December 16, 2009

Puget Sound fouled by West Point sewage

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Last spring, PBS’s Frontline aired an episode called Poisoned Waters that investigated major U.S. waterways in “peril” due to pollution. Among them was Puget Sound.

“We thought all the way along that [Puget Sound] was like a toilet: What you put in, you flush out…We  [now] know that’s not true. It’s like a bathtub: What you put in stays there,”Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire told Frontline.

Puget Sound just got a little dirtier. Beginning Monday night and lasting until Tuesday morning, around 10 million gallons of sewage flowed from the West Point Treatment Plant, located in Magnolia, into Puget Sound.

“This situation is unacceptable,” wrote Christie True, director of King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division, on the King County website.

According to King County’s website, “the overflow began as employees prepared the plant for high flows during last night’s rainfall. Standard operating procedures during wet weather entail readying an emergency bypass gate that can open automatically to prevent flooding inside the plant that could harm workers and damage equipment.”

A switch malfunctioned, activating the bypass gate and diverting the untreated wastewater into Puget Sound. Pam Elardo, the plant’s manager, told the Seattle Times that it took three hours to repair the switch in order to close the bypass gate.

King County immediately closed nearby beaches out of concern for public health and inspection. The county took samples of the water and will continue to monitor the water over the next couple of days. Elardo also sent out a team to inspect the beach, and King County is investigating the gate malfunction.

InvestigateWest Environmental Reporter Robert McClure has reported extensively on the state of Puget Sound, investigating its health and the broken promises to fix it with former P-I reporter and current Sightline Editor Lisa Stiffler.

Jennifer Privette, InvestigateWest blogger and Seattle U journalism student

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