May 4, 1998
King County Executive Ron Sims proposed to build a new wastewater treatment center near Woodinville and Bothell last week.
by Andrew Walgamott
MERCER ISLAND--With waves lapping at his feet and ducks feeding nearby, King County Executive Ron Sims early last week officially recommended building a new northern wastewater treatment plant, but said little about possible sites for the facility. The announcement came during a press conference at Luther Burbank Park on the shores of Lake Washington, the site of successful water clean-up efforts in the past. Building the northern plant to treat sewage and stormwater runoff is part of Sims' $1.086 billion plan to deal with growth and water quality over the next 40 years.
"Our growing population, and the impacts of that growth on our waters, threaten to exhaust our current system," said Sims. An additional 1.1 million new residents are expected in the county's wastewater system by the year 2030 on top of the 1.3 million living here now. The county's two existing plants are expected to reach capacity by 2010. Sims' plan also calls for expanding the Renton plant, digging a new outfall pipe to Puget Sound and controlling the overflow of untreated sewage into lakes and streams. Money would be set aside to study new technologies that may enhance the marketability of biosolids.
Sims also said the county was "going to be in the water reuse and reclamation business." He called the pumping of 250 million gallons of treated water into Puget Sound every day "a colossal waste." Both new and existing ratepayers would bear the costs. The plan will go before the King County Council for approval later this year.
Site not yet determined
Besides cost, the most contentious issue may be where the new plant will be built. So far, the county says it would be located somewhere near the King and Snohomish County line, in the "Northern Service Area" which includes lands between Shoreline and Woodinville, Bothell and Mill Creek. Bulging with new apartment complexes, the area is at the north end of the booming technology corridor. By the year 2030, the population there is expected to grow to just under 300,000 from 83,000 today. Sims said because the communities of Renton and Magnolia have shouldered the burden of treatment plants in the past, building in the fast-growing north end would be the most "equitable option for the region."
Reporters probing Sims for details on a rumored list of potential sites for the 50-acre facility didn't get far. "I have not seen a list. There is not a list," Sims denied, adding, "We have not predetermined where we want to go." Still, a Woodinville Water District document said the Wellington Hills Golf Course in Woodinville was being considered. And Snohomish County officials said sites near Bothell were possibilities. That city was recently briefed on the county's options. The possibility of locating on gas company property on Puget Sound has also been raised. While Christie True, the county's wastewater program manager, said it was premature to rule out any location, Sims said it probably wouldn't be located in "highly urbanized housing."
King County Council Chairwoman Louise Miller (R-Woodinville) said she wasn't concerned with the possibility that the plant could come to her district. She said mitigations and technology have softened the impact of existing plants on adjacent communities. "We can really demonstrate to people that we can do things very sensitively," she said. But Snohomish County Councilman Dave Somers (D-Monroe), whose district extends west to the Bothell-Everett highway urged King County to "look at the least-cost option. Expanding the existing facilities would be cheaper." He allowed that with technology, an innocuous plant could be built, though odor would remain an issue.
If the plan is approved, Sims will appoint a site selection committee which would look for large parcels of land "in the vicinity" of the northern service area. A site will be picked by 2001. With environmental review and design taking four years, and construction another five, Sims said it was important to act now. "It will never be cheaper to locate a new plant in a growing region," he said. The facility would treat effluent from the north as well as from Redmond and Totem Lake.
The backdrop of glittering Lake Washington was evocative of past water treatment efforts. Jim Ellis, who began the drive to clean up the lake 40 years ago by founding Metro, said at one time the lake was so polluted it stank. Swimming was prohibited. But Metro changed all that. "The truth of the matter now is that Lake Washington is swimmable and fishable," Ellis said. Sims told reporters, "It's either we have water quality now and use it, or sit back and let it degenerate. I can assure you the public won't be happy with government officials who sit back and let it degrade."
Sims' plan specifically calls for:
* $262 million to be spent on treatment facilities. An 18 million gallon per day (mgd) northern plant would be in operation by 2010, with expansions to 36 mgd and 54 mgd in 2030 and 2040, respectively. The Renton plant would be expanded from 115 mgd to 135 mgd by 2020;
* $489 million for conveyance. The York Pump Station in the Sammamish Valley would be modified to pump waste north instead of south. A tunnel would also need to be built to Puget Sound if the northern plant is located inland;
* $230 million to prevent overflows of sewer and wastewater into lakes and streams. Large underground tanks and tunnels would store flows during storm events, meeting state standards 10 years ahead of schedule.
* $85 million for recycling biosolids and evaluation of marketing of the resource;
* $20 million for investigating new ways to recycle and reuse water from treatment plants to meet needs in the region.
Customers would pay for the plan over the next 35 years. Adjusted to today's dollars, bills would actually drop from $19.10 a month today to an average of $18.37 by 2030. The county says this is possible because costs will be spread out across the population which is expected to grow. Rates would peak, in today's dollars, at $21.50 in 12 years. But adjusted for inflation, monthly bills would be nearly $34 in 2010 and $45 by 2030. Still, one unknown that could affect rates and construction costs is the Chinook salmon recovery plan the region must address.
Before going to the County Council, the plan will go to County Councilman Larry Phillips' Water Quality Committee. Philips, a Democrat, represents the Magnolia area which fought expansion of the West Point plant in the 1980s. Though Phillips said he looks forward to seeing Sims' plan before the County Council, it wasn't clear if the Republican majority there would support it.
While Councilman Rob McKenna (R-Bellevue) said the council owed ratepayers a close look at the package which would cost $300 million more than expanding Renton and West Point plants, Miller said it wasn't Republican versus Democrats. She called it a regional issue instead, saying, "All of us need to be part of the solution."
To reach the public, Sims' office has launched an aggressive Internet campaign. A copy of the plan has been posted to the county's website and can be accessed at