Residents asked: Is county water getting better or worse?

Only 27 percent of Snohomish County rivers and streams were in good health or better, a new program found.

EVERETT — Of the 5,700 miles of rivers and streams in Snohomish County flowing to Puget Sound, 73% are in fair to poor condition, according to a new study.

Released last week, data from the “State of Our Waters” program showed 27% of river and stream sites and 77% of lakes tested by Snohomish County Public Works are considered in good to excellent health.

Some of the poorest water quality was found in Crystal Creek, McGovern Creek and a marshland stream east of Everett.

“The purpose is to understand the health of our rivers, streams and lakes so that we can identify areas that need improvement and areas that we need to protect,” said Janell Majewski, surface water management resource monitoring supervisor.

The program was spurred by residents asking whether nearby water quality was getting better or worse.

“We didn’t have a program to answer that question,” Majewski said.

“State of Our Waters” is funded by unincorporated Snohomish County residents’ surface water utility fees.

The surface water management team will monitor a consistent group of 20 sites, to have a data set for comparison. They’ll also take samples from another 10 to 30 new sites in four land types — urban, rural, forested and agricultural.

With 2018 data, the county created online report cards for each of the monitored water bodies, detailing their health, the land that impacts them, and the ways nearby residents can help.

The newly released report will serve as a benchmark. After a few more years of collecting, Majewski said her team will be able to identify changes and patterns in the county’s surface water.

The team did not sample near commercial farms due to logistical issues, Majewski said.

Based on 2018 data, water bodies near urban areas and small-scale hobby farms tested as the worst quality. Common problems were high temperatures, fecal bacteria pollution and lack of salmon habitat.

Lakes often show phosphorus pollution from fertilizer caught up in rain runoff in the past. Fertilizer in Washington state no longer contains phosphorus, Majewski said, but it’s still buried in many lake floors.

The surface water management team takes a comprehensive approach to water quality, said Steve Britsch, the project’s co-manager. They collect data on habitat, aquatic life, land-use changes and water flow.

“The reason why we’re looking at it holistically is to look at what’s causing the problem,” Britsch said. “If we can find what’s causing it then we can engage in further projects (to help).”

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

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