The sewage disaster and ongoing failure at the King County West Point sewage treatment plant is a serious threat to Puget Sound that must be repaired as soon as possible. Puget Soundkeeper has been closely engaged and pushing for answers since a catastrophic equipment failure on February 9 led to a discharge of 180 million gallons of wastewater to the Sound. That discharge was between 10 and 20 percent raw sewage, with the rest primarily stormwater according to the information currently available to us. Since the breakdown at the plant, operators have been working around the clock to bring systems back online, but there were two additional discharges to the Sound on February 15 and 16, totaling 55 million gallons. The County reports that no raw sewage has been discharged since then, but the discharge from West Point is still failing to meet the standards required by their Clean Water Act permit. We don’t know yet the long term biological impact of this catastrophe on the water, but it’s a huge setback for the already struggling Puget Sound ecosystem.
Soundkeeper’s immediate focus is on minimizing the impact to our shared waters and finding solutions to the infrastructure issues that caused the plant to fail. Our team met with King County representatives on March 15, and we will continue to stay in contact. An internal electrical outage and failure of a system meant to prevent flooding was the cause of the breakdown, and the county has ruled out operator error and negligence. We are working to ensure that the county is doing everything possible to get the plant back online at full capacity, and to be certain that operations and systems moving forward have contingencies and redundancies so this kind of discharge doesn’t happen again. Soundkeeper supports the independent investigation called for by the King County Council and awaits that report. On April 3rd, we posed detailed questions to the County for inclusion in the report.
Soundkeeper and regional partners are pushing for further improvements to water quality monitoring and better public access to water quality data. We’re also advocating for monitoring across a wider area than initially sampled. And we are continuing to search for interim solutions, particularly rerouting industrial wastewater coming into the plant that is not being adequately treated.
Because of Soundkeeper’s advocacy, and the support of our members, many urban areas and industrial facilities around the Sound have strong pollution discharge permits and improved technology that protects our communities and waterways from pollution like this. Indeed, Seattle and King County are spending millions of dollars per year to upgrade systems that address sewer discharges, combined sewer overflows and stormwater pollution. Combined sewer systems discharge up to 900 million gallons of wastewater into the Sound annually, and it was decades of pressure from the public and from organizations around the region that moved the city and county towards solving the problem.
Prior to the failure, West Point treated between 90 and 300 million gallons of wastewater per day to standards required by their Clean Water Act permit. Moving forward, we need to maintain that high standard for treatment and improve on it region-wide. As the region grows, it is crucial that our sewage and stormwater infrastructure can handle the increased pressure. To build a resilient Puget Sound, it’s critical to keep looking towards a future where we aren’t dumping anything in the waterways we depend on.
Please feel free to call or email us if you are looking for more information on the situation at West Point, or visit the King County incident response page.