In response to community action, the city of Tacoma has agreed to overhaul its industrial wastewater program and pay $70,000 to support water quality projects in South Puget Sound. Earlier this year, Puget Soundkeeper brought a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit against the city of Tacoma for failing to adequately regulate the waste coming into the city’s sewage treatment plants. The sewage system discharges to Commencement Bay, where historical pollution has seriously impacted habitat and water quality. Over 120 sites around the Bay are currently in different phases of cleanup, and new pollution entering the system threatens their recovery.

Handling an entire city’s sewage is no small responsibility. Wastewater is a serious source of pollution, and sewage treatment systems are not designed for heavily contaminated industrial and commercial waste. The city is required to run an industrial pretreatment program, where waste that is too polluted for the city sewage treatment plant goes through a cleaning process before entering the municipal system. Sewage treatment plants are focused on removal of solids, biological treatment, and disinfection, not treatment for toxic pollutants, so this pretreatment is the only way to remove toxic pollutants from the waste stream.

Tacoma’s pretreatment program had serious deficiencies, allowing dangerous contaminants to pass through the system in violation of the Clean Water Act. After receiving Soundkeeper’s notice of intent to sue, city officials responded promptly and worked to finalize a settlement. The settlement filed in court December 2 requires the City to come into compliance with its Clean Water Act pollution discharge permit, conduct a comprehensive pretreatment program audit, and correct their system in response to the audit.

Tacoma will report quarterly to Soundkeeper on their progress, and we will remain involved throughout. The City will also pay $70,000 to the Puget Sound Stewardship and Mitigation Fund for water quality projects in the Commencement Bay watershed.

“We look forward to working with the city of Tacoma to improve their pretreatment system and protect Commencement Bay from harmful industrial waste,” said Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper Executive Director. “Chemicals in industrial waste are a real threat to the health of the South Sound and our salmon and resident orca whales, and prompt action on this issue is crucial if we want to protect water quality.”

Soundkeeper was represented in this litigation by Richard Smith and Claire Tonry, Smith & Lowney PLLC, and staff attorney Katelyn Kinn.