by: David Ham Updated:
SEATTLE - The city of Seattle and King County have settled a federal lawsuit to upgrade their combined stormwater systems that have causes more than a billion gallons of raw sewage to spill into local waterways.
The lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Washington says that from 2006 through 2010, King County discharged about 900 million gallons of raw sewage. The suit says the city of Seattle discharged 200 million gallons of raw sewage from 2007 through 2010. The problem is blamed on an outdated stormwater system that overflows with sewage during heavy rains.
In Seattle, the waterways that had raw sewage overflow include: the Puget Sound, Lake Washington, Elliott Bay, Lake Union, Green Lake, Salmon Bay and the Duwamish River.
In King County the waterways affected includes: the Puget Sound, Lake Washington, Elliott Bay and the Duwamish River.
"I would say that the city, while we always try maintaining our sewage system, we obviously had some gaps in our maintenance activities. Since then we've done an excellent job of remedying that," said Andrew Lee of Seattle Public Utilities.
Seattle Public Utilities and King County say they have been working for years on making improvements on the storm water system before the settlement.
Now the settlement agreement requires the city and the county to make $1.46 billion in infrastructure upgrades to fix the problem. The city and county were also fined a combined amount of $750,000.
Many of the infrastructure improvements involve using "green infrastructure.”
"Instead of big pipes and cisterns and underground tanks, what you'll see is more rain gardens, more amenities out in the streets," said Dennis McLerran, EPA administrator for the region that includes Washington State.
When the improvements are finished, sewage overflow is expected to drop by 99 percent.
"We felt that this is a really important investment that's going to protect our waterways for hundreds of years," said Lee.
The settlement, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.
To comment, go to: www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html