Public Health News

Posted on: February 6, 2018

County Completes Chimacum and Ludlow Creeks Water Quality Projects


February 6, 2017

For Immediate Release
Contact: Anna Bachmann
Jefferson County Public Health
(360) 385-9444 

County Completes Chimacum and Ludlow Creeks Water Quality Projects

Port Townsend – Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) Water Quality division and Jefferson County Conservation District (JCCD) have just wrapped up the Hood Canal Priority Basins Project looking into bacteria pollution in Chimacum and Ludlow Creeks Basins. The Washington State Department of Ecology funded the project, which included two years of bacteria sampling in the creeks and one year of shoreline sampling along approximately 7 miles of the Ludlow Bay Shoreline from south of Mats Mats Bay to Tala Point. The project also had an extensive educational component that involved conducting door-to-door sanitary surveys of properties with on-site septic systems in the Chimacum and Ludlow Basins.

The Hood Canal Priority Basins Project Final Report is now available at the JCPH Clean Water Projects webpage, which presents all the maps and findings of the project including statistical analysis to tell if water quality has been improving or declining in Chimacum Creek.

What are the results of the monitoring?  (Click maps to enlarge)
20180108_HC_PtLudlowFecalClResults2015In Chimacum Creek, 31 stations were sampled monthly from October to September 2015-16 and in Ludlow Creek 20 stations were sampled monthly in 2016-17. Results were compared to the 2-part Washington State Standard for bacteria. Bacteria should be low enough to pass both parts of the standard (see sidebar Testing for fecal coliform bacteria to determine if there is a water quality problem). The last time monitoring was done for bacteria in Chimacum Creek was in 2011-12. Of the 28 stations that were sampled at that time, 86% and 82% of the sample stations were failing the state standard in the wet and the dry seasons respectively. But in 2015-16, the failure rate had dropped to 48% during wet season and 68% during dry season.  

Although this represents an improvement, we still have approximately half of the stations failing the standard. The presence of bacteria in streams is highly variable and even within a single sampling period results can be vastly different. In addition to the 2015-2016 sampling year, we have complete data for three other sampling years that go back to 2007, so we were able to conduct a statistical test to see if we can determine if there is a significant positive or negative trend in the data. Ten sample stations throughout the basin were selected for the analysis. For six stations analyzed in Chimacum and East Chimacum Creeks, no statistically significant trends were found in the data except for station CHI/6.7 (a station 6.7 miles upstream of the mouth of Chimacum Creek that is located along Center Road just south of Egg & I Road), which saw a general improving trend. This station has always failed the State standard in previous years, but it passed the standard in 2015-16.  

In the case of Naylor’s Creek, which drains Gibbs Lake, the trend in the lowest two stations is improving. We know that near these two stations some faulty on-site septic systems had been repaired upstream and near the lowest station a fenced hedge row buffer installed in 2011 stopped cattle from accessing the creek.

In Putaansuu Creek, a small creek draining Anderson Lake, we found mixed results for the two lowest stations. The lowest station where Putaansuu meets Chimacum Creek is failing the State standard but we didn’t find any statistically significant improvement or decline in its water quality over time. However, at the next station above (where Putaansuu crosses West Valley Road), there was a significant decline in the water quality. This site is immediately downstream of mostly forested areas with large residential lots. Here wildlife and on-site septic systems could be the main bacteria source. Continued, in-depth investigation is needed in this area as well as in many areas of the Chimacum Basin.

