Water Quality

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Whatcom County is prized for its beauty, abundance of wildlife, and productive farmlands. This is due in large part to the watersheds that feed and support us. The health of your watershed, and its viability for future generations begins with YOU. Learn more:


Watershed Health Assessment Map

The primary method used to assess the impact of human, wildlife, and livestock sources to a waterbody is with fecal coliform bacteria. Fecal coliform is an indicator of the amount of waste derived pollution entering a waterbody. The higher the value, the more waste is entering the watershed, and the greater its impairment.

The map below shows the current monthly watershed assessment rating. These values change monthly. Check back on a regular basis to see how things are changing in your watershed.

We update the data on this map as information becomes available, which sometimes runs into the next month.

Click here to access historical watershed FC records (please note that historical data may have difficiencies and errors)

Larger Map

Figure 1. The above map shows the most current fecal coliform numbers for individual watersheds in Whatcom County and the corresponding risk level. Click on an individual watershed to get more information. Definitions: ID = The monitoring station ID and corresponding waterway. Sample Date = the date on which the fecal coliform sample was taken that corresponds to the risk rating. Fecal Coliform = the FC count measured in the sample in units of number per 100 ml. Level of Concern = Low (less than 100 FC/100ml), Medium (100-199 FC/100ml), High (200-999 FC/100ml), Extreme (>1000 FC/100ml). % of Total Watershed = the total area of the watershed that the sampling station represents.

More water quality data for Whatcom County can be found on the County Website


Am I a Contributor?

The contribution of fecal coliform to a watershed can come from a variety of sources including: human septic systems, waterfowl, horses, cows, livestock, manure spread on fields, dogs, and wildlife. If your watershed has had a current or historical high level of fecal coliform, you should evaluate your own practices to see if you are a contributor. In most cases simple changes in your management can make big impacts.

Ways you can protect your watershed:

  • Make sure your manure piles are covered and don’t drain to a waterbody.
  • Have your septic tank inspected and replaced if necessary.
  • Pick up your dog waste, bag it and throw it in the trash.
  • Make sure that runoff from all animal housing is collected into a storage tank or runs into an approved vegetative treatment area.
  • Only apply manure or graze animals when runoff conditions are low - soil is NOT saturated and no significant rainfall (>0.5 inches) is expected. Don’t apply to frozen, snow covered, or bare ground in the winter months.
  • Plant a relay and/or cover crop on annual crop fields to limit surface runoff from rain and snow during the winter months.
  • Stop manure spills before they happen – make sure your lagoon, equipment, pipelines, etc. are well maintained. If there are any potential issues, fix them before they turn into a problem!
  • Monitor and follow all manure application setbacks and/or filterstrip widths outlined in your nutrient management plan.
  • If there are any potential issues on your farm, fix them before they turn into a problem!


Are you interested in finding out if you might be contributing?  Check out the Water Quality Sampling page for more details.


History of Watershed Monitoring

The Water Resource inventory Area 1 (WRIA1) was created in 1998 to assess the health of the Nooksack watershed. At approximately the same time, the Lower Nooksack River Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Study for fecal coliform bacteria was initiated.  Fecal coliform is used as an indicator of pollution from human, agricultural, and wildlife sources.  Water quality samples were collected throughout the Nooksack River by the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) and Northwest Indian College (NWIC) to characterize bacteria concentrations.  NWIC continued sampling many of these sites through 2013 on a monthly basis.  In 2008, DOE conducted a TMDL study in the Drayton Harbor watershed.  Whatcom County Public Works (WCPW) has continued sampling at the sites established in the Drayton Harbor watershed.  Currently, there are approximately 90 freshwater sites in Whatcom County sampled on a monthly or bi-monthly basis for fecal coliform bacteria by WCPW.  Samples are also collected weekly or bi-weekly at approximately 50 focus area sites (Lower Dakota, Loomis Trail, Brown-Malloy and Fishtrap).  DOE, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), Lummi Nation, Nooksack Tribe, and other community groups also collect samples to help characterize bacteria levels and identify problem areas.  Most of the monitoring stations are located at the base of a drainage area to help characterize the water quality in that individual creek system.

The Department of Ecology (DOE) sets standards for safe levels of FC in fresh waters. There are three categories set by DOE, Extraordinary, Primary and Secondary contact. For Extraordinary contact, such as waters that flow into shellfish harvesting areas, the maximum geometric mean level must not exceed 50 colonies/100ml. For Primary contact activities such as swimming, the maximum level is 100 colonies/100 ml. For Secondary contact recreation such as wading or non-skin exposure, the maximum level is 200 colonies/100 ml. The Nooksack River and its tributaries are termed Class A waters, and as such, should meet the Primary contact standard of 100 colonies/100 ml. Based on the levels listed, a risk of Low (<50 fc/100ml), Medium (50-100 fc/100ml), High (100-200 fc/100ml), and Extreme (>200 fc/100ml) were set, respectively, for our watershed assessment.