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Thurston County, Washington

Public Health and Social Services

Adult Heron Walking Through Shallow Water - Puget Sound, Olympia, Washington


Marine Recovery Area Information

Program Goal

The goal of the Operational Certificate is to assure that septic systems are properly operated and maintained. Properly monitored and maintained systems have longer operating lives and less impact on our water resources and shellfish growing areas.

County Program and Marine Recovery Area

Marine Recovery Area (location) and System Type (County Program): depending on where your septic system is located in Thurston County and what type of septic system is installed, will determine the guidelines for inspecting and renewing your Certificate.

Requirements: most of the requirements are the same for each program. One of the main differences is that in the County Program there is an invoice included with your renewal notice. For properties within the Marine Recovery Areas of Henderson and Nisqually Reach Inlets the charge is a line item on your county property tax statement. It will read either Shellfish Protection Henderson or Nisqually.

All systems located within the Henderson or Nisqually Reach watershed protection area require renewable operational certificates. High risk septic systems in these areas also require periodic dye testing for operational certificate renewal.

Henderson Inlet

Henderson: Henderson Inlet and its tributaries are contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria found in the digestive systems of warm-blooded animals; their presence in water tests indicate potential contamination from sewage. For information on water testing, see Water Quality Lab. This bacterium is taking its toll on the quality of water in the Inlet. 

*One-half inch of rain closes commercial shellfish harvesting for five days in Henderson Inlet.

Mount Rainer at Nisqually Reach

Nisqually Reach: This program is modeled after the successful program that was started in Henderson Inlet in 2007. The program includes septic system inspection and monitoring requirements, incentives, funding mechanisms and enforcement elements. The program was developed by a citizen advisory group and was adopted by the Thurston County Board of Health and Board of County Commissioners in 2012.

Black Lake

In 2023, Thurston County Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) began working within the Black Lake watershed to identify sources of pollution contributing to degrading water quality and increasing algal bloom occurrences. This objective will be completed by conducting reoccurring investigative monitoring of Black Lake waterways, conducting sanitary surveys on high priority properties, dye tracing septic systems of concern, offering technical assistance where possible, and following through with compliance where necessary.

PIC water quality monitoring will be primarily focused on sampling for E. coli, and secondarily tracking total phosphorous at areas of concern, with additional more comprehensive sampling as needed to help track pollutant sources. Tracking E. coli will help identify fecal contamination from sources such as failing septic systems, agriculture, and other natural sources such as wildlife. Sources of phosphorous are also important to identify as phosphorous is directly linked to an increase in algal blooms and decreasing the water quality of the lake (Gillion, 1983).

Consistent monitoring and community engagement to find solutions for water quality improvement will lead to a safer water body that will benefit the health of the surrounding community.

This section will be updated in the future with results from this project.

An online survey will be found here near the end of this clean water project for all residents who participated. You will be able to report your actions and provide comments.

Scatter Creek

Project Summary

The goal of the project was to make sure water in the Scatter Creek Aquifer is safe to drink now and in the future. The three-year project included groundwater monitoring, scientific modeling, and community input. A citizen advisory committee evaluated scientific data and modeling for potential impacts on the aquifer and made recommendations to the Thurston County Board of Health and Board of County Commissioners. Funding for this project was provided by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

meadow of daisies

Residents living in the Scatter Creek Aquifer Area (click on the map for a larger view of the area) rely on groundwater for their drinking water. Water in this aquifer is highly vulnerable to contamination because the sandy, gravelly soils do not effectively filter out contamination. Unlike other areas, there is not another deeper aquifer below the Scatter Creek Aquifer; it is a sole-source aquifer.

Test results from private and community wells show nitrates and coliform bacteria are getting into the water. Currently, most wells tested in the area meet drinking water standards. At levels above drinking water standards, these contaminants can cause illness. We are concerned because, at times, nitrate levels in this area have been some of the highest in Thurston County, with some wells exceeding drinking water standards.

Key Activities:

  • Groundwater Monitoring and Sampling
  • Groundwater Modeling
  • Community Involvement:
07/30/2013 at Rochester Middle School Presentation from 1st Community Workshop
04/23/2014 at Rochester Middle School Presentation from 2nd Community Workshop
09/30/2014 at Rochester Middle School Presentation from 3rd Community Workshop

Citizen Advisory Committee Roles and Expectations 

Committee members were appointed to the committee by the Board of Health and must live, own property, or work in the Scatter Creek Aquifer Area. The committee typically met on the first Wednesday of the month at the Rochester School District Board Room. They learned about the area and risks posed to the drinking water by septic systems, helped determine if levels of contamination are likely to cause public health concern, and developed recommendations for an action plan to ensure water in the Scatter Creek Aquifer is safe to drink now and in the future.

Advisory Committee Members

Sandra Adix Tom Budsberg Karen Deal
Lowell Deguise Marlene Hampton Chanele Holbrook-Shaw
Darin Holt Roger Max D. Bruce Morgan
Maureen Pretell Gene Weaver  

Your feedback

Throughout the two-year process, you shared your thoughts on the project. Your feedback was important to us because you, as residents or property owners in the Scatter Creek Aquifer Area, are the people who drink the water and are affected by the issues. Your thoughts and concerns helped the Citizen's Advisory Committee shape their recommendations and we thank you.

Here's what we heard from you:


Meeting Date

Meeting Time

Meeting Agenda

Meeting Notes

09/03/2014 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
08/06/2014 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
07/02/2014 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
06/04/2014 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
05/07/2014 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
04/02/2014 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
03/05/2014 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
02/05/2014 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
01/08/2014 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
12/04/2013 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
10/02/2012 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
09/18/2013 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
08/07/2013 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
06/05/2013 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
05/01/2013 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
04/03/2013 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
03/06/2013 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
02/06/2013 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
01/09/2013 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
12/08/2012 6:15-8:15pm Agenda  Notes
11/07/2012 7:00-9:00 pm Agenda Notes 

If you have additional questions or comments about the project, please call 360-867-2643. If you have questions about the renewal of your certificate, please call our office at 360-867-2626.