County reveals its West Seattle sewer-overflow-reduction choices

(UPDATED 5:22 PM: At the end of the story, we’ve added new information from the county, including an open letter to the community, and information on how residents of the proposed-for-purchase Lowman Beach properties were notified. ADDITIONAL UPDATE 6:35 PM with Fauntleroy reaction)

(County map showing where the “green stormwater infrastructure” is proposed for the area feeding the Barton pump station; go here for larger version)
ORIGINAL 2:40 PM REPORT: Just in from King County Wastewater Treatment Division: The county has announced its preferred alternatives for facilities to achieve a required reduction in CSOs (combined-sewer overflows) at the Murray (Lowman Beach) and Barton (next to the Fauntleroy ferry dock) Pump Stations. For Murray, they propose building a million-gallon storage tank under private property across the street from Lowman Beach Park – which the county would have to buy (even if that involves “eminent domain“); for Barton, the Green Stormwater Infrastructure project – read on for the news release; more to come – the process of arriving at these choices has been going on for more than 3 years (with major acceleration in fall of last year). and today’s announcement is the first step toward an in-depth environmental review:

We’ll be continuing to expand this story beyond the news release – but wanted to share it, and related links, ASAP. (The Murray/Lowman process, you might recall, had a citizens’ advisory group in session last summer, and the county’s recommendation is *not* their choice, which was storage under the south Lincoln Park parking lot):

County identifies alternatives to control combined sewer overflows in West Seattle

Proposals preserve access to public parks, reflect community preferences and meet regulatory requirements for clean water; formal SEPA review is next

After receiving a great deal of community input and reviewing several options for each location, projects that will help protect public health and water quality near two popular West Seattle recreation areas will move forward for further environmental review. The recommendations were made by the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks Director Christie True.

To control combined sewer overflows (CSOs) from King County’s Murray Avenue Pump Station, one project would entail building a 1-million-gallon storage tank beneath private property across from Seattle’s Lowman Beach Park.

The second project would employ a system of rain gardens and swales – known as a Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) project – between the sidewalks and streets in the Sunrise Heights and Westwood neighborhoods to reduce overflows from the Barton Pump Station near Seattle’s Lincoln Park.

True said both proposals will be evaluated as part of a formal environmental review process conducted under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) in spring 2011. “Both neighborhoods are densely developed, and that limits the number of suitable locations where these projects can be built,” she said.

“Residents expressed a wide range of opinions and preferences during our public process, and an overwhelming number opposed any major construction inside either Lincoln or Lowman Beach Parks,” she added. “Those options were not pursued because they posed an unacceptable level of impact to the community. We also had to consider the overall cost and technical feasibility.”

The project recommendations seek to balance technical and community considerations with state and federal requirements that King County control sewer overflows at the Barton and Murray pump stations to the state standard of no more than one event per year.

King County’s Barton Street Pump Station, located south of Seattle’s Lincoln Park, currently experiences an average of four overflows a year, while the Murray Avenue Pump Station north of Lincoln Park experiences an average of five.

During heavy rains, the GSI alternative would control CSOs at Barton Pump Station using soils and vegetation to capture and reduce stormwater that would enter the conveyance system. The area’s gentle topography and the connection of street drains to the combined sewer system make the alternative technically feasible.

West Seattle neighbors expressed support for this environmentally friendly solution, which also supports the County’s commitment to energy conservation and sustainability.

Identifying a CSO solution in the Murray basin was significantly more difficult due to the area’s steep terrain and the way in which sewer lines are configured. The volume of stormwater and wastewater to be stored is 10 times greater than it is in the Barton basin. For these reasons, GSI was not a feasible choice for this location.

Moving forward with a proposal for a storage tank across the street from Lowman Beach Park would require King County to purchase six private properties, a fact that County Executive Dow Constantine called regrettable, but necessary.

“As a life-long West Seattleite, I am keenly aware of the importance of every home, whether rental or owner-occupied, to the identity and stability of our community,” said the Executive. “However, the alternatives all have impacts of their own.”

