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Sewage and Environmental Health
In the context of the Water Pollution Control Act (also known as the Clean Water Act), federal legislation requiring that sewage plants provide secondary treatment by July 1977, Seattle City Council held hearings to gauge the public's response to various siting possibilities for a secondary sewage treatment facility. The Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (Metro) was created by a local referendum in 1958 and authorized to manage regional wastewater and water quality issues in King County. Metro and other municipalities successfully lobbied congress in 1977 for modifications to the law that would provide the Environmental Protection Agency authority to amend secondary-treatment requirements for municipalities discharging into a marine environment. Metro argued that the Puget Sound did not need secondary-treatment facilities as the waters met the Clean Water Act's goal of being "swimmable and fishable" - that the waters were rich in oxygen and primary treatment was adequate to maintain water quality. The City Council hearings continued through the rest of 1977 and beyond. Metro's secondary treatment plant, ultimately built at West Point, was not finished until 1996. Excerpts from this Joint Utilities and Intergovernmental Relations Committees meeting on June 14, 1977, illustrate the impact and the complexity of the sewage treatment issues on Seattle's citizens and the environment.
Councilmember Jeanette Williams: Next person is Eldon Grimes.
Eldon Grimes: My name is Eldon Grimes. I am an employee of Marine Construction and Design Company, the shipyard on the canal. What I have to say is a little bit more along the philosophical viewpoint than it is specifics, really. And it's in regards to our recent conclusions that our society has been mistreating the environment, and true this is. Now this is generally recognized and it's been many years in the making. And unfortunately though, in the best American tradition of instant pudding, we have a sadly misinformed and vocal segment of the population who think corrections can be legislated instantly, applied instantly, and with instant results. Industry has been pointed out as the major culprit and pressures have become so intense that some businesses have been unable to survive and jobs were lost. We can afford just so much of this because if in saving the environment completely, we succeed in killing off industry, we might end up with a populace breathing totally clean air, swimming in totally clean water, while starving totally to death.
Councilmember Williams: Margaret?
Margaret Ceis: I am Margaret Ceis, a resident of the Alki neighborhood in West Seattle. And early last spring in 1976 Metro came out to talk to us about the expansion of the sewer treatment plant at Alki. And we may be fortunate or unfortunate and we probably have the distinction of having the oldest, in terms of service, plant in the City. The outrage of the citizens at the meeting led to the establishment of a citizens committee by the Alki Community Council and about 20 people joined it to find out what the facts were on the expansion. Because it was pretty evident from the beginning that the bias toward secondary treatment was implicit in everything that we were told at the meeting.
...Now in the 20-25 years that that plant has been there, we've had a beach that's been destroyed. There used to be lots of life on that beach. When my children, my youngest is 21, when I used to take him and the rest of them down there as a toddler, there were crabs galore, there was all sorts of shell life and little animals all over that beach. There's nothing much today at all.
...I'm not speaking as an environmentalist, and I don't think most of the people on that task force are concerned about, particularly about "swimmable, fishable waters." We're concerned about the quality of that water that we think is being poisoned with the present effluent that's being poured out there. One of the Metro recommendations was that without the secondary treatment, we could simply extend that outfall. Well, that's going to extend the poison farther out into the bay.
That Puget Sound that is so oxygen-rich, I think there's been enough dispute on both sides to indicate that there better be some pretty serious consideration given to the fact that 30 years from now we may looking at a situation that we cannot reverse....
We are also are looking at the fact that we have the Duwamish, where industry is pouring poison into that Duwamish River. It's not the secondary treatment plant in Renton that's the problem. But anybody who fished down at the Seacrest Marina, and there are plenty of commercial people who come in there, there are biologists from various firms and from the University of Washington who are increasingly concerned about the type of fish that they're catching which are deformed....
But we're still concerned that the whole city is not really involved in this debate. We don't think it should be Alki versus West Point or Carkeek or Richmond. We think this has to be looked at as a total problem. And I think the more we've looked at it at Alki, we see that that West Point Beach, just simply extending that treatment plant, and using up more beach there, is shortchanging the future, the people that are going to be inhabiting this town....
The entire event can be heard here.
Citation: Joint Utilities and Intergovernmental Relations Committee Meeting, June 14, 1977. Event ID 4100, Seattle City Council Legislative Department Audio Recordings (Record Series 4601-03).