Little Bear Creek cleanup a big job

State environmental officials are circulating a plan to remove pollution from Little Bear Creek that they say will be effective only with efforts from local groups.

Since 1993, water-quality sampling has indicated increasing levels of fecal-coliform bacteria in Little Bear Creek and a number of its tributaries. Fecal coliform, which comes from animal and human waste, can cause serious gastrointestinal, respiratory, eye, ear, nose, throat and skin infections.

In the creek's current condition, it's unsafe to swim or play in the water, state officials say.

Little Bear Creek, a sensitive watershed for salmon production, begins near the Silver Firs neighborhood, runs south through Snohomish County, crosses into King County near Woodinville and empties into the Sammamish River.

Though it may run only for eight miles, its watershed is roughly 15 square miles, meaning pollution sources are wide and varied, said Anne Dettelbach, a Department of Ecology cleanup-plan coordinator.

Because Little Bear Creek fails state and federal standards for water quality, Ecology is under orders to create a cleanup plan and see it enacted. Ecology already has plans for parts of the Allen, Quilceda, French and Woods creeks, as well as parts of the Snohomish and Pilchuck rivers, and parts of Ballinger and Cottage lakes.

A plan similar to the Little Bear Creek proposal is also being developed for parts of the Stillaguamish River.

"There are almost no surface-water bodies in urban areas that are not affected [by pollution] in some way, particularly by fecal coliform," said Ecology spokesman Larry Altose.

About 30 percent of the state's waters fail fecal-coliform standards, according to Ecology's research.

But without one direct source of pollution, Ecology says it will take the efforts of local governments, environmental groups, businesses and residents to correct Little Bear Creek's problems.

"We've identified different activities that may help clean up the creek," Dettelbach said. "But we're looking to partners to take the lead and make them happen."

Ecology says the fecal-coliform contamination is attributable to several sources, including farm animals, leaking septic systems and family pets.

Different projects would include educating people about how to dispose of pet waste, repairing poor septic systems, increasing buffer zones along the creek and continuing water-quality monitoring programs.

If the projects are effective, these pollution sources will no longer be a problem by 2010, Dettelbach said.

Looking to help is the Little Bear Creek Protective Association, which worked with Ecology to create the plan. President Greg Stephens said he fears that if something isn't done now, it will be impossible to save the creek later as new development moves into the area.

"I hope this study opens the eyes of a lot of people," Stephens said.

But opening eyes and getting people to help are two different things, said Tom Murdoch, the executive director of the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation, whose headquarters is in Snohomish County.

"These plans have a great laundry list of ideas, but in order to be successful, the community has to become involved," Murdoch said.

Ecology will begin building support for the cleanup plan through public meetings tomorrow and March 10.

Christopher Schwarzen: 425-783-0577 or

Cleaning up Little Bear Creek

The state Department of Ecology is collecting public comment on a plan to remove pollution from Little Bear Creek. Two public meetings will be held:

3-5:30 p.m. tomorrow at Woodinville City Hall, 17301 133rd Ave. N.E.

7-9 p.m. March 10 at Fernwood Elementary School, 3933 Jewell Road, northeast of Bothell.

The cleanup-action plan is available at the Mill Creek and Woodinville libraries as well as at Ecology's regional office, 3190 160th Ave. S.E., Bellevue.

Written comments can be sent through March 31 to Anne Dettelbach, Department of Ecology, 3190 160th Ave. S.E., Bellevue, WA 98008-5452, or by e-mail at