Section  319
               NDNPDINT SOURCE  PI
                                                             RAM  SUCCESS STORY
 Multifaceted Approach Reduces Bacteria from Numerous Sources
Waterbody Improved
                                Washington State added the South Fork Skagit River (South Fork) and
                                several tributaries of the lower Skagit River to the 1996/1998 Clean
                                Water Act section 303(d) list of impaired waters because of high levels
of fecal coliform (FC) bacteria from urban and agricultural sources. The FC levels impaired recreation use
and raised concerns about the health of shellfish beds downriver. State and local government entities
implemented a nutrient management program to control manure on dairy farms, reduced the number
of failing septic systems, and upgraded a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). Bacteria levels have
decreased, and the South Fork meets water quality standards. Washington plans to remove this segment
from the 303(d) list for FC in the next listing cycle. Although the South Fork has improved, several tributar-
ies of the lower river continue to have elevated FC  levels and will remain on the impaired waters list.


The Skagit is Washington's second largest river
(Figure 1). The lower Skagit River divides into North
and South Forks before emptying into Skagit Bay
in northwest Washington. Land uses in the water-
shed include forestry; small farms; rural residential
areas; several  rapidly urbanizing areas;  and dairy,
ranching and other forms of agriculture. In the early
1990s the Washington Department of Health clas-
sified portions of the shellfish beds in Skagit Bay
as restricted or conditionally approved because of
bacterial contamination, raising concerns about the
Skagit River's quality. A 1994/1995 monitoring study
showed that the lower Skagit River and several
tributaries violated water quality standards for FC.
Therefore, Washington Department of Ecology
(Ecology) added these waters to the state's list of
impaired waterbodies (section 303(d) list).

Ecology developed a total  maximum daily load
(TMDL) for FC for the lower Skagit River  watershed
in 2000. The TMDL estimated that likely  sources
of FC contributing to violations of the water quality
standard include stormwater, failing septic systems,
agricultural manure and effluent (including combined
sewer overflows) from WWTPs. The state bacteria
standard has two parts: (1) FC levels must not exceed
a geometric mean (GM) value of 100 colony forming
units (cfu)/100 milliliters (ml), and  (2) no  more than
10 percent of all samples obtained for calculating the
GM value can exceed 200 cfu/100 ml. Because the
lower Skagit River discharges to a shellfish habitat,
the TMDL outlines water quality targets  that are
more stringent than the regular state standards. The
TMDL requires that (1) FC levels not exceed a GM
value of 24 cfu/100 mL and (2) that no more than 10
percent of samples exceed 74 colonies/100 mL.
                                               Figure 1. The lower Skagit River flows through the
                                               city of Mount Vernon, Washington.
                                               Project Highlights
                                               Efforts to improve water quality in the lower Skagit
                                               River and its tributaries have been underway for
                                               more than 10 years. Beginning in 1998 Ecology
                                               required that all dairies have farm plans, and dairies
                                               are subject to inspection by the Washington State
                                               Department of Agriculture. The farm plans require
                                               farmers to manage manure to protect water quality
                                               and to apply vegetative practices, such as riparian
                                               plantings and buffer maintenance, to protect water-
                                               courses from surface runoff of sediment, nutrients
                                               and bacteria. Approximately 25 dairy operations
                                               with more than 10,000 animals operate under farm
                                               plans in the watershed.

                                               Since 2000 the Skagit County Public Health
                                               Department has intensified efforts to reduce the
                                               number of failing septic systems. Through its
                                               septic improvement pilot project, it offers rebates
                                               to homeowners for septic system inspections and
                                               installing lids and risers to promote access. To
                                               teach homeowners how to properly operate and

             maintain septic systems, it held 110 Septic 101 clin-
             ics since September 2000, with more than 2,800
             attendees as of October 2008. It has increased
             numbers of septic system inspections—from about
             100 in the  second half of 2005 to more than 600
             during the first half of 2008. It developed public
             service announcements and is increasing its social
             marketing  efforts to spread the word about proper
             septic operation and maintenance.

             Additionally, Mount Vernon undertook a major infra-
             structure expansion and improvement project at its
             WWTP. This has reduced combined sewer overflow
             discharges from an average of 116 million gallons
             (MG) in the mid-1990s to 11 MG in 2007. The cities
             of Burlington and Sedro-Woolley have expanded
             or improved  their municipal sewer systems, which
             discharge  to the Skagit, and likely eliminated failing
             septic systems. Both cities are also working with
             citizens and  nonprofit organizations to restore
             reaches of Gages Slough and Brickyard Creek,
             small tributaries to the Skagit.
             Monitoring data for the past five years in the South
             Fork show that it has consistently met both parts of
             the state bacteria standard. Additionally, the river
             has met the first part of the stricter TMDL target
             year-round for the past five years (see Figure 2). It
             has met the second  part of the TMDL target during
             the wet season  (October through April) since 2005
             and during the rest of the year since 2006 (Table 1).
             Therefore, the river has met both the state standard
             and the TMDL target for the past three years.

             Because the South Fork consistently meets the
             state standard, Washington plans to remove this
                                       Table 1. FC monitoring data for South Fork Skagit
                                       River—compliance with the second part (% exceed-
                                       ances) of the state standard1 and the TMDL target2
Water year
                                       1  State standard, part 2: No more than 10% of samples exceed
                                       2  TMDL target, part 2: No more than 10% of samples exceed

                                       0.9-mile segment from the state impaired waters list
                                       in the next reporting cycle. More work is still needed
                                       in some lower Skagit River tributaries,  including
                                       Nookachamps, Fisher, Hansen and Brickyard creeks,
                                       which continue to  violate state bacteria standards.
                                                                 Partners and Funding
               Oct-Apr May-Sept
Oct-Apr May-Sept
Oct-Apr May-Sept
Oct-Apr May-Sept
Participating organizations include Ecology,
Washington Department of Agriculture, Skagit
Conservation District, Skagit County Public Health
Department, Skagit County Public Works, Skagit
County Planning and  Development Services, local
organizations and the cities of Mount Vernon,
Burlington and Sedro-Woolley.

Funding for projects came from several sources.
Ecology's Centennial  Clean Water Funds supported
projects to install  Mount Vernon's larger combined
sewer overflow interceptor ($434,735), develop a
watershed action  plan and education efforts in the
Nookachamps Creek  watershed ($164,511), monitor
                water quality ($495,000), improve
                septic systems ($152,976), and
                implementTMDL-related outreach
                and technical assistance projects
                in lower Skagit River tributaries
                ($499,000). Washington State
                Water Pollution  Control Revolving
                Funds supported an ongoing
                local loan program for replacing
                or repairing failing septic systems
                ($5.8 million) and WWTP upgrades
                ($27 million). A $246,000 Clean
                Water Act section 319 grant
                supported watershed education
                and riparian restoration efforts in
                Nookachamps Creek.
Oct-Apr May-Sept
Figure 2. FC monitoring data for South Fork Skagit River—compliance with the first
part (GM value) of the state standard and TMDL target.

                  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
                  Office of Water
                  Washington, DC

                  January 2009
                                       For additional information contact:
                                       Sally Lawrence, Washington Department of Ecology
                                       425-649-7036 • slaw461@ecy.wa.gov
                                       Steve Olsen, Skagit County Public Health Department
                                       360-336-9380 • steveo@co.skagit.wa.us
                                       Rick Haley, Skagit County Public Works
                                       360-336-9400 • rickh@co.skagit.wa.us