Northwest NEWS

July 12, 1999

Front Page

Political stalemate looms over new sewage plan

by Perucci Ferraiuolo

   King County Executive Ron Sims and the King County Council have come to what some officials say is a stalemate over the proposed Regional Wastewater Services Plan (RWSP), which will provide improvements to and expansion of near capacity wastewater treatment and related services to the rapidly growing region far into the next millennium.

   At a July 1 meeting requested by Sims with the cities of Kenmore and Lake Forest Park, the executive presented his plan. County Councilmembers Maggi Fimia and Rob McKenna also attended and presented the council's alternative plan.

   "Our discussion centered on a second Kenmore Interceptor Plan presented by the council as an amendment to Sims' plan. Lake Forest Park and Kenmore have hired ST Engineering of Woodinville to review capacity for the existing system and the assumptions for growth and its effect on flow into the proposed system, as well as the infiltration and inflow assumptions. The standards that the county designs to are based on the average wet weather flow for 20-year storms. We are concerned about back-to-back events and whether the system would be able to handle that without discharge into the lake or backing up into people's homes or businesses," said Steve Anderson, Kenmore City Manager.

   "The Kenmore interceptor is the most studied plan in King County history," says Fimia, "but we have always used temporary fixes. Average storage is fine, but we don't always have average flows."

   Officials say that the average wet weather flow treatment capacity of the King County system will be 248 million gallons per day (mgd). Based on current projections, an additional 35 mgd system capacity will be needed by 2030. And beginning in 2030, the plan would add 36 mgd, bringing system capacity to 322 mgd by the year 2040. But those figures were based on an earlier Environmental Impact Study. Expanding the projections, an additional 57 mgd system would be needed by 2030, bringing total capacity to 305 mgd, and 146 more mgd would be needed by the time the urban growth area is built out on approximately 2050, bringing total capacity to 394 mgd.

   According to the County Executive's Preferred plan submitted to the Council for approval, a new third treatment plant, and the pipes that go with it, will provide more capacity and more flexibility for the future and, to reduce costs, the County will work with local sewer agencies to fix and prevent leaks that allow rain and groundwater to enter the wastewater system.

   In addition, Sims' plan pledged that the County will continue to reduce combined sewer overflows in the oldest part of the system and that, in the future, highly treated wastewater could indirectly supplement the water supply for the growing region, leaving more fresh water in the streams for fish.

   In a move that inflamed the County Executive, though, the County Council amended Sims' $1.2 billion blueprint, favoring the addition of, among other things, a "Kenmore Tunnel"--a 48-inch, five-mile long, underwater, pier-supported pipeline located along the western shore of Lake Washington from Kenmore to Matthews Beach Park.

   According to the Council, a recent Metro study confirmed that the existing Kenmore Lake line is nearing its design capacity of 26 mgd. In the early 1990s, lake line capacity limitations were known to cause three storm-related overflows.

   The Council also emphasized that there would be no more "band-aid" approaches to fortifying the wastewater corridor. Building a Kenmore tunnel, they hold, will give the area both certainty and flexibility and save money in the long run.

   Tunnel construction, the Council says, should have been done 10 years ago. Instead, the County has spent almost $60 million on storage that fills up in a day, and expensive diversion projects to take flows away from the present Kenmore pipe and West Point and send them down to the East Plant. Sims' plan, the Council maintains, would add another $21-$68 million for storage instead of investing in a Kenmore tunnel, and most of the funds proposed by Sims would be used up by existing flows, and not by new growth needs, as intended.

   But there are dissenters. According to Bill Tracy, commissioner for the Southwest Suburban Sewer District, Seattle City Councilmember Margaret Pageler, Chuck Mosher (the Deputy Mayor of Bellevue), and Auburn Mayo, Chuck Booth, Sims' plan makes sense.

   "The plan endorsed by Sims calls for an additional $1 billion investment in the system to keep up with the growth of the region and to protect our precious natural resources," the quartet penned in a Seattle Times editorial. "Considering the return on this investment, the lasting protection of Puget Sound and Lake Washington, and the continued assurance of public health and safety, we think this is well worth the cost."

   But others, like County Councilmember Brian Derdowski, call for the amendment. "The proposed plan allows for sewer overflows to the Duwamish River ten times more frequently than allowed under the current plan," he says. "Everywhere else, we are talking about improving standards to protect salmon, but here we are considering lowering standards. It doesn't make sense. If we can afford to spend a billion dollars to accommodate future growth, we can afford to protect the water quality of our rivers."

   In a Seattle Times editorial, Sims, who is reportedly against a Kenmore Tunnel, says he has spent five years studying the options for meeting the needs of the next century. "Community leaders and citizens have been involved (in the plan) every step of the way," he writes. "It was they who decided growth should pay for growth in future sewage rates, and even then the maximum increase when adjusted for inflation is approximately five dollars ... Let us always be vigilant for ways to save money and add value to what we do, but let's not risk our water quality or waster time on non-issues."

   Councilmember Rob McKenna sees it differently. "The Kenmore Tunnel makes sense for three critical reasons," he says. "It is cost-effective as a mechanism for both sewage storage and conveyance, and a flexible part of a three plant sewage treatment system. It also better protects the environment by much more effectively reducing the risk of sewage overflows from the lake line into Lake Washington and sewage back-ups into people's homes caused by the lake line's inadequate capacity."

   But professional engineer and retired Metro/King County Operations Manager Gordon Gabrielson says it's time to finally do it right. "King County has spent more money to avoid building the parallel to the lake line than the lake line would have cost," he says. "The action the County is proposing now, storage and a new treatment plant, will cost $300 million more than building the parallel to the lake line and treating sewage at the existing plants. It is not responsible to propose storage, which is not effective at eliminating overflows, and a treatment plant which may not be possible to build, as solutions to the Kenmore area overflows."

   Threatening to veto the Council's amendment, Sims brought up the conundrum of an impasse that would end in a state-imposed moratorium on future development in King County. According to reports, Sims' aides recently promoted a letter from John Glynn, regional manager of the State Department of Ecology, that indicated he would impose that moratorium.

   "I am going to fight for what I want on this one," Sims is quoted as saying. Reportedly, if Sims does veto the Council's amendment, the County may fall back on the existing master plan which is to build the Kenmore interceptor per the master plan adopted in 1958. Invariably, the plan is a contest of wills that just might end up a pipe dream.

   For more information, you can access King County's website at