Department of Ecology News Release - May 22, 2014

City of Snoqualmie fined $32,000 for sewage treatment violation
Alarm failure led to 420,000-gallon release of partially treated wastewater

SNOQUALMIE – The city of Snoqualmie faces a $32,000 penalty from the Washington Department of Ecology for failing to properly prepare for and respond to a power outage at the city’s wastewater treatment plant last fall.

“Wastewater treatment plants must be properly operated, maintained, and equipped at all times to protect human health and the environment,” said Heather Bartlett, Ecology’s Water Quality Program manager. “The public has every right to expect that wastewater treatment plants have reliable systems in place to alert staff to possible problems when they arise, even when they occur after hours.”

Chain of events

A power outage on the night of Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, caused critical equipment to stop working. At the same time, a malfunctioning alarm system failed to alert operators of the outage. In addition, the plant’s backup chlorine disinfection system was not in place. Plant operators did not know about the outage until the next evening when other city staff checking on a nearby facility noticed a problem.

The operators re-started the treatment equipment and monitored the wastewater effluent discharged from the plant to ensure pollutant levels gradually returned to normal. City staff waited until the following Monday to contact Ecology and report the problem.

The combination of events led to the discharge of approximately 420,000 gallons of partially treated effluent into the Snoqualmie River with excessive levels of bacteria and turbidity, a measure of the water’s clarity. Bacteria can place people’s health at risk. High turbidity, or cloudiness, can harm fish gills.

Three things went wrong

The city violated three conditions of their water quality permit:

Ecology is working with Snoqualmie to set a timetable for corrections to ensure no repeat of the violations in future power outages.

Ecology penalties may be appealed to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board.

###

Contacts:

Larry Altose, communications, 425-649-7009, @ecyseattle

Shawn McKone, water quality, 425-649-7037