The Murray proposal has the advantage of reducing the impacts of construction on park users and other neighbors. The proposal would also enable some future pump station construction that otherwise would be required in Lowman Beach Park to now be located across the street in the acquired site.

From an operational standpoint, the Murray proposal offers the advantage of a single facility in the immediate vicinity of the existing pump station, which supports reliable operation and efficient maintenance. The County will also seek to work with neighbors and the City of Seattle to make the completed site an asset to the park and to the community.

The SEPA process, scheduled to begin in early 2011, will allow public comment and continued opportunity for stakeholders to remain informed and involved. King County Wastewater Treatment Division staff is committed to working closely with affected community members through design, permitting and construction, which is scheduled to begin in 2013.

We have various requests out for comment and more information.

ADDED 5:22 PM: First responses are from the county. Natural Resources/Parks director Christie True – whose departments include the Wastewater Treatment Division – has written a letter to the community with more details on the decisions and reasons – you can read it in its entirety here.

WTD spokesperson Annie Kolb-Nelson also has answered our question about how the county conveyed the decision to the owners of the six Lowman Beach properties it would have to purchase, whether the sale was voluntary or via eminent domain:

Today county staff contacted the six property owners by e-mail, phone and hand-carried letter to let them know about the recommendation. We’ve also been in contact with these folks since earlier in the year to let them know that King County identified their property as being in the footprint of a possible county project.

In terms of property acquisition, King County has established procedures in place to ensure property owners are treated fairly, and these procedures comply with applicable state, federal and county laws. We work closely with owners to negotiate a fair price for their property and offer relocation assistance.

Kolb-Nelson also provided this link to information about the county’s “land acquisition and relocation procedures.” Regarding community meetings to discuss the recommendations, she said the county is focusing first on “working to get on the meeting agendas of existing community groups like the Fauntleroy Community Association or the (Morgan Community Association).” (We’re awaiting comment from representatives of both those groups.)

6:35 PM: From Bruce Butterfield, president of the Fauntleroy Community Association:

Everyone agrees the county needs to move forward on plans to cut back CSO occurences in the sound. It is especially important here; we have two sewage pump stations within a little over a mile of each other, at the ferry dock in Fauntleroy Cove (Cove Park) and at Lowman Beach Park. Heavy rainfall like last night can’t be contained when it comes all at once. From the beach or standing on the dock you can see where it bubbles up just north of the end of the dock. It’s sickening when you know what it is…and you can bet it’s also happening off Lowman at the same time. With this week’s weather forecast, this seems like an appropriate week for the county’s announcement.

I’m sure many in the Lower Fauntleroy and Lincoln Park area will be relieved that the south parking lot option is off the drawing board—it would have meant three or four major construction projects within a half-mile of the ferry dock beginning in 2011 and lasting about three years. We’ll still work with the county to mitigate the effects of the two new RapidRide bus stops at the dock and the Murray Pump Station upgrade, which are scheduled simultaneously.

12 Replies to "County reveals its West Seattle sewer-overflow-reduction choices"

  • Gene December 8, 2010 (3:19 pm)

    Very glad to hear they are going with the green infrastructure option for Barton. That should make for prettier neighborhoods and by most indicators it should be more cost effective in the long run. It will also be interesting to see if it helps restore some of the more natural drainage flows in that area of West Seattle.

    The Murray choice I am sure is going to be a LOT more contentious, and unfortunately don’t think there was a “good” choice there that would keep everyone happy and provide a good long term “solution.”

    Thanks for the coverage WSB!

  • kathleen December 8, 2010 (3:39 pm)

    The “green” option is going to add a lot more water to an already saturated hill. It may be pretty at the top of the hill, but there will be more landslides and mudflows at the bottom.

  • Sage December 8, 2010 (3:40 pm)

    Kudos to the county for choosing the green stormwater option for Barton. Excited to see this happen in the neighborhood!

  • BB December 8, 2010 (3:57 pm)

    Great news for Barton!!! I am so glad they decided not to locate these facilities in public parks.

