Four streams put on sick list

Four creeks in Snohomish County are sick enough to merit unprecedented emergency care.

Swamp, North and Little Bear creeks in the south part of the county and Quilceda Creek in Marysville and Tulalip are plagued with up to six times the amount of fecal coliform bacteria — the kind that comes from human and animal waste — as a healthy stream typically has, a state official said.

All are fish-bearing streams. While fecal coliform itself isn’t deadly to salmon, if it’s present, “you know there are other things getting into the stream that shouldn’t be there,” said Ralph Svrjcek, a water quality improvement specialist for the state Department of Ecology.

The streams suffer from other problems such as erosion and the formation of small culverts, which are damaging to fish habitat.

As a result, members of the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation plan to walk the creeks and their tributaries to try to pinpoint the sources of the pollution and fix them.

The survey will be the most extensive ever done for these streams, said Tom Hardy, senior ecologist for Adopt-A-Stream. It’s also backed by nearly $1.3 million, most of it from the state, available to cover the costs of remedies.

A series of meetings is planned over the next two weeks to introduce the program to the public.

People who live near or own property along the streams are being asked to help. Four staff members of the south Everett-based nonprofit organization hope to gain access to as much of the creeks and their tributaries as they can, Hardy said. They’ll be out knocking on doors of property owners along the streams, but will gladly set up appointments with anyone who will welcome the surveyors and help point out sources of pollution.

Armed with more than $900,000 from the state and more than $300,000 raised from other sources, the organization can then pay for many of the remedies or put the property owner in touch with other resources. Because of state rules, the grants won’t cover replacement of septic systems, Svrjcek said, but they will cover other types of projects.

These can include what are called bio-swales — hollowed-out areas that collect and channel water — and larger versions of the same known as rain gardens, where native plants are used to filter runoff.

“Instead of leaving a ditch in your yard, it can be an attractive amenity,” Hardy said.

The main sources of fecal coliform in urban areas are pet waste and failing septic systems. In more rural areas such as those around parts of Quilceda Creek, runoff from farms adds to the pollution generated by the other sources, Svrjcek said.

In addition to these, surveyors will look for other situations that contribute to pollution, Hardy said. Water running from roofs, driveways or storm water pipes into streams are among the situations commonly found, he said.

R.W. Bishop found that removing an old drain pipe and a makeshift plank bridge over Little Bear Creek on his property and having it replaced with a new, wooden bridge — with Adopt-a-Stream’s help — did more than just help the creek.

It kept his property from flooding last winter.

“It probably would have washed the culvert and everything out, so it’s probably a good thing we built it,” Bishop said of the bridge.

He had bought the piece of property for his parents and heard about Adopt-a-Stream’s creek restoration efforts. He contacted the group and could have received funding for the entire bridge had he not offered to kick in about $2,500 for labor.

“They came out and did a terrific job,” Bishop said. “I was really happy with it. I would recommend them to just about anybody interested in working with a stream on their property.”

Technically, the state can force property owners to make changes to reduce pollution, Svrjcek said. In this case, the emphasis will be on nurturing a spirit of cooperation, he said.

“We’re really just trying to send them out as neighbors,” Svrjcek said of Adopt-a-Stream. “We’re hoping people want to do the right thing.”

Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or sheets@heraldnet.com.

Where to go to find out more

The Adopt-a-Stream Foundation has planned a series of meetings in the next two weeks to introduce its new stream survey program along four Snohomish County streams.

For more information, call 425-316-8592 or attend one of the scheduled public meetings listed below:

Swamp Creek: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Northshore Utility District, Tolt Room, 6830 NE 185th St., Kenmore.

Little Bear Creek: 7 p.m. Thursday, Carol Edwards Center, Evergreen Room, 17401 133rd Ave. NE, Woodinville.

North Creek: 7 p.m. April 22, Northwest Stream Center in McCollum Park, 600 128th St. SE, Everett.

Quilceda Creek: 7 p.m. April 23, Marysville Fire District, training room, 1635 Grove St., Marysville.

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