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Clean Water

Skagit County has abundant resources along its marine shorelines that rely on clean water. One of the primary goals of Skagit County's Clean Water Program (CWP) is to ensure the waters are free of pollution. In recent years, however, the Samish Basin has suffered severe fecal coliform pollution issues. Bacteria in the Samish River, other streams, and the bay, often reach levels too high for safe shellfish harvest and recreation. In addition, farmers are worried about the water quality and the need to provide consumers the assurance that their food products are safe. These problems have attracted regional attention and are now the focus of the Clean Samish Initiative (CSI).

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.

In 2010, the EPA awarded the CSI a $960,000 grant to improve water quality in the Samish Basin through a Pollution Identification and Correction project. The PIC approach, adapted from a Kitsap County program, is a concentrated water quality sampling measure that locates likely sources of pollution. In affected parts of the basin, sampling is followed up with landowner contact to determine if septic tank or manure management problems are leading to the pollution.

In 2011, Skagit County's Clean Water fund will contribute $152,504 with an additional $320,659 from an EPA grant. Over the next three years, Skagit County will continue to use CWP match dollars with EPA to clean up the Samish River Watershed.

Recent Efforts
In April 2011, Governor Christine Gregoire expressed concern about Samish Bay shellfish bed closures during a Government Management and Accountability Program session on Puget Sound. Gregoire challenged state agencies to address this issue quickly. In response, state and local officials recently released a plan for more inspections and enforcement on all fronts, including septic tanks, livestock operations, small hobby farms, dairies and others, as well as more education and help for landowners.

Public Works staff are conducting the water quality sampling and working with Public Health and Planning and Development Services staff to identify specific locations of pollution sources. Public Health and Planning staff have also started conducting voluntary site visits with willing landowners. If Skagit County finds potential sources or conditions of fecal coliform bacteria pollution, the inspectors will refer landowners to appropriate resource agencies with programs designed to eliminate the pollution. Enforcement of County or State regulations will occur only in the case that landowners with demonstrated pollution problems do not cooperate voluntarily. Multiple portable toilets and pet waste stations have also been placed throughout the Samish in an effort to reduce the pollution associated with both human and pet waste. [Facility locations map]

Available resources:

For more information about the program, contact Rick Haley at


Shellfish Closure Calendar
The following calendar provides the closure dates for the 2014 calendar year to date due to fecal coliform bacteria closures.
It does NOT provide an up-to-date account on the status of the shellfish beds

(Pdf version)


Yellow days are when the state Office of Shellfish and Water Protection closes the bay based on river rise - these are known as "cfs closures" (CFS = cubic feet per second).

Red days are confirmed closures based on fecal coliform samples showing excess bacteria in the river

If a yellow day is not attached to any red days, it means the bay was reopened as soon as we could get water quality data, and it means that the data indicated the critical pollution level was not reached.

Blue days are flood closures - the river left its banks

Historic: 2011 Closure calendar [pdf]

Participating Organizations and Projects
Full list of Clean Samish Members


Current Samish Bay
Shellfish Safety Status
The status bar indicates a closure due to Vibrio parahaemolyticus-associated illnesses.  The closure will remain in effect through September 30, 2014

Closure Calendar

Useful Information for
Shellfish Harvesters

Samish Bay Fact Sheet (Pdf)
Samish Bay Q&A (Pdf)

The major potential sources of polluting bacteria in the Samish are:

Residential and business onsite septic systems
Various small and commercial farming operations with livestock
Farming operations that spread animal manure as fertilizer
Various human recreational activities including boating, hunting, fishing, and hiking.
Marina live-aboard boats
Waterfowl attracted to fields planted in grain
(All of these potential sources, if managed or practiced appropriately with water quality protections in place, need not pose a threat to water quality)