North Creek cleanup to get higher profile

A stroll through the east side of Bothell reveals the North Creek Parkway, North Creek Sportsfields, the Plaza at North Creek and even North Creek Montessori.

But winding through the middle of the business parks and subdivisions, shaded by trees and buffered by wetlands, is North Creek itself. The 13-mile waterway, which runs from south Everett to the Sammamish River, often is overlooked by Bothell residents, even if its name is just about everywhere.

"It's not well-known, like the Sammamish River slough," said Joyce Goedeke, city spokeswoman. "It's not a body of water that's as recognizable to people who are outside the [creek] area."

But that lack of awareness is actually fouling the creek, city officials say. Small, everyday things such as aging septic tanks, pet waste and lawn fertilizer have filled the creek with an unhealthy level of bacteria and chemicals.

Now the city is spending $625,000 on a project to clean up the waterway by telling people that it's there, and that it's vulnerable. If people knew about the creek, the thinking goes, they might clean up their act.

"The creek's polluted because of the activities of humans, and we have to try to figure out what are the common-sense things we can do to reduce those [pollution] sources," said Ralph Svrjcek, a water-cleanup specialist with the state Department of Ecology, which is paying for most of the project.

The city already has used some of the money to quantify the creek's pollution levels, and is now contacting residents and business owners in the creek's drainage area. After the public outreach, officials will check the creek again to see if the campaign did any good.

High levels of fecal coliform bacteria, lead, mercury and copper in North Creek are making the waterway dangerous for the many fish species that live or spawn there, including sockeye and chinook salmon, cutthroat trout and steelhead.

People, especially children, also are at risk if they wade in or accidentally swallow the polluted water.

Pollution from small urban waterways seeps into Lake Washington, and eventually could impact regional water quality, said Tom Murdoch, the executive director of the Adopt-a-Stream Foundation, which is based in Snohomish County along North Creek.

"We have an opportunity to make sure the water-quality problems the creek currently faces won't get worse, and we have an opportunity to make things better," Murdoch said.

In Bothell, at least 20,000 of the city's 31,000 residents live in the North Creek drainage area, officials say. Bothell has the biggest stake in the creek because it has the largest share. About a third of the creek, three or four miles, is within city borders.

City officials are trying to get the word out that even the most ordinary activities, such as washing cars at home or not cleaning up pet waste, can send chemicals and bacteria into storm drains, and eventually into the creek. Don't use so much fertilizer on your lawn, they caution, and make sure your septic tank isn't leaking. The state also is working with Everett, Mill Creek, Snohomish County and environmental groups on similar projects to help clean up the entire North Creek.

If the effort is successful, the ecologists could try similar public-awareness strategies on other urban creeks, such as Swamp Creek west of Bothell and Bear Creek to the east.

"We need to keep looking for ways to make it easy for people to do the right thing," Svrjcek said.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or