One year ago, I paddled down the Sumas River, from Everson to the Canadian Border. Along the way I saw it all: dairy farms, raspberry fields, horse pastures, blueberry fields, barns, manure lagoons, turf farms, towering piles of mulch and soil along the river banks, and more. I saw manure pipes crossing the river, pumps floating mid-stream, and lots of drainage ditches. Not many areas had any shade or riparian buffer areas. In spite of all this, the Sumas supports fish, including salmon.
The Sumas River is polluted – it’s been on the Department of Ecology’s most polluted waters list for years. It’s polluted with fecal coliform, ammonia nitrogen, low dissolved oxygen, and it has high levels of naturally occurring asbestos from a landside on Sumas Mountain. The high level of asbestos gives the water a very unusual color – it looks like light gray paint.
Yesterday, I paddled down the river again. It was much the same, perhaps worse, more mulch piles, and more dumpsites. But one improvement was obvious. One farmer, at the urging of our local Whatcom Conservation District, had installed a new fence to keep cattle out of the river. Above is a picture of this new fence. Last year, I saw cattle wandering into the river here, and the riverbanks were covered with mud and manure. Now there is grass starting to sprout, and no mud or manure in areas that get washed downstream.
Every little step counts. If every landowner along the river could take a step like this, the water would be cleaner for everyone. The Baykeeper team sincerely thanks this farmer and the Whatcom Conservation District for making this happen.