The Washington Department of Ecology is taking enforcement action against King County for permit violations at two wastewater treatment facilities that resulted in partially treated sewage entering Puget Sound. The violations highlight changes the county must make to prevent further pollution to the sound.
Ecology has issued an administrative order for the West Point Treatment Plant to correct a years-long pattern of sewage discharges caused by electrical power supply problems.
Ecology also issued a $10,000 fine for a sewage discharge incident at the South Treatment Plant in Renton in July 2019.
West Point power problems
“This pattern of pollution cannot continue. King County must make it a priority to resolve their ongoing electrical issues that repeatedly result in unauthorized discharges from the West Point Treatment Plant. Reliable power is critical to complying with a plant’s water quality permit, and protecting surrounding communities, beaches, and Puget Sound.”
- Laura Watson, Ecology Director
Ecology investigated a series of unauthorized discharges from the West Point Treatment Plant that occurred over a 17-month period and determined that some of the violations were due to problems with the plant’s main power supply. Based on this investigation, Ecology is ordering the county to address electrical issues at the plant and prevent future disruptions.
Between Jan. 1, 2018, and May 31, 2020, King County reported six incidents where issues with the treatment plant’s electrical power led to unauthorized discharges that violated the plant’s permit. The six incidents resulted in a total 4.43 million gallons of partially treated sewage discharging into Puget Sound.
An administrative order is one of the enforcement tools under Ecology’s regulatory authority. The order includes specific deadlines for action that the county must meet. Failure to comply with the order can result in penalties.
In the coming year, Ecology will also be working to update the water quality permit for the West Point Treatment Plant. Draft permit revisions will be made available for public comment.
South Plant inadequate planning
On July 18, 2019, the South Plant discharged sewage into Puget Sound that did not receive disinfection. The plant operated for 79 minutes without disinfection, releasing at least 3.43 million gallons of inadequately treated wastewater. The discharge and events surrounding it violated the plant’s water quality permit.
Ecology’s investigation determined that King County’s staff did not sufficiently plan work on an upgrade project that day to ensure it would not interrupt disinfection.
Disinfection is required under water quality permits for all wastewater treatment plants as the final stage of treatment that kills bacteria and viruses.
The South Plant release was one of two incidents within 24 hours that led to temporary beach closures and non-contact advisories along Puget Sound shorelines in King and Kitsap counties.
On July 19, 2019, power disruptions at West Point Treatment Plant led to the release 2.1 million gallons of untreated sewage. Ecology determined this emergency bypass was necessary to protect the treatment plant and the safety of staff. The federal Clean Water Act recommends that permitting authorities not take enforcement action for emergency bypasses.
Penalties and administrative orders issued by Ecology may be appealed to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings board. Payments for water quality penalties are placed into the state’s Coastal Protection Fund, which issues grants to local government, tribal government and non-profit organizations for environmental restoration projects.