20180108_HC_PtLudlowFecalClResultsBy comparison, Ludlow Creek is in much better shape than Chimacum in terms of water quality. Just over half the size of the Chimacum Creek Basin, the Upper Ludlow Basin has comparatively more forest lands and less agricultural and pasturelands than the Chimacum Basin. The nearshore area of Ludlow Bay is served by a sewer system although there are still approximately 100 permitted septic systems within the sewered area of Port Ludlow. The 2016-17 year was the first time that the County has done a comprehensive water quality survey in the Ludlow area and, of the 20 stations that were sampled monthly during this period, all stations on Ludlow Creek’s main stem and main tributaries passed the State standard. Only one station, Inner Harbor West Creek, which drains from a small pond to the bay south of the islands known as “The Twins”, failed the standard in both the wet and dry seasons. The two lowest stations on small, nearby creeks (Teal Lake Creek and Salt Marsh Creek) that both drain to a lagoon on the south side of the bay, failed the State standard in the summer time but passed in wet season.

Shoreline sampling along Ludlow Bay showed only a few problem areas. For shoreline sampling, every stream, seep or pipe that drains water onto the shore was sampled with 78 samples collected in the winter wet season and 29 samples collected in the summer dry season. A large number of broken and degraded black flexible drain pipes were found lying on the beach to the north of the Ludlow Marina. Black “flexpipe” is common to see anywhere where development occurs and is used to direct storm or other drainage water away from buildings and properties. It is common to see flexpipe hanging over and reaching down to the bottom of high bluffs. If these aren’t maintained, they tend to break off, causing erosion of the bluff. If they pick up septic field drainage, they could be transporting pathogens to the marine environment.

In the winter we confirmed only one bacteria “hot spot”- a drainage located north of the marina. We define a “hot spot” as any station having an average concentration of over 500 colony forming units per 100 milliliters of water, or any single sample over 1,000 cfu/100 ml. This drainage dried up before more investigations could be made. During the dry season, three additional hot spots were found. These three sites were identified based on single samples over 1,000 cfu/100 ml, and subsequent samples showed results below the action level.

Where is the bacterial pollution coming from?
The potential sources of fecal coliform bacteria within the watershed are livestock, human, pets, and wildlife. All of the hot spots along the Ludlow shoreline were coming from street and storm water drainage or through wooded areas. Leaking sewer lines or on-site septic systems could be potential sources, particularly if the levels stay consistently high, but other sources are likely from wildlife or waste from pets that isn’t properly disposed of.

In Chimacum many miles of fencing have been installed along the creek and its tributaries since the 1980s. As a result, fecal coliform levels downstream of agricultural areas have decreased substantially; and in 2002, the installation of livestock fencing increased when the Conservation District began administering the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Under this program, landowners receive rent for land on Chimacum Creek put into riparian buffers varying in width from 35 to 180 feet.

Despite these important improvements we still see elevated fecal bacteria in some areas of the creek, even in areas where livestock can generally be ruled out as a contributing factor. DNA analysis performed on water samples collected in 2011-12, showed that human sources were identified five times more frequently than ruminant sources (which include cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo, and deer). As there are over 2,300 known septic systems in the Chimacum watershed and over 300 in the Ludlow watershed, a part of the project was focused on evaluating these systems.

Between 2007 and 2011, 250 septic systems were surveyed and 5% of these systems were failing or in violation of the State and County septic code. Under this recent Hood Canal Priority Basins Project an additional 337 septic systems were assessed in both the Chimacum and Ludlow watersheds (with approximately ¾ of these located in the Chimacum watershed). Of these, 4% were found to be failing, but an additional 58% were considered systems that were suspected as potential sources of fecal bacteria pollution based on a number of risk factors, such as age of the systems, their proximity to water, etc.

Additionally, 33 of the 337 systems that were evaluated (10%) were previously unknown septic systems, which were identified for the first time during the survey.  There are likely many other undocumented septic systems and possibly some households without any proper sanitation. Thus, there is a significant potential for more human sources of contamination.

