Department of Ecology News Release - November 28, 2016

King County and Seattle to pay fines for sewer overflow violations

SEATTLE – King County and Seattle will pay separate penalties to the state Department of Ecology and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violating certain combined sewer overflow (CSO) provisions of their water quality permits with the state.

The county and city have legal agreements, called consent decrees, with the state and federal governments that require them to control their combined sewer overflows and protect water quality. The consent decrees require payments for CSO violations.

King County will pay $63,500 for 23 violations, and Seattle will pay $33,500 for 10 violations that occurred in 2015. The incidents cited were reported to Ecology and EPA by King County and Seattle.

In 2015, King County exceeded pollutant limits 18 times in water discharged from three of its four CSO treatment plants. The county also violated annual limits on solids removal at two of the plants and reported noncompliant discharges from three other CSO outfalls.

Seattle last year had two unpermitted overflows from CSO outfalls during dry weather periods and seven other preventable overflows at different locations. The city also had a late notification about a 10th overflow.

The discharges entered Puget Sound, Elliott Bay, Lake Washington, Lake Union and Longfellow Creek.

Combined sewers – common in older parts of many cities – carry both sewage and stormwater. They were built with overflow outfalls that release untreated sewage and stormwater to Seattle’s lakes, waterways and Puget Sound when storms cause high flows in the sewers.

The EPA and Ecology made the agreements with King County and Seattle in 2013 to settle a federal suit against the two local governments, which own and operate different parts of the sewer system in Seattle. The suit sought to enforce federal Clean Water Act requirements on overflows from combined sewers in the city.

Nationwide, EPA has signed 62 CSO consent decrees with local governments.

Under the consent decrees and state/federal water quality permits, King County and Seattle have committed to projects that will reduce the likelihood of CSOs in all but unusually large storms.

“King County is taking water quality compliance very seriously.  We will spend $1.43 billion over the next 14 years to ensure all our CSOs are in compliance by 2030,” said Christie True, King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks Director.

“Reducing combined sewer overflows to protect water quality is a priority for the City of Seattle,” said Mami Hara, Seattle Public Utilities general manager and chief executive officer. “We are committed to working with our state and federal regulators to sustain and improve the quality of life and the environment here.”

The county and city each may invoke dispute resolution procedures in their consent decrees if they believe Ecology and EPA have assessed the penalties incorrectly.

Ecology will deposit its half of the penalties into the state’s Coastal Protection Fund which issues grants to public agencies and tribes for water quality restoration projects.


Sandy Howard, Ecology communications, 360-407-6408, @EcologyWA

Mark Henley, Ecology Water Quality Program, 425-649-7033

Doug Williams, King County communications, 206-477-4543

Andy Ryan, City of Seattle communications, 206-684-7688