Anne-Marije Rook
Protecting the Puget Sound: Seattle City Council unanimously approved a first-of-its-kind agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Ecology that will ensure the systematic control of Seattle's chronic sewage overflows.

Seattle City Council approves plan to protect local waters from sewage overflow pollutants

On Monday, June 18, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a first-of-its-kind agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Ecology that will ensure the systematic control of Seattle's chronic sewage overflows, while allowing the city to use cost-effective and environmentally beneficial projects to control and treat both storm water and sewage.

The agreement, which took city, state and federal officials four years to negotiate, could save utility ratepayers as much as $375 million through 2025.

"This is a smart, responsible, and cost-effective way for Seattle to meet the goals of the federal Clean Water Act — using a new integrated approach that allows us better tools and strategic investments to protect the environment," said Councilmember Jean Godden, chair of the Libraries Utilities and Center Committee, in a statement.

"This plan is a win-win. I'm honored to work together with environmental groups to ensure the protection of our waters for generations to come," added Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, Libraries Utilities and Center Committee member.

The vote has the support of key environmental leaders who had earlier raised questions about whether certain toxic compounds important to Puget Sound would be included in future analysis under the consent decree. The final legislation satisfies these environmental concerns. 

"This is a great start to protect our investment in the Superfund cleanup of the Duwamish River and shows the communities around the Duwamish that things can get better," said James Rasmussen of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/TAG, in a press release.

"We applaud the city for working proactively to address CSOs and storm water as a partner in restoring the health of Puget Sound," added Tom Bancroft, Executive Director of People for Puget Sound.

In 2010, 190 million gallons of combined raw sewage and storm water spilled from city-owned pipes into Lake Washington, Lake Union, local creeks, the Duwamish River, and Elliott Bay, creating significant health and environmental risks.

Under the proposed plan, Seattle agrees it will meet its commitment to clean up sewage overflows under a specific and regulated schedule, to an average of one overflow per outfall per year (the standard established by the Washington state Department of Ecology) and meet requirements of the federal Clean Water Act.

Over the next 13 years, the city estimates it will spend about $500 million on capital construction projects, including retrofits, green infrastructure and large underground storage tanks, to implement the proposed agreement.

The plan next goes to the Mayor for signature followed by a federal court review, which will include a public hearing. The proposed agreement is expected to be finalized by the end of the year.

For more information about Seattle's efforts to protect our waterways, go to www.seattle.gov/cs..

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