Sunday, February 28, 2021

Breaking News! Executive Constantine Declares Emergency for West Point Treatment Plant

King County Executive Dow Constantine Declares Emergency for West Point Treatment Plant Improvements

King County Executive Dow Constantine on February 25th issued an emergency declaration requesting up to $65 million to fund power improvements to the West Point Treatment Plant.

In the past 20 years, the West Point Treatment Plant diverted a highly diluted mixture of stormwater and wastewater into Puget Sound 15 times because Seattle City Light power disruptions caused equipment shutdowns when the plant was operating at or near capacity. More than half of these bypasses – 53 percent – occurred over the past five years.

The work under the emergency declaration will include immediately purchasing services and equipment to provide more reliable power, an evaluation of whether direct high-voltage power will resolve the power outage problems, and modifying on-site power generation and an option to use batteries as other possible solutions.

According to the transmittal letter with the legislation, the reason for the emergency declaration and supplemental funding is in response to the WA Department of Ecology's Administrative Order issued on February 2nd. 

On February 2, 2021, the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) issued Administrative Order 19477 to King County regarding unauthorized bypasses of the secondary treatment system at WPTP between January 1, 2018 and June 30, 2020 [...]. The DOE Order requires DNRP to complete four corrective actions, which include the submittal of two reports to Ecology, development of a strategic master plan for WPTP’s electrical system by December 31, 2021, and implementation of the corrective actions in the plan by December 31, 2025.

The emergency declaration will be discussed by the King County Council at a future meeting. 

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn issued a statement on February 24th after the Mobility and Environment Committee approved his legislation to require an extensive report and recommendations to prevent future wastewater spills like those on January 13. 

At a $65 million price tag, it will be interesting to see how this reflects on property tax bills in the future. If you live in the service area, I highly suggest you keep posted on future updates and opportunities for public input to see how they choose to resolve these issues and how they will fund the solutions going forward.

When Stormwater Becomes Wastewater

Wastewater, commonly known as sewage, is an entirely different type of flow from stormwater. These flows intersect drastically in Washington's wet winter months, especially in Seattle where stormwater and wastewater were collected together in a combined system which can cause combined system overflows (CSOs). After the 1940s, we learned the importance of constructing separate pipe systems to convey these flows to specifically treat them before release. In fact, stormwater treatment has become its' own science. The legacy systems that remain, primarily in older cities, can create excess flows that overwhelm our wastewater treatment facilities or directly discharge diluted sewage into Puget Sound.

King County runs the regional sewer system that was passed by the public in 1958 which created the wastewater treatment division, which was at that time known as Metro. Building the system took off and was running by the late 1960s. While wastewater treatment and water quality have improved much since then, we still see problems when stormwater inflows to the wastewater system and generates too much inflow. Recent sewer overflows have occurred due to power outages, but the overarching issue from a stormwater perspective is how to reduce the amount of stormwater being sent to our wastewater treatment systems. A map of Seattle's/King County's combined sewer overflow points and their current status can be viewed here. Learn more about CSOs in Seattle here.

King County - Sewage Overflows Increase in Last 5 Years

On February 25th, an unquantified amount of sewage overflowed into Lake Washington due to a power outage at the Kirkland Pump Station. The Kirkland Marina Beach Park was closed and has since reopened after water quality testing confirmed that the water is safe. Sewage overflows and water quality goes hand-in-hand and King County is no stranger to this problem.

Last month, an article from the Kitsap Sun reported on the large overflow released into Puget Sound by the West Point Treatment Plant, 80% of which was comprised of stormwater in January. The overflows were announced by King County's newsroom. The overflows into Puget Sound occurred due to power outages during the early morning on Wednesday, January 13th. All systems were back online within 2 hours, but all told 11 million gallons of untreated wastewater flowed into the Sound. Coincidentally, 11 million gallons was the amount of crude oil that was spilled from the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound in 1989, which was the largest oil spill in the U.S. before it was surpassed by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.

According to King County, the West Point Treatment Plant treats up to 90 million gallons per day (mgd) during the dry season and up to 300 mgd during the rainy season (for flows exceeding 300 mgd, they treat up to 440 mgd with primary treatment, i.e. solids removal of about 50% of the organic solid waste, and disinfection only). During winter months 53% of flows into West Point are stormwater inflow and groundwater infiltration, while 29% is residential, 17% from businesses, and 1% from industrial processes.

The Kitsap Sun described the concerns of the Suquamish Tribe on the WPTP sewer overflows which is impacting their ability to harvest shellfish. The tribe filed a notice of intent to sue King County in Summer 2020 over the continued sewage overflows. They want to see increased commitment by King County to keep our waters clean in accordance with the Clean Water Act. From the Kitsap Sun:

Said Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman at the time in a statement: "We acknowledge that King County has invested and will invest more to improve their wastewater treatment system, but the Suquamish Tribe and its members are frustrated by the ongoing sewage releases and King County’s other pollution violations in Puget Sound, which continue to harm marine water quality and the tribe’s ability to exercise reserved treaty rights and engage in cultural activities. We are running out of time and need swifter action."

It is important to recognize the effort and improvement we have made to treat wastewater and separate stormwater flows since the 1950s. But, more can be done.  

What We Can Do

We can participate in this legislation and focus on reducing stormwater inputs to the system. This includes supporting green infrastructure projects in City infrastructure and on residential lots. The City of Seattle has rebates for installing green stormwater infrastructure like rain barrels, cisterns, or rain gardens. As I have mentioned in other posts, planting trees is always helpful and is a fun way to introduce your kids to stormwater. With Earth Day coming up, it is a great time to start planning these activities now.

See my Resources Page for more information on Green Stormwater Infrastructure.


History of our mission - King County

2021 news releases - King County

11 million gallons of stormwater, sewage flow into Puget Sound from King County plant: - Kitsap Sun

West Point Treatment Plant Process Diagram

Suquamish Tribe files notice of intent to sue King County for ongoing sewage spills – The Suquamish Tribe 

Executive Constantine requests $65 million and signs emergency declaration to protect West Point Treatment Plant from power disruptions - King County

King County - File #: 2021-0116 - West Point Emergency Declaration and 2021-0116 Transmittal Letter.pdf

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