In at least 18 instances in 2017 and 2018, Washington state’s King County exceeded the pollution limits at four wastewater treatment plants and now must pay a fine of $105,500 to the state Department of Ecology and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The violations came in the form of unpermitted combined sewer overflows (CSO) that entered Puget Sound, the Duwamish River, and Elliott Bay during the two-year time period. King County also reported one incident that involved the failure of a disinfection system at the Elliott West Treatment plant in April 2018. None of the violations, however, were found at the county’s main wastewater treatment plants—Brightwater, South Plant, and West Point.
In each case, the CSOs contained harmful bacteria and other pollutants that made the waters unsafe for humans and pets. This was in violation of the state water quality permit that regulates CSOs from parts of King County’s sewer collection system.
Under a 2013 agreement between the King County, the Ecology Department and the EPA, communities are required to eliminate overflows from combined sewage lines during high stormwater flows by 2030.
“While the county has completed projects to reduce CSO discharges over the last several years, additional work is needed to fully meet state requirements,” Ecology said in a statement, adding that it expects the county to “further reduce discharges as current and future projects come on line.”
Ecology said it will split the $105,500 penalty from King County equally with EPA and add its share to the state’s Coastal Protection Fund, which provides grants to public agencies and tribes for water quality restoration projects.