Protecting Lower Duwamish Waterway
Learn how SPU is keeping pollution out of the Duwamish River.
The Lower Duwamish Waterway (LDW) remains a treasure for the Seattle area despite a legacy of pollution. Once a meandering river, the LDW was dredged and straightened in the late 1800s to make way for large shipping vessels. Decades of polluting industry along its banks left significant contamination in the mud of the waterway and along its banks.
Today the LDW is a major shipping route for cargo, generates significant jobs, provides a recreational playground and remains an important habitat for marine life.
In 2001, The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed a 5.5 mile stretch of the LDW as a Superfund cleanup site – meaning, it is among the most polluted sites in the nation. The pollutants of most concern include metals, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and phthalates (plasticizers).
View the steps of our pollution source control program.
Lower Duwamish Pollution Source Control Program
The City has an aggressive source control program to keep pollution from entering the LDW. It focuses on three elements:
- Business inspections
- Source tracing
- Pipe cleaning
These elements are described in detail below.
The City inspects and works with businesses to ensure that they are using best management practices to keep pollution out of storm drains that flow to the LDW. The inspections address hazardous and industrial waste management and stormwater pollution prevention. Since 2003, the City has inspected most industrial/commercial properties (pdf) that drain to the LDW.
Source Tracing/Characterization Sampling
The City’s source tracing program is designed to identify sources of pollution by collecting sediment samples in catch basins and pipes (pdf) at key locations within the drainage/combined sewer service areas. When elevated levels of contaminants are found, additional sampling and inspections are conducted upstream to locate the source. Some of the pollutants looked for include metals (arsenic, copper, lead, mercury, and zinc), semi-volatile organic compounds, PCBs, and total petroleum hydrocarbons.
The City’s storm drain system transports stormwater, but also picks up pollution along the way. When SPU finds high levels of pollution in storm drain sediment, it jets and cleans the pipes to stop pollution from reaching the waterway. Material removed from the pipe is collected, dewatered, and shipped offsite for disposal. The pipe is then checked periodically to see whether the contamination comes back. If it does, the whole process starts over again with more sampling and business inspections to find and control the source.
SPU works with businesses in the LDW and is aggressively tracing sources of pollution to prevent it from reaching the waterway, but everyone can make a difference in the health of our watersheds.
You Can Help Keep Pollution Out of the Lower Duwamish Waterway
We can all work together to protect the LDW. Take advantage of the following services SPU provides to residents to help protect the Duwamish:
- Auto maintenance tips and FREE workshops
- Storm drain stencil kits
- Household hazardous waste prevention tips and FREE disposal of certain hazardous household items
- Participate in one of our FREE natural gardening classes offered in the Spring, Summer and Fall. Subscribe to receive notice of class schedule.
- Use compost (instead of fertilizer) to slow stormwater runoff. Watch for FREE compost promotions like Compost Days in newsletters and bill stuffers.
Learn about the City’s efforts to clean up the LDW with project partners
The Lower Duwamish Waterway Group (LDWG) is a public-private partnership that consists of the City of Seattle, King County, Port of Seattle, and the Boeing Company.
The City’s pollution detective work is part of a greater effort by the Source Control Work Group (SCWG) to keep pollution out of the LDW. Led by the Washington Department of Ecology, members of the SCWG include U.S. EPA, City of Seattle, King County, and the Port of Seattle.
- View the City of Seattle's 2012 update on source control activities (pdf).
- Read the December 2010 source control progress report (pdf) on our source control work in the Duwamish.
- Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition
- View the latest Habitat Restoration along the LDW (pdf).
View earlier progress reports:
Learn more about pollution source control or how to report a problem.