Schneider Creek

Local Streams

Since 2003, trained Stream Team volunteers have monitored Schneider Creek for biological health. The scores have improved over the past 8 years, suggesting that the health of the creek is stabilizing or improving.

Schneider Creek

Nestled within Olympia’s west side, Schneider Creek is not a well-known creek, in part because public access and ownership of the creek are limited, except for a few unused rights-of-way and a stormwater facility. It is also the most impaired creek in Olympia, due to stormwater runoff from land that was developed prior to stormwater detention and treatment regulations. Over the years, the City has spent more time in the Schneider Creek watershed basin than in any other Olympia creek basin trying to reduce the impacts of polluted stormwater, according to the City of Olympia’s Stormwater manager, Andy Haub.

The drainage basin of over 650 acres starts at 9th Avenue near Decatur Street SW and includes the commercial intersection of Harrison Avenue and Division Street. The creek is piped underground from 9th Avenue SW northward all the way to Giles Avenue, where the creek daylights at a small stormwater facility operated by the City of Olympia. Between Bowman Ave. and West Bay Drive, there are no road crossings over the main stem of the creek. It flows through a wooded canyon that is privately owned and is the backyard of many residences.

Local Streams

The creek, named after German pioneer Konrad Schneider, has changed dramatically from the 1853 Government Land Office survey showing an upland forest of fir, cedar and hemlock (labeled as “timber”) and a large wetland at the headwaters. Konrad Schneider purchased the west Olympia property on the shores of Budd Inlet in the mid 1850’s, after living on a donation land claim homestead south of the present day Olympia Airport. The family continued to acquire land around South Sound, eventually amassing a contiguous land parcel that connected Budd Inlet to Eld and Totten Inlets and Summit Lake (from Konrad and Albertina, Ross 2009). Three Thurston County creeks share his surname.

Springs, located on the northern end of the watershed, served as private drinking water for homes in the Crestline and Raft Avenue neighborhood from the late 1930s until the 1960s. In the 1950s, as more land in the Schneider Creek basin was developed, new homes, businesses and roads were constructed without stormwater treatment; sending the stormwater runoff directly into the creek without slowing it down or filtering pollutants. A 1995 plan for the Schneider Creek Channel Stabilization Project states, “The primary problem in the creek is extensive channel downgrading and mass wasting in the upper mainstem and tributaries resulting in excessive sediment deposition in the biologically important downstream portions of the creek.” In 2003, a concerned resident wrote the city stating, “The creek bottom was more than 10 feet lower than it was when I was in high school (in late 1930s).”

In addition to the main stem, there are three tributaries, referenced in relation to nearby roads: Elliot, Peach and Muirhead. Much of the drainage from these sub-basins is also piped underground. When the west side of Olympia was developed, all the pipes and culverts carrying Schneider Creek and its tributaries were 36 inches or smaller, including the culvert at the mouth of the creek under West Bay Drive. The West Bay Drive culvert has been partially replaced with a 72 inch culvert, and a fish ladder will be constructed in the final phase to complete the project.

This watershed has approximately 35% impervious cover. Over 1/3 of the developed land area receives no stormwater treatment before the water discharges into Schneider Creek. Putting in stormwater treatment after development is expensive; yet, the City was committed to improving the Schneider Creek basin, as outlined in the 1995 report, to benefit the creek and water quality. In 1998, the City built an “experimental” stormwater treatment facility at Giles Avenue. The site was too small for a traditional stormwater pond, so a cartridge filter system was installed to clean the water. With stormwater research and technology improving, the treatment facility has been upgraded three times since the initial design to provide the best treatment available. In addition, a number of other capital projects were completed in the 1990s to improve the creek and to prevent flooding and landslides.

Despite the existing condition of the watershed, Schneider Creek meets the water quality standards with the exception of part 2 of the fecal coliform standard which states that: no more than 10% of the samples shall exceed 200 colonies per 100 ml (100 colonies/100 ml is the permitted standard). Part 2 has been violated every sample year since 1993, with the exceptions of 1997 and 2007. Nitrate concentration in the creek is high year-round, reflecting contamination in the shallow ground water and surface runoff (Thurston County 2007-2009 Annual Water Quality Report).

Since 2003, trained Stream Team volunteers have monitored Schneider Creek for biological health using the Benthic Invertebrate Index of Biological Integrity protocol by gathering macroinvertebrate samples collected from the creek bed. The scores have improved over the past 8 years, suggesting that the health of the creek is stabilizing or improving.

During the summer of 2009, Harry Williams and his mom, Susan marked 30 storm drains in the Elliot Drive area of the watershed. By marking storm drains, people are reminded that storm drains lead to creeks and Puget Sound, and that seemingly innocent actions and products can have detrimental effects on the water quality and aquatic life in the stream. The year-round elevated nitrate levels in the watershed are likely related to failing septic systems, fertilizer use and pet waste left on the ground.

If you are also concerned about the health of Schneider Creek and other local creeks, take action!

  1. Maintain your yard using natural yard care methods and products. Learn how from the expert: attend Marianne Bientti’s talk on lawn care.
  2. Take advantage of the City of Olympia’s and Thurston County’s rain garden incentive and capture and infiltrate the rain runoff from your roof and yard into a specially-designed rain garden. For more information, go to www.olympiawa.gov/raingardens
  3. Have your septic system inspected every three to five years and pumped as needed by a reputable company. For more information, visit Thurston County Environmental Health at www.co.thurston.wa.us/health/ehoss.
  4. If you live in Olympia, take advantage of the City’s financial incentives to convert your septic system to municipal sewer service. Contact Diane Utter at dutter@ci.olympia.wa.us or 360-753-8562.
  5. Carry a Pick Up for Puget Sound pet waste bag holder when walking your dog. These are provided free by Stream Team. Also, bag dispensers and signs are provided for neighborhoods and multi-family housing complexes. Contact Stream Team at Streamteam@ci.lacey.wa.us or 360-438-2672 for more information.
  6. Participate in Thurston County’s Clear Choices for Clean Water incentive program to find out what more you can do to keep stormwater runoff clean and clear. Contact Jennifer Johnson at johnsoj@co.thurston.wa.us or 360-867-2577.