Seattle Negotiates Proposed Plan to Protect Local Waterways
The City of Seattle, led by Seattle Public Utilities, is announcing a major milestone in its efforts to protect the area's waterways and quality of life, and I'm excited to share the news.
In a first-of-its-kind agreement, the City has negotiated a proposed consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice, allowing a more flexible and integrated approach for Seattle's compliance with the Clean Water Act and state regulations.
The proposed agreement, which goes before the City Council for discussion, would enable Seattle to finish the job started more than 50 years ago to protect Seattle's waterways from polluted stormwater and sewage overflows that threaten human and aquatic health.
If approved, the agreement would enable Seattle to focus first on investments that achieve the greatest environmental benefits. It is also expected to save the utility approximately $375 million in future operating and maintenance costs, primarily because Seattle Public Utilities has been able to demonstrate it already uses best practices for inspecting and managing its existing sewer pipes and systems.
But no matter how well we operate and maintain the system, we also need to make major investments in programs and capital improvement projects to clean up local waterways.
In fact, over the next 13 years, the City plans to spend approximately $500 million on construction projects – including retrofits, green infrastructure, and large underground storage tanks – to implement the proposed agreement.
Obviously, this is a significant amount of money, but with the new approach outlined in the consent decree the dollars will go further and do more.
In 2010 alone, approximately 190 million gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater spilled from city-owned sewers into Lake Washington, Lake Union, local creeks, the Duwamish River, and Elliott Bay. In addition, every year stormwater washes more than 8,200 tons of toxic metals and volatile chemicals into these water bodies.
While these are sobering statistics, the good news is that since the 1960s we've already controlled more than 90 percent of the polluted discharges. It's the remaining small percent, however, that will be the most difficult and costly to control.
In the past, combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and stormwater compliances were enforced as separate and distinct programs by the EPA. Last October, the agency issued a memorandum outlining an emphasis on more integrated planning, which opened the door for Seattle and other cities.
This more holistic approach allows us to make smarter, more cost-effective investments, while enabling us to use the right tool at the right time at the right place.
Final approval of the consent decree probably won't take place until the end of the year, which is also when plans for maintaining and operating the current system are due to our regulators.
Seattle Public Utilities