Just as the county moves into the next stage of the plan to reduce combined-sewer overflows (CSO) from West Seattle’s Murray Pump Station by razing homes to install a huge underground tank in the area shown above, questions have been raised about the overall cost-benefit efficiency of the ongoing state-mandated CSO-reduction programs that the city and county both are pursuing.
Those questions are not new, but they are suddenly in a bright spotlight because of a Seattle Times report – which even led King County Executive Dow Constantine to send a news release late today with his thoughts on the issue.
More on that ahead, but first, the latest on Murray, one of two county CSO-control projects now in the planning stages in West Seattle (the other is a “green stormwater” approach for the basin feeding the Barton pump station by the Fauntleroy ferry dock):
At the Morgan Community Association‘s recent quarterly meeting, Murray CSO project manager Erica Jacobs said they’ve chosen a design team – Bellevue-based HDR – and are in the “contract negotiation and execution stage,” with preliminary design work to start next month. The design process, Jacobs said, will take more than a year – the timetable projects “final design” will be done by December of 2012. Next month, she said, also is when the county expects to make purchase offers to property owners.
The state-mandated environmental-review process is closed, she added, saying it brought “eight formal comment letters” – and that all have been responded to. Next step, according to Jacobs, is a September public meeting to “introduce members of the design team,” once the contract is “initiated.” Crews will be boring at the site, too, to “gather information for technical parameters of the design,” Jacobs explained, including “the depths that will be needed for the storage tank.” Then in October, she said, a community “design advisory committee” will be formed.
But now, enter the Times story about the overall CSO program – read it here. Reporter Lynda V. Mapes‘ story doesn’t dispute the point that CSO control has made a difference in Puget Sound water quality; it focuses on how much money is scheduled to be spent to make an additional, relatively small reduction in the pollution from the overflows that happen during big rainstorms, and points out