How are we addressing the problem?
Conservation Districts in Washington State have been around since the 1940s to help land users conserve their natural resources through a variety of Best Management Practices. JCCD has been administering their CREP since 2002. In addition to paying landowners rent for stream buffers, CREP also pays all the installation costs including fencing, livestock watering, livestock crossings, and tree plantings. Landowners who are interested in this or other voluntary programs should contact the Conservation District at (360) 385-4105 for more information or for a no-cost, no-obligation assessment. JCCD staff have been gradually working with livestock managers to replace any drinking gaps used by livestock to access Chimacum Creek with off-channel drinking troughs fed by solar-powered pumps. The Conservation District offers free technical assistance to write farm plans, which include Best Management Practices (BMPs) such as fencing, rain gutters, manure storage, and livestock watering systems. And JCCD offers cost-share programs to implement these BMPs.

Through this and several other JCPH projects, JCPH staff have been conducting door-to-door surveys with homeowners informing them of the State requirement to have their septic systems checked regularly by a person certified to conduct an Operations and Monitoring (O&M) inspection (see the side bar on Septic System Inspections). JCPH is also providing information on low-interest loan and grant programs for homeowners who need to do septic system repairs or replacements.

Clearly some of our efforts to address bacteria contamination in our waters are working as we are seeing improvements in different areas of our watershed, but declines were noted as well and we definitely have a way to go. Also, addressing failing septic systems, lack of proper sanitation, or degraded farmland is sometimes connected and caused by other problems that may relate to a lack of community services, poverty, drug-abuse, mental and development health issues, etc. These can’t be solved by JCPH and JCCD alone.

How can residents address the problem?
If you have an on-site septic system on your property, have it inspected regularly. This is a Washington State requirement for all septic system owners and the county provides training on how you can become authorized to inspect your own system. Learn more about this at the JCPH Septic Systems webpage.  Also, if you have water drainage pipes that direct water to the shoreline, please regularly inspect and maintain them. Consider re-directing water away from high bluffs and repair and clean up any broken pipes. The Jefferson County Extension office of Washington State University can help shoreline landowners learn about environmentally friendly ways to protect the shore. Their Water & Natural Resources program can be reached at (360) 379-5610. Finally, remember to regularly pick up after your pets. Remove wastes from your yard and street where it could wash into our local streams and waterways.

If you would like to receive updates on our water quality results as we continue monitoring rivers and shorelines around East Jefferson County or view the Hood Canal Priority Basins Project Final Report that contains all the information on this project, visit our website You can also sign up for Water Quality Updates. Or you can contact Jefferson County Public Health’s Environmental Health Department (360-385-9444) or the Jefferson County Conservation District (360-385-4105).

Sidebar Notes

Why look at bacteria?
Fecal coliform bacteria are bacteria associated with feces from warm-blooded animals and we focused on bacteria because they indicate pathways for contamination and potential risk of waterborne diseases. When bacteria levels are high, people can get sick from swimming or water recreation. High bacteria levels reaching the marine environment can also put commercial and recreational shellfish beds at risk. Bacteria are also an indication of the presence of other pollutants in our waterways.

How do you test for fecal coliform bacteria to determine if there is a water quality problem?
When testing for fecal coliform bacteria, samples are taken in the field and are then filtered in the lab. The filter paper is placed in a sterile petri dish with a special nutrient solution. After the petri dish is incubated for 24 hours, bluish colonies of bacteria form on the filter paper. The colonies are counted and the results reported as cfu/100 ml or “colony forming units” per 100 milliliters of water.

The Washington State fecal coliform standard for Chimacum & Ludlow Creeks has two parts: Part 1 requires the geometric mean (average) of the samples not exceed 50 cfu/100 ml. Part 2 requires that not more than 10 percent of the samples exceed 100 cfu/100 ml. Both parts need to be met to pass the standard.

How often are septic system inspections required in Washington state?
Regular Operations and Monitoring (O&M) inspections are a requirement in Washington State. Depending on the type of system (gravity or pump system), these inspections should be inspected every 3 years or annually (for the respective systems). The County Health Department maintains a list of certified O&M inspectors as well as offering homeowners a way to become authorized to inspect their own qualifying systems. Call 360-385-9444 for more information.


Always Working for a Safer & Healthier Jefferson County

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