Friday, November 22, 2013

Citizens of Tenmile Watershed Rise to a Challenge!

An engaged group of citizens met at Bellewood Acres in Lynden last Wednesday evening to discuss a new project to voluntarily reduce fecal coliform pollution in the Tenmile Creek watershed.  The Tenmile Creek Clean Water Project is being led by the RE Sources’ Baykeeper team and is funded by the Rose Foundation.   Forty-two community members attended the first meeting and many of them signed up to participate in a stakeholder group.

Why are we doing this?   Fecal coliform levels have been increasing in many feeder streams in the Nooksack basin, and this effort is a forward step by citizen stakeholders to work with watershed neighbors to reduce fecal coliform levels on a voluntary basis. We decided to focus this effort in the Tenmile area because of a past success there. About 10 years ago, Tenmile Creek neighbor and co-owner of Bellewood Acres, Dorie Belisle, coordinated citizens in the Tenmile Creek watershed as they participated in a voluntary project to reduce levels of fecal coliform..  The project was a success for several years, but the creek is once again in decline.

High levels of fecal coliform in streams can cause disease, threaten agricultural viability, including downstream shellfish harvesting operations that Tribal and commercial communities rely upon.  People can also get sick from contacting water that is contaminated with fecal coliform. This trend is not unique to Tenmile Creek. 

Fecal coliform bacteria live in the intestinal tract of warm blooded animals and originate from animal and human waste.  In other words, the source is poop.  Sources could include failing septic systems, manure, birds, beavers, pet waste, and other sources.  The Tenmile watershed includes Tenmile, Fourmile, and Deer Creek.  Within this watershed are 2,642 on-site septic systems, 19 fields associated with dairies, 26 small farms, and populations of deer, waterfowl, beavers, and other wild animals.  What is the source of the poop?  Nobody knows for sure, but we’re going to do our best to find out where it’s coming from and which sources are the greatest contributors. This project is like solving a puzzle. 

After the first meeting, 20 neighbors joined us for a second meeting to start crafting solutions to the fecal coliform problem in Tenmile Creek. This stakeholder committee will work closely with RE Sources’ Baykeeper team, identifying sources of contamination and considering voluntary solutions to improve the quality of the creek. All meetings of this group are open to the public and community members concerned about their watershed are encouraged to attend.

This first meeting of the stakeholder committee brought about a number of questions that the Baykeeper Team will work hard to address before the next meeting:  Should we test for additional water quality parameters?  Should we measure stream flow while we’re out there? How do fecal coliform levels in Tenmile compare with pristine streams? What effect does sunlight, algae, and decaying leaves have on fecal coliform levels? How many samples should we collect? Should we take samples during storm events too?  What influence does Deer Creek have on fecal coliform levels in Tenmile Creek? Answers to these questions should become clearer as the project evolves.

If you’re curious about this project, you are welcomed to attend the next meeting, which is on Wednesday, December 11th at Bellewood Acres. To learn more about the project, visit  

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