Blue Water Task Force


NWS BWTF comprises of WWU student volunteers who work early hours of the morning to collect and analyze water samples for indicator bacteria.

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!

Water Test Results

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