Clean Water

The Clean Samish Initiative

samish logo
Residents of the Samish River watershed (basin) have taken great steps to reduce water pollution from bacteria. Although numerous sources of fecal coliform have been found and addressed, the goal of water clean enough to eat from and play in without fear of getting sick has yet to be reached. The Clean Samish Initiative (CSI) team includes representatives of stakeholders including residents, land and marine agricultural producers, and local and state environmental agencies .

Clean Samish Focus Areas Map

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Environmental Canine Services Sewage Detection Map

On April 22nd and 23rd 2015, Skagit County contracted with Environmental Canine Services (ECS) of Maine for the use of Crush, a sewage sniffing dog, to look for human sources of fecal coliform bacteria in the Samish Basin and Bayview.  Crush was accompanied by her trainer, Aryn Hervel, and ECS Project Manager Karen Reynolds.  The work with Crush took two forms:  direct use of Crush in the field to examine ditches, streams, and seeps for human sewage, and “bucket tests” in the Skagit County parking lot where Crush tested samples brought in from the Samish Basin.  The accompanying map shows where Crush detected human sewage (marked with red points) as well as those locations where Crush did not detect human sewage (green points).  Skagit County will follow up on the positive locations to determine where the sewage is coming from.

Crush will lie down when she detects sewage
Crush sniffing around a culvert in Bayview
What is Fecal Coliform and why is it Important ?

Fecal Coliform is bacteria from feces of warm blooded animals such as humans and other mammals. Fecal Coliform can cause diseases such as gastroenteritis, ear infections, typhoid, dysentery, hepatitis A, and cholera. Water sampling efforts show consistently high fecal coliform counts in the Samish River, especially during storms, making the water unsafe to play in and eat shellfish from. Due to these high numbers, the CSI team is focusing efforts to eliminate sources of fecal coliform and maintain a healthy watershed.

What can we do to Reduce Fecal Coliform Levels ?

Help is needed to locate and address sources of fecal coliform pollution. Common backyard sources can include leaking septic systems, manure and pet waste . You can locate and eliminate pollution sources in your area.

While these are all potential sources, if managed and/or practiced appropriately with water quality protections in place, they do not have to pose a threat to water quality. You can use this checklist to assess your property.

Major Sources of Fecal Bacteria in the Samish

Septic Systems

Regular inspections help prevent septic system failures. Risers make the septic system easier to inspect later. That means protecting public health and improving water quality. You may be eligible for a $100 rebate on your septic inspection and/or riser lid installation. To see if you are eligible click here!

In years past, greywater from sinks, washing machines or showers were often kept separate from on-site sewage (septic) systems.  Greywater sent to a separate tank or to a nearby ditch through a straight pipe were not uncommon practices before septic systems were regulated.

Greaywater can carry bacteria, viruses, pathogenic organisms and even chemicals depending on what’s connected to the greywater pipe.  Current septic system regulations require greywater to be treated just like it was sewage, even when it comes from a trailer or camper. Greywater re-use for irrigation is allowed in very specific circumstances, but never as a substitute for a septic system.

Small & Commercial Farms and Livestock

Mud and manure management make a huge difference not only in fecal runoff but in the health of your pastures and animals. Utilize your time and resources to your advantage, let us help! Financial and technical resources are available to help design a farm management plan, manure exchange programs, confinement areas and fencing. Free evaluations and cooperative project design can help your property be part of the solution!

Proper Manure Application

Nutrient management is the practice of utilizing dairy nutrients (manure) to maximize forage and crop growth without degradation of soil and water resources. The Skagit Conservation District Dairy Nutrient Management Program is here to assist licensed dairy operations in complying with the 1998 Washington State Dairy Nutrient Management Act. The Act requires that all licensed dairy operations obtain a conservation district approved and certified nutrient management plan and that all structural and management practices that are prescribed in the plan are implemented.

Pet and Human Waste

To make it easier to put poo in its place and keep it out of our water, pet waste stations and outhouses have been added to recreational sites within the watershed.


Yes, it’s true, birds love Skagit County! Can you blame them? We can address the human caused pollutants far easier than we can natural sources. We cannot control the geese; however we CAN plant native grasses and flowers on our property or along your shoreline to discourage them. Geese avoid native plantings because they fear a predator may be hiding in the taller vegetation and also planting cover crops will help reduce water run-off.

What is the CSI doing to help?

An collaborative effort is underway to locate and identify potential sources of fecal coliform that contribute to unsafe levels of bacteria in the Samish watershed, river and bay.  Technicians will be collecting water samples from local ditches and streams. The monitoring data is used to follow the bacteria to its source. 

Landowners will be contacted to discuss resources that are available to address any issues.  Resources include financial assistance with; septic system inspections and repairs, fencing, native plantings, livestock and manure structures. Technical assistance is available from Skagit County and the Skagit Conservation District to help property owners develop Best Management Practices (BMP’s) or farm plans to help preserve the health of their pastures and animals.

The emphasis is on working together to find solutions that work for property owners and help improve the health of our watershed. Working together we can make a difference for today and future generations to come. With your help, the goal of clean, healthy water can be met.

The CSI is a joint partnership effort involving Skagit County, the State Departments of Ecology and Health, the Skagit Conservation District, the Skagit Conservation Education Alliance, the Samish Tribe, the Western Washington Agricultural Association, the Washington State Dairy Federation, EPA, and Taylor Shellfish, among others. The CSI's goal is to achieve both short and long-term pollution reductions in the Samish Basin.


samish aerial
Aerial view of Samish Bay & shellfish beds

2015 Clean Samish
Winter Report

Environmental Canine Services
Human Sewage Detection Report
Officials tour Samish watershed, note progress and next steps
Harvesting was suspended at the farm in the spring because of high freshwater flows and fecal coliform levels from the Samish River and again in the late summer because of elevated shellfish toxins in Samish Bay. [more]
Governor’s office and Skagit County highlight progress of the Clean Samish Initiative
October 09, 2014
Local effort plays key role in meeting governor’s statewide goal to grow shellfish industry and reduce pollution [more]

Sewage-sniffing dog finds trouble in the Samish watershed
October 09, 2014
Plastic buckets, murky water, action: a terrier-cattle dog mix in a neon yellow harness took off through the a parking lot behind the Skagit County offices Wednesday [more]


Portable Toilet
& Pet Waste Stations



Samish Water Quality Monitoring

mudhorseGot mud? Need fencing or native plantings to help reduce mud and water runoff? There is money to assist you in protecting your property and our waterways! The Natural Resources Stewardship Program can help!

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Contact Skagit County Surface Water:     

Rick Haley,
Water Quality Analyst:

Karen DuBose,
PIC Coordinator:

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