Conservation District and partners will develop a fecal source ‘catalog’

 WHATCOM — The Whatcom Conservation District and partners are starting some new research that uses DNA to identify sources of bacteria in waterways.

The district is partnering with Exact Scientific Services and Practical Informatics with a goal of better characterizing water quality pollution sources by using DNA molecular source tracking techniques. 

Bacteria measured at many of the creeks, rivers and beaches around Whatcom County are above the levels recommended by Washington State for safe recreation and shellfish harvest.

Fecal bacteria pollution can come from many sources, including septic systems, livestock, wildlife, pet waste and marinas. 

As a member of the Whatcom Clean Water Program, the Whatcom Conservation District works with many local partners to reduce pollution in local  waterways. By monitoring for fecal bacteria, partners are able to find and fix sources of pollution. 

Thanks to new funding from the Washington State Conservation Commission, the Whatcom district and partners have begun work on this year-long project to test whether the DNA of bacteria in county waterways can be used to accurately identify sources of pollution.

Over the next year, project partners will build a fecal reference catalog containing “fingerprints” of potential water pollution sources in Whatcom County. This reference catalog will be used to evaluate water samples from areas with historically elevated bacteria and a variety of potential pollution sources.

The method should be able to identify what fecal sources are contributing bacteria to water, the Conservation District says. The goal of this research is to improve the future of data-driven water quality sampling and analysis in order to better identify and provide technical assistance to fix sources of fecal pollution in Whatcom County.

Bacteria pollution in waterways is preventable. For more information on how to make a difference in keeping waters clean, visit

There is also a way for the public to help with this new project. The partners need to better understand where wildlife are likely to be seen and how these animals may be impacting water quality in Whatcom County. The next time you see wildlife on your property or while driving around, please log your sighting into the Whatcom Wildlife Tracker app