Puget Sound is fed by thousands of tributaries that travel through fields, cities and backyards. These creeks and streams are essential pieces of the larger ecosystem. They are also the place where many pollution problems begin. This Valentine’s Day, we present five Puget Sound creeks that could use some love—hardworking waterways that support salmon, birds and all the people that call this area home.
This Skagit County creek runs past heavily used agricultural land. While efforts have been made to protect it from runoff and erosion, the creek has high levels of bacteria and problems with dissolved oxygen levels. A sample taken in 2013 revealed levels of fecal coliform bacteria more than ten times above healthy water standards. Chinook, steelhead, chum and coho populations rely on the creek for spawning habitat.
Little Bear Creek
Little Bear Creek starts in Snohomish County and travels 7.7 miles to the Sammamish River, passing through downtown Woodinville on the way. In many places the waterway is barely visible, sandwiched between a highway and a number of industrial operations. According to surveys, more than 37 percent of the creek basin is covered by impervious surfaces, leading to problems with polluted runoff. Howell Creek, a tributary that joins Little Bear near highway 522, has problematic levels of mercury and copper, and Little Bear itself was put on the 303(d) list of polluted waters in 2005 due to high bacteria levels. The creek was still listed in the most recent report.
In many places, Springbrook is treated as just a drainage ditch. But the 12-mile waterway, which feeds into the Green River, supports coho salmon, cutthroat trout, and winter steelhead. This creek has high levels of bacteria, high temperatures, and low oxygen levels, and is harmed by a lack of native vegetation and the impacts of surrounding development.
Swamp Creek is polluted with fecal coliform bacteria, which comes from sewage, manure and pet waste. The creek starts in Everett and runs 14 miles to the Sammamish River. While it should be able to support wildlife, spawning fish, and recreational uses like swimming and fishing, it is often too contaminated. Swamp Creek also suffers from erosion of the banks in many areas, causing sediment to wash downstream.
There are several Mill Creeks in Washington, but we’re featuring the 8.5-mile waterway west of highway 167. The creek has serious erosion problems, demonstrated by the sediment in the photo above where Mill Creek joins the Green River, and development has damaged salmon habitat and created blockages that prevent fish from swimming to areas where they previously spawned. Without vegetation along the banks, the water easily heats up to temperatures that can threaten organisms in the creek. During storms, sampling has revealed high levels of metals in the creek, probably from polluted runoff.
How to help these creeks
There are many ways you can help care for your local waterways — reporting pollution, safely disposing of pet waste and household chemicals, fixing car leaks promptly and planting rain gardens or supporting them in your neighborhood. You can join local restoration efforts or start your own. And you can donate to Puget Soundkeeper to keep us in the field, monitoring these creeks and others like them. A healthy creek is a beautiful thing, and to protect Puget Sound we need our creeks to stay strong.