What do the June lab results tell us?

Interpreting fecal coliform lab results can be like trying to solve a mystery without all the clues. We can only learn so much from lab data; after that, we need local watershed knowledge, eyes on the ground, a little technical advice, and many inquiring minds. Care to join us as we examine our June results? Read the summary below, and let us know what you think! Comment on this post, or use the ‘Contact Us’ page here.  (See a link for the full report at the end of this page.)

Background: our Tenmile Creek watershed has been meeting both water quality standards for more than 18 months now. We want to continue this!
Problem: our results for the last 12 months provide a warning that this record could be at risk, due to persistent high results at two particular sample sites.
Questions: what could be causing this pattern, and what can we do about it?

Here are the trends as-of June. Site T1, where the creek flows into the river, is what ultimately determines whether the  watershed is meeting the standards. The upstream sites tell us how various stretches of the creek are doing. All sites are meeting the standard for Geometric Mean (or ‘average’); a red line indicates the standard.
Monthly focus Geo Mean - June 2018But we have problems with the 90th Percentile, below; this measure is sensitive to occasional spikes in results (90% of samples must be less than 200) and thus is harder to meet. You can see we have 4 sites failing this standard. The black ‘dot’ in each bar indicates direction of the 12-month trend: T2 & T3 are gradually getting better. DC1 & TM15 are getting worse, and if this trend continues, these high values could ‘drag’ the value of T1 back into the red (as the T1 dot indicates), and our watershed would again be failing this standard.
Monthly focus 90th Percent - June 2018So where are these sample site locations? These two maps give you an idea. It is important to also note the next site upstream, because if the upstream lab results are lower (and they are), then we assume something entering the stream in between the two sites is likely causing the problem. First, DC1 is on Deer Creek, west of Northwest Drive; second, TM15 is on Tenmile Creek at Northwest. Each site has a mix of land use upstream, both dense residential with septic systems and larger Ag parcels; there is also greenbelt habitat for wildlife, including beavers.
Sample focus area - DC1 + DC3
Sample focus area - TM15 + T2So what could be causing this troublesome trend? One idea is that wildly variable weather recently, with alternating periods of wet & dry, create more chances for rainfall ‘flushes’ of the landscape. Another speculates about wildlife concentrations & migrations. There is always suspicion of failing septic systems, but there is no inspection data to support this. What do you think?

If you like, you can download the most recent (June) report here, lab analysis imagebut this and all other available prior reports are also catalogued on our Meeting Notes page here, on the same line for each appropriate month.

Whatcom County’s Pollution, Identification & Correction (PIC) program publishes this monthly report of fecal coliform lab results specific to Tenmile, and uses the standard 3-page, pdf-format template like other PIC focus-areas.

Available now: County fecal lab results monthly reports for Ten Mile Creek

Whatcom County’s Pollution, Identification & Correction (PIC) program has periodically published a monthly report of fecal coliform lab results specific to Tenmile – but not on a regular basis. We have now arranged to regularly receive the pdf-format report, which applies a standard 3-page template like other PIC focus-areas.

data report snip

You can download the most recent (April) report here, but this and all other available prior reports are now catalogued on our Meeting Notes page here, on the same line for each appropriate month.

Now we can talk about it: Manure Matters!

manure matters

In early May the Whatcom Conservation District announced a new public information campaign that should be of great interest to our watershed – ‘Manure Matters‘. You can read about it on their website here, and in a Lynden Tribune article here.
“The campaign will provide information on the steps farmers must take to protect water quality in local streams, rivers and bays and help generate a public understanding of how and why farmers recycle manure as an organic crop nutrient and soil amendment.”

Manure Matters

“The educational, and humorous ads will run in local newspapers, websites, radio, and social media throughout the spring and summer. This campaign is funded by a Washington State Department of Agriculture grant created by fines issued for improper manure management: Whatcom CD is recycling those funds back to the community.”
“The “Manure Matters” campaign will include a series of ads with different themes representing the variety of manure producers and users in Whatcom County. Whatcom CD hopes to remove the stigma around manure, bring a positive view to a valuable resource, and increase its appropriate use that is protective of water quality.”





NRCS presentation at our April 10 meeting

The Natural Resources Conservations Service (NRCS) sponsors the NWQI:NWQI logo plusFind information and materials from the presentation below.

At our April 10th meeting, Emily Usher presented “results from our local watershed forum last year, combined with results from five other watershed forums conducted across the country (NC, WA, VT, IL, and OK), and watershed-specific recommendations surrounding watershed management, resource needs & education/outreach.”

You can learn more by downloading her presentation (44 page Powerpoint here) and summary of results (2 page pdf here). Or contact us here for assistance.

County septic system homeowner training: April 24

This next opportunity to learn about your home septic system is Wednesday, April 24th, 6pm to 8pm, at the Ferndale WECU, 5659 Barrett Ave.

Evaluate image

With this training you will save money by being certified to evaluate your own system and have confidence knowing how your septic system works.

If your system is not eligible for homeowner evaluation or you simply don’t want to do it yourself, this class is still for you. The training covers the way septic systems work and provides tips for proper maintenance. You will leave feeling good about understanding how this expensive and important piece of your property works.

When you complete the training in person, you also qualify to apply for rebates on repairs or maintenance costs for your septic system. Learn more on the County’s septic system website here.




Portage Bay harvest reopening! (for Spring)

This goal has been central to the mission of our work, and a very significant accomplishment for all those playing a part, large & small! Plenty of work remains, to ensure the Spring opening remains, and to remove the Fall closure next. Here is an excerpt from Whatcom County Public Works press release.

Portage Bay reopeningLummi shellfish

Winter’s delight: Ice sculpture…

Our intrepid water quality sampling wizard was out on his usual rounds last week – in very unusual conditions. With temperatures in the teens and wind chill near zero, early morning on the creek was a bit intimidating. So what does he do? He pauses long enough to appreciate a bit of art offered up by the conditions – and cold fingers snapped some photos so we can join in admiration.

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So, while you are enjoying these, how about a little quiet appreciation for the many volunteer efforts that keep contributing in so many ways to the health of our waterways! It’s what we do….

p.s. If you would like to join in the fun, our next water sampling is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb 26th. Just get in touch here and we’ll get you all set up!

New: County PIC Program e-news

PIC stands for ‘Pollution, Identification and Correction‘, a methodology used elsewhere that also defines the program in Whatcom County Public Works that is focused on fecal bacteria contamination in our waterways, specifically waters that drain to shellfish harvest areas in Drayton Harbor and Portage Bay. This work includes community outreach & education, technical & financial assistance for landowners, and coordination with County departments & other agencies.

This is also the program that coordinates water quality testing across the county, including our regular monthly ‘ambient‘ sampling in the Tenmile watershed, which drains to Portage Bay via the Nooksack River.

And now they have an e-newsletter. This month’s issue includes latest water quality data for the shellfish beds, a report from the Drayton Shellebration in December, upcoming events and more. Download a copy of the January newsletter here.

Sign up for future issues by sending an email to:

Opportunity strikes! Next water sample day: Tuesday, Dec 10th.

We can always use help with our water quality sampling. We have one intrepid volunteer who is reliably on duty, but assistance would be appreciated. If you are interested: 1) see a short description here; and/or 2) contact us here. Stream flows are picking up as the ground becomes saturated – and it won’t be [quite] as cold next week! – so come on out and get a different view of the neighborhood.

Four Mile Creek
Four Mile Creek

New: summary data results summary for Tenmile

As counterbalance to our last blog post showing our concerning results for November, the County has provided their November report (see here) that summarizes data for the metrics actually used for comparison to water quality standards – this is the ultimate measure for a long term look as well as trends. By this test, we are still meeting both standards! This is continuing good news, which also includes a cautionary reminder.

The Geometric Mean is the easier standard to meet as it is a long term average. As the chart makes clear, all of our sample stations not only meet the standard, but are improving – exactly what we want to see!geomean 11-2018
The 90th Percentile is the second, tougher standard because it counts peak results; so if a site frequently ‘spikes‘ high, it can easily exceed the standard. In this case, site T1 at the mouth shows the creek is [barely] meeting the standard (which is really what counts) but multiple individual sites are struggling – and these are the same ones we saw spiking-high during recent rain events, as shown in our special samples (see last blog post.) So the lesson is clear: even brief events that create exceedances can hurt our long term progress. Vigilance is always needed!90th Percent 11-2018