The town of Concrete in Skagit County faces a $12,800 penalty from the Washington Department of Ecology for not properly maintaining and operating its wastewater treatment plant, discharging untreated wastewater, and for not reporting violations in a timely manner.
The facility treats sewage from approximately 400 connections and releases treated wastewater to the Baker River, a tributary to the Skagit River, about a third of a mile downstream.
Improper maintenance decreased the amount of wastewater the plant could treat. When wet weather caused high incoming flows, the town discharged excess untreated sewage to a nearby lagoon where it soaked into the ground. Doing so left no way to ensure that pollutants, especially pathogens, were removed before groundwater reached the river.
“The operating procedures required in the treatment plant’s permit protect public health and water quality downstream,” said Rachel McCrea, regional manager for Ecology’s Water Quality Program. “While the town is taking steps to fix the problems, they should have prevented, reported and addressed them much sooner.”
The town expanded and upgraded its treatment plant in 2008, using membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology. The system requires regular cleaning of membrane filters that separate clean water from very fine solid particles in the wastewater.
The penalty is for a series of violations that occurred from 2014 through 2017:
Unauthorized bypasses: Incoming, untreated wastewater was diverted on 69 different days into an unpermitted and improperly lined lagoon that was no longer part of the treatment system 200 feet from the Baker River.
Operations and maintenance deficiencies: The facility did not take proper care of the membranes, as well as other components of the treatment system, including electrical and mechanical equipment. Also, maintenance records did not include all the required information.
- Unreported bypasses: The facility did not report 67 of these events to Ecology as required by the permit.
The facility also violated its permit by:
Discharging wastewater with higher-than-authorized levels of total suspended solids for one week in July 2017.
- Not submitting three technical reports that were due June 30, 2017.
The town of Concrete began to take corrective action in late 2016, a process that is not yet complete. The plant’s five-year permit was recently renewed with timelines for several operational improvements and corrections.
Ecology water quality penalty payments go to the state’s Coastal Protection Fund which issues grants to public agencies and tribes for water quality restoration projects. The penalty may be appealed to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board.