There was an obvious sheen on the surface of Springbrook Creek, but it was impossible to find the source without trespassing on nearby private property. The oil, or what looked like oil, was spreading rapidly and flowing downstream. And if we hadn’t been surveying the stream, which provides salmon habitat to runs of coho and chum in the fall, it might have gone unnoticed.

A sheen spreads across the surface of Springbrook Creek

Soundkeeper staff is on the water every week, but despite our best efforts, we can’t cover the entire Puget Sound. Pollution reports from members, supporters, and volunteers are critical to protecting waterways. Much of the pollution that threatens our water comes in the form of small, frequent incidents, and reports from sharp-eyed community members improve the chances that this pollution will be

  • logged and tracked
  • adequately cleaned up
  • prevented from occurring again

In 2015, Soundkeeper handled 80 pollution reports from 22 different cities around Puget Sound. Reports of oil slicks or oil sheens are common, but we also heard about large numbers of dead and dying sea anemones and perch, paint flowing into storm drains, foamy water, and dust and debris entering waterways.

Turbid water entering Shilshole Bay Marina, which was traced back to runoff from the BNSF tracks.

When you call the Soundkeeper pollution hotline or report using our online form, we’ll compile information on the pollution — substance, location, size — and decide which agencies need to be involved. Any oil spills in progress must be reported immediately to the Department of Ecology and the Coast Guard. For many incidents we notify city and county officials and property owners. If the pollution is hard to identify, we might head out to take pictures or water samples.

Once Soundkeeper staff have taken immediate steps to stop pollution in progress, we follow up. We stay in touch with the agency handling the event, we check up on the site, and we document the steps towards resolution. Pollution reports help us understand patterns and trends about what’s harming the Sound, and Soundkeeper can provide information and resources to communities impacted by pollution.

The Springbrook sheen turned out to be something we’d never encountered before: a type of bacteria that feed on dissolved iron in the water and form an oily-looking patch on the surface. The bacteria colony breaks apart if its disturbed, which is a handy trick for telling them apart from a true oil sheen. (We learned all this from the Department of Ecology, who came out to investigate when we reported the spill.) Lucky for Springbrook Creek and next year’s salmon runs, the bacteria don’t pollute the water.

Tell us what you see! You can report pollution online or at our hotline: 1-800-42PUGET.

For emergency situations or large spills, contact the National Response Center (NRC): 1-800-424-8802.