in trouble. Many tributaries and streams have high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, an indicator that disease-causing organisms are present. In fact, 80 percent of the sites that we monitor are failing to meet bacteria water quality standards.

Water contaminated with fecal coliform can make people sick. It’s a serious public health issue. It also threatens an important shellfish industry.

Last Friday, the Washington Department of Health announced restrictions on another 300 acres of Lummi Nation’s Portage Bay shellfish growing area — the second reclassification in two years. That means, for six months of the year, about 800 acres of the tribe’s treaty-protected shellfish growing area are off-limits to harvest. Their culture and way of life are impacted, and incomes threatened, as a food source becomes scarcer.

What are the sources of pollution?

Preventable sources of fecal coliform bacteria pollution include human and animal waste (poop!) from failing septic systems, pets, and livestock. Small sources might seem inconsequential, but it all adds up.

Working together to reverse the trend

We’ve been partnering with the community to develop an effective response to this growing concern. Formed in 2012, the Whatcom Clean Water Program is working with residents to identify and address fecal bacteria sources and prevent pollution. The group includes representatives from local, state, tribal and federal agencies. Each partner plays an important role:
Man grabbing a water sample, close to a storm drain near a roadway in background.
We meet regularly to coordinate work, address challenges and share progress.

Everybody can help 

Individuals are the key to making progress. We can pick up our pet waste, manage manure on our properties, and keep our septic systems in working order. 
You can keep informed of current water quality. And if you're curious to know if your property is contributing, you can join a citizen monitoring program
Diagram of ways in which the community can provide clean water solutions. Image courtesy of Whatcom Conservation District. 

Community Solutions for Clean Water Flyer 

Additional helpful tips are available on the Washington Waters Ours to Protect webpages.

Next time

Small successes add up: Learn how one family spruced up their farm to protect a nearby creek