Blue Water Task Force
Native Garden Project
Snowrider Project
Storm Drain Marking

Blue Water Task Force


The Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) was established by the Surfrider Foundation in 1991 with the goals and hopes to gather enough data to raise public awareness, increase public participation, and influence national legislation. The Northwest Straits (NWS) Chapter’s BWTF program is a Citizen Science program that engages college students and the public in the process of sampling, analyzing, and disseminating water quality data.

In the summer of 2005, Bri Silbaugh initiated the Blue Water Task Force within the Northwest Straits Chapter. When BWTF began here in Bellingham, Surfrider tested for enterococcus twice a week for the duration of the summer. The program died down briefly and then started back up again in May of 2006, when Katie Booth and Linda McGuiness revamped the BWTF. Sampling occurs once a month. This program traditionally analyzed samples for E. coli and total coliforms, but transitioned to sampling enterococcus Fall 2012.  Our BWTF currently samples at six different sites in Bellingham: Larabee State Park (Wildcat Cove), Mud Bay, the mouth of Padden Creek, Little Squalicum Beach, Locust Beach and the Nooksack River Delta.

Currently, the Northwest Straits Chapter has several volunteer interns helping to collect samples each month.  Some volunteers even take a lab training to participate in the laboratory preparation and analysis of samples.  If interested in becoming involved, please email Eleanor Hines at

What we test for and why: Enterococcus is considered an indicator bacteria by federal agencies. Enterococcus replaced coliforms as an infdicator when the Environmental Protection Agency found a higher correlation of water-born illness with enterococcus in marine waters than coliforms. Fecal coliform bacteria are still considered the standard indicator bacteria, however, for fresh water bodies. Enterococcus, like coliform bacteria,  are bacteria that are commonly found in warm-blooded animal feces. Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a wide group of bacterial species that is categorized under the fecal coliforms group. Some strains can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia and other illnesses, where other strains are used as a marker for water contamination.  In the lab, we test for the presence of enterococcus  in our samples.  The results then indicate the current status of water quality at each site.  These tests can be extremely important as they can prevent illnesses and lead to the discovery of failing septic systems.

Education and Outreach: Larrabee State Park has been experiencing more frequent high hits of fecal bacteria over the last several years.  In an effort to help keep public access to Wildcat Cove open and safe, NWS Surfrider has teamed up with WA Ecology’s BEACH Program, Whatcom County Health Department, Whatcom Marine Resources and Larrabee State Park to implement a summer education and outreach program.  Please come stop by our Surfrider table at Larrabee State Park during the summer and learn about water quality and what you can do to help keep our watershed healthy! Also join us for Beach Walks at low tides, Watershed hikes to Fragrance Lake or Clayton Beach daily, and for Campfire talks every Saturday at 7 PM at the pavilion by the park entrance! Read more about it on the national blog.

Thanks! BWTF and the Northwest Straits Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation would like to thank Post Point for donating space within their laboratory for us to work! And we would like to thank all of our dedicated volunteers for their hard work, often waking up before the sun is up to collect samples before class!

Check out our water quality data here!

Our Native Garden Project objectives include supporting the existing ecosystem, improving water quality, reducing the occurrence of invasive/non-native plant species, and providing more scenic landscapes.

Periodically, we host work parties with the help of the City of Bellingham’s Parks and Recreation at historic Woodstock Farm on Chuckanut Drive.   Volunteers from all over come together to lay mulch, plant native species, and of course, remove the invasive plants.

Several work parties have been held at this city park, including an all day event for International Surf Day.  At this event, volunteers battled against English ivy, Himalayan blackberries, and some Stinky Bob in order to clear the hillsides to give native plants a fighting chance to thrive again.  Additionally, volunteers were invited to listen to local experts offer their knowledge on the history of the land around the farmstead, focusing special attention on the historical shell midden located next to the boathouse in Mud Bay.  This shell midden was left by a Native American tribe that no longer exists in present day and little is known about them.  They thrived in the area over 1200 years ago, feeding off of the pleathera of food Mud and Chuckanut Bay had to offer.  They also migrated with the change of season, living in the Chuckanut area only part of the year.  After learning the history of the land, volunteers helped to dig fence postholes around the midden so that a fence could be built around it in order to help protect the heritage site.  Afterwards, volunteers were treated to a BBQ, live music provided by Aloha Danny, and some kayaking.

When the farmstead was originally acquired as a park, the City did so with a vision of creating a public heritage site, including structural and landscape features. In addition, the acquisition of the farm secured critical habitat and connected existing greenways. The native garden project is a key step in fulfilling the city’s vision and enhancing habitat.

For more info on Woodstock Farm, click here.

Ocean-Friendly Gardens (OFG) are becoming increasingly popular and for a good reason.  As our understanding of watersheds improve, consciousness of how much of an impact each and every one of us has on it is growing, and people want to do something about it.  You may live miles away from the ocean, yet what water drains off your property where you live eventually reaches the ocean, carrying whatever pollutants it may pick up along the way.  Stormwater has become a high priority for anyone concerned about water quality.  As impervious surfaces continue to expand, more and more pollutants enter into our watersheds and less and less water is left for plants to thrive.  Instead of paving over more surfaces or adding more roofed structures to your property, think about adding in an ocean-friendly garden.  Not only are they beautiful (and will make all your neighbors want one), but they help reduce the amount of pollutants that reach the ocean by helping to filter them out.  Be a part of the solution, not the pollution.  For more information on how you can construct an ocean-friendly garden, contact or visit

Also check out the OFG under construction at the start of the Boulevard interurban trail off Luarel and State Streets!

The Snowrider Project’s goal is to protect our mountain environments that are the source for many watersheds flowing to the ocean. We will achieve this by educating the snowsports community through events and service projects on the need to keep our mountains pristine for future generations enjoyment.

ARE YOU RIDING UP TO BAKER? But want to reduce your environmental impact? Or want to save on gas money? Check out the BAKER BUS for fairs and schedules!

Drains to BayThe Northwest Straits Chapter of Surfrider has placed 1,000 “Drains to Bay” storm drain markers! With help and guidance from the City of Bellingham’s Public Works Department and Surfrider member Brian Smart, volunteers began marking a majority of the 1,800 storm drain inlets that drain to Bellingham Bay. The goal is to bring awareness about water quality in Bellingham Bay and foster a continued dedication to pollution prevention.

Stormwater has now become the main focus for water quality of streams, rivers, and oceans.  It is estimated that over 60% of pollutants in stormwater are comprised of petroleum products.  With so much land covered by pavement and other impervious surfaces, it is important that we are all conscious of what we allow to go down our storm drains, untreated.

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