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Research Projects

Edge of Field Monitoring


Whatcom CD has partnered with local dairy farmers to better understand the effects of best management practices on field runoff and water quality. Edge of Field monitoring stations detect when runoff events occur and measure runoff volumes and durations. Monitoring stations also automatically collect water quality samples for lab analysis of sediment, bacteria, and nutrients. Rainfall and soil moisture are also recorded at each study site to better understand how field conditions relate to runoff risk. The study is funded through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and runs for 7 years.

Currently: 4 study sites in Whatcom County; Project duration: 2016 - Present

For more information, visit the NRCS Edge of Field Monitoring website.

Sub-irrigation Using Water Level Control Structures 


The Whatcom CD has partnered with Washington State University Extension to conduct a demonstration project on the benefits of controlled drainage and sub-irrigation using Water Level Control Structures. Water level control structures (WLCS) such as Agri Drains are a tool to manage drainage on farm fields. The WLCS are left in open mode in the winter to allow draintiles and farm ditches flow freely and improve drainage for spring farming. Then in the spring once crops are planted, the WLCS are closed and used to slow drainage during low rainfall summer months. This project will evaluate WLCS performance on a local level by comparing fields with and without WLCS. Data being collected includes silage corn/perennial silage grass yields, soil moisture, irrigation water inputs, depth to groundwater, soil inorganic nitrogen, nitrate leaching, and surface and groundwater quality. The results of this evaluation will be conveyed to growers and other stakeholders in the agricultural community through outreach events organized by Whatcom Conservation District and through Washington State University Extension publications. The project is funded through a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) through NRCS.

Project duration: 2020-2023


Wildlife Tracker Tool


Whatcom County has abundant populations of wildlife, including deer, elk, coyotes, and migratory birds. Large populations of wildlife living (and pooping) around our waterways- such as raccoons, beavers or birds- are one of the possible sources of high bacteria levels in creeks. Unfortunately, standard fecal bacteria monitoring cannot differentiate between bacteria from human, livestock, or wildlife sources.

You can help us better understand where wildlife are most often seen and how they may be impacting water quality by tracking wildlife as you see them. The next time you see animals on your property, or while driving around, please log your sighting into our Whatcom Wildlife Tracking iNaturalist Project.

A number of resource exist to for more information about how wildlife can impact water quality:

Discovery Farms Washington: Evaluation of Solid Manure Storage


The Whatcom CD partnered with American Farmland Trust, King Conservation District, and two farm sites in King County, Washington to evaluate water quality impacts from different types of solid manure storage. Four types of manure storage were tested: a pile on compacted dirt pad, uncovered; a pile on dirt, covered with a tarp; a pile in on a concrete slab, uncovered; and a pile on a concrete slab; covered with a roof. Findings showed that covered manure has less stormwater runoff and leaching of manure nutrients. Manure composition is reflected in the analyte profile seen in stormwater runoff and is variable between sites with different livestock. Finally, covered manure achieves a greater temperature to enhance the composting process and create a better end-product.

Project duration: 2019-2021 

  • For more information, you can access the project report HERE.

  • Watch the short project summary video HERE.

Watershed Assessment Projects


The Tenmile Watershed was selected in 2017 for a special Pilot Watershed Assessment Project as part of the NRCS National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI). The NWQI program aims to implement voluntary conservation practices to improve water quality in high-priority watersheds while maintaining agricultural productivity. This watershed assessment was an exercise in characterizing and identifying the land uses, or “critical source areas”, that have the greatest potential for nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorous), sediment, and/or pathogen impacts to water quality, while also identifying the outreach strategy and conservation management practices that can be implemented to reduce those impacts.

The project conducted a thorough land use survey and modeling effort to evaluate the highest priority areas for water quality impairment and conservation practice effectiveness. Additional landowner social survey and outreach work was conducted to evaluate water quality perceptions, practice implementation and barriers, and successful information sources to create a comprehensive outreach plan for the watershed.

  • A full report on the Tenmile watershed assessment can be found HERE.

  • The full  Tenmile watershed outreach report can be found HERE.

Two more NWQI Watershed Assessments were conducted in 2020 with the same goal of identifying critical sources areas in the Wiser Lake Creek and Fishtrap watersheds and developing a functional outreach strategy to work with landowners.

  • A full report on the Fishtrap Watershed Assessment and outreach strategy can he found HERE.

  • A full report on the Wiser Lake Creek Watershed Assessment and outreach strategy can he found HERE.

DNA Molecular Source Tracking


Whatcom Conservation District and project partners Exact Scientific and Practical Informatics embarked on a year-long project to test whether the DNA of bacteria in our waterways can be used to accurately identify sources of fecal pollution. Project partners built a catalog of 21 different fecal bacterial DNA “fingerprints” representing potential fecal sources (i.e., humans, deer, dogs, geese, horses, etc.) in Whatcom County.  The catalog was tested against water samples from areas with historically elevated bacteria levels with the intention of identifying which fecal sources were contributing bacteria to water. Our goal was to improve the future of water quality sampling and characterization in order to better identify and provide technical assistance to fix sources of fecal pollution in Whatcom County. Work in this area is ongoing.

Project duration: 2018-2019

  • For more information, you can access our project report HERE.

ZAPS LiquIDTM Real-time E-coli Monitoring


Local water quality partners worked with EPA Region 10 and the Office of Research and Development to test five water quality monitoring instruments in the Nooksack River Basin. The goal of the project was to set up a network of monitors on the mainstem Nooksack River and major tributaries for real-time detection of water quality issues. The sensors had previously been used in water treatment plants and were of interest to use in ambient water quality monitoring. The sensors were designed by ZAPS technologies LLC and used optical measurements to detect E. coli, TSS, nitrate+nitrite, and BOD concentrations. Sensor measurements were compared to standard laboratory methodology.

Results of the study shows that while a network of real-time sensors held much promise, the water quality measurements of the sensors was not within the accuracy requirements of standard laboratory methodology. 

A full report on the ZAPS/Streaming Nooksack project can he found HERE.

Watershed map
Manure management bunker
Research equipment in field.
Image of animals and a human on a toilet.
Geese flying
Mobile research station.
Water channel in field

Meet The Team

Zen Wilhelm

Conservation Research Specialist

Cynthia May

Water Quality Data Coordinator

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