  • christopherboffoli December 8, 2010 (5:45 pm)

    If anyone would like to see what the proposed swales may look like, you could check out the vegetated infiltration and conveyance swales that have been in use for years in various places around High Point. It really is a great system. Looks nice too.

  • Bill Reiswig December 8, 2010 (8:35 pm)

    I would agree that the swales in High Point are pretty impressive… they seem to slow and hold a good deal of water and are beautiful to boot. The mix of plants seems to get little in the way of weeds and is very diverse.

  • JoB December 8, 2010 (8:54 pm)

    these are much better solutions than i expected

  • Yardvark December 8, 2010 (10:40 pm)

    Excellent to hear that they selected the natural stormwater solution for Barton! It wasn’t ever clear why we were even considering the others.

    I’m disspointed that there don’t seem to be any natural stormwater management elements to the Murray plan. The County dramatically underestimated private water harvesting and management participation rates. I’d rather see money for clean water cisterns than for a big sewage holder. But so be it.

    Either way, thanks for all the hard work that went into this difficult process!

  • West Seattle Tool Library December 10, 2010 (6:44 am)

    For anyone interested in cisterns, rainbarrels, and other water harvesting systems, The West Seattle Tool Library is hosting a free, community conversation this Saturday from 12-2pm as part of its Ask an Expert series.

    We’ll have experts on hand to give you idea of what it would take for you to become an active part of the overall stormwater solution. Come curious!

    We’ll also have cookies.

  • SEBest December 10, 2010 (3:45 pm)


    I live in the Lowman Beach Park neighborhood and I consider Lincoln Park to be my backyard. I was very interested when King County personnel announced that converting Lowman Beach Park to a large sewage storage facility with pump system was one of the three preferred choices for handling the sewage overflow problem associated with too much rainwater coming through storm drains during major storms. Of course, all of us who use Lowman Beach Park were interested and a flurry of activity and letters to political big wigs followed.

    I did not write any letters or contact anyone. At that time, I was helping with care giving for a close family member and did not have any time or energy to spare. After my loved one passed away, however, I did become involved with the Citizen’s Advisory Group after it had already met several times. Many of my neighbors were part of the group and I met many more bright and interested people through the meetings. King County personnel jumped through hoop after hoop to provide the members of this group with background information concerning the need for additional sewage storage and pumping within the Barton and Murray Basins.

    I learned many things that the public should be aware of.

    1) Water (and sewage) flow downhill unless you spend quite a lot of money to deter gravity.
    2) The Barton and Murray Basins are geographical areas designated on King County maps that naturally funnel water (and sewage) into certain locations on the western, or downhill, edges of those basins.
    3) Lowman Beach Park is the natural location where untreated storm water (and sewage) from the Murray Basin stops unless you want it to go straight into Puget Sound.
    4) The Fauntleroy Ferry terminal is the natural location where untreated storm water (and sewage) from the Barton Basin stops unless you want it to go straight into Puget Sound.
    5) Untreated storm water and sewage from the Barton and Murray Basins are pumped, at significant cost, underground to the West Point Treatment Plant in Magnolia, except in storm events when excess flow can sometimes be discharged at the Alki Treatment facility.
    6) There are physical limitations to the amount of water (and sewage) that can be pumped at any one time.
    7) These physical limitations are exceeded when there are either storms with rain coming down like “cats and dogs,” or when there is lesser rainfall for a protracted period of time that saturates the ground to a point where it can absorb no more.
    8) These physical limitations result in untreated storm water (and sewage) going straight into Puget Sound.
    9) Washington State EPA is not happy when this happens, nor should any of us be happy to have such crud polluting the waters that we all love.
    10) No one wants a sewage storage facility in their neighborhood, aka NIMBY.

    All of these factors are important. We examined the subject upside down and backwards. Did we really need a storage facility at all if we could slow down some of the storm water long enough to get past the peak period of incapacity? All of us whose downspouts funnel water into the street, or into special storm water drainage systems, are unknowingly contributing quite a bit of storm water into this system and contributing to the “peak” overflows. If we could convince enough citizens in Murray Basin to create special rain gardens on their private property that would collect rainwater and slowly absorb it, then we wouldn’t need to store so much at the bottom of any basin. Our Citizen Advisory Group engaged in heated discussions about what percentage of our West Seattle neighbors would voluntarily choose to help out the problem. Some people thought as many as 50% would go for it; the majority was more pessimistic. The bottom line was that, in the Murray Basin, King County could not really count on this Green Stormwater Infrastructure System to reduce the amount of storm water heading down hill in any meaningful way for the short term. Hopefully, we will be able to generate a citizen’s group to push voluntary Green Stormwater Infrastructure in West Seattle. We will need to do something to slow down the future need to build yet more storage as we continue to produce more sewage and storm water due to population explosion, global warming , or both. However, our group concluded we could not count on this green approach to solve our current problem.

    We talked at lot about whose water (and sewage) it was anyhow. Why should Murray Basin have to deal with a million gallons of water (and sewage) generated by Barton Basin? Why can’t Barton Basin find a place to handle their own problems? The answer is that Barton Basin is geographically at the head of a stream of flow that by necessity increases as it moves “downstream” to the West Point Treatment plant. King County has been working to develop Barton storage in the parking lot behind the Fauntleroy School or in rain gardens in public right of way.. That is not quite enough; more storage and more pumping is needed.

    The Murray Basin citizens strongly wanted a solution that would handle the Barton Basin storage in the Barton Basin, which would mean a million gallon storage facility in Barton Basin and a half million gallon storage facility at the bottom of the Murray Basin. The bottom of the Barton Basin is the Fauntleroy Ferry or close by. That was the reason the underground storage beneath the South Parking Lot of Lincoln Park was considered. However, I disagree with this choice because I strongly believe that ALL our parks are needed as parks. Dual use degrades the parks because King County will always need to “invade” to provide for needed maintenance and the parks will ultimately become attractive industrial areas.

    The Citizen’s Advisory Group also discovered a Seattle Municipal Ordinance that prohibits diverting Seattle Parks to other governmental uses without providing a new park of similar size and use as a substitute. The director of planning for the Seattle Parks Dept assured this group that Lowman Beach Park was unique as a park and no other publicly owned location would adequately provide the same amenities as this waterfront park. The ordinance had been driven by a citizen’s initiative fueled by past loss of parks to other public needs. The ordinance specifically provides that any citizen can challenge the diversion of Seattle Parks in court. I am sure that there would be many among us willing to challenge either the use of Lincoln Park or Lowman Beach Park based upon this ordinance.

    What to do? The need is clear and obvious. The answer is to find an area that is at the bottom of a basin that is big enough to handle the temporary storage requirements during peak rainfall and the pumps required to get the stuff down to the West Point Treatment Facility. The most obvious location is the area immediately East of Lowman Beach Park. There are approximately 6 properties owned by private parties and a large area that is presently Othello SW.

    Yes, I am suggesting eminent domain. The concept has received a black eye recently because properties were involuntarily purchased for the infamous monorail, then sold for a profit after the monorail was defeated. Many individuals were burned and the public was incensed. However, eminent domain is designed to meet the needs of the many by purchasing private land of a few for a fair market value. This location allows the use of gravity to ensure storm water (and sewage) get where they need to go in the most economical manner. It would save both Lincoln and Lowman Beach Parks. The area could be made into an attractive facility that would compliment Lowman Beach Park rather than degrade it.

    The bottom line is that, despite the fact that the Murray Basin Citizen’s Advisory Group discarded this approach, I would support such a decision if made by King County because it preserves our resources and does the least harm to the least number of people.

    Sharon E. Best

  • Bettytheyeti December 11, 2010 (12:17 pm)

    Thank you Sharon for an informed rebuttal to what I had been presented by the county. I was having a hard time wrapping my brain around a 1 “million” gal storage facility at the Lowman Beach Park and the green solution at Fauntleroy.

  • WSDreamer December 12, 2010 (10:21 am)

    Hopefully this area will be included in the next Rainwise rebate program for rain gardens —

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