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News Release

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey

Release: April 2, 2003
Sandra Embrey
253-428-3600, ext. 2644

John Clemens
253-428-3600, ext. 2635

Puget Sound Rivers Generally Healthy, Study Shows

[Note: The report can be viewed on the Web at]

Water quality in the Puget Sound Basin's rivers and streams ranged from fair to exceptionally high, despite a few very wet years that boosted concentrations of pesticides, sediment, and other compounds in the water, according to a comprehensive report on water quality published today by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The report presents a complete summary of USGS stream water-quality data in the Puget Sound Basin for 1995-98 and lays the groundwork for related future studies.

The USGS sampled water from rivers and streams at 11 sites in western Washington. The sites represented three major river basins (Skokomish, Nooksack, and Green-Duwamish) and one small urban basin (Thornton Creek).

Samples were collected monthly as well as during storms. All samples were analyzed for nutrient compounds (nitrogen and phosphorus), organic carbon, suspended sediment, and other compounds. At selected sites, samples were analyzed for pesticides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Water-quality standards for drinking water and criteria for protection of aquatic life were almost always met. There were occasional exceptions, though, including concentrations of insecticides in a few samples from Thornton Creek and Duwamish River in urban King County and Fishtrap Creek in urban-influenced agricultural Whatcom County that exceeded aquatic life criteria.

Volatile organic compounds appeared mostly in samples from urban sites in the study, more so than from agricultural sites. Nutrient concentrations were highest in the agricultural streams and next highest in urban streams, indicating the influence of human activities on water quality.

The report is one of a series produced by the USGS NAWQA (National Water-Quality Assessment) Program that present major findings on water resources in 51 major river basins and aquifer systems across the Nation. In these reports, water quality is assessed at many scales--from large rivers that drain many land uses, to small agricultural catchments--and is discussed in terms of local, State, and regional issues. Conditions in the Puget Sound Basin are compared to conditions found elsewhere and to selected national benchmarks, such as those for drinking-water quality and the protection of aquatic organisms.

The report, "Surface-Water Quality of the Skokomish, Nooksack, and Green-Duwamish Rivers and Thornton Creek, Puget Sound Basin, Washington, 1995-98," by S.S. Embrey and L.M. Frans, is published as U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 02-4190. The report can be viewed on the Web at Copies can be purchased from the U.S. Geological Survey, Information Services, Box 25286, Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225-0286, telephone 303-202-4200.

The USGS serves the nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life. To receive USGS news releases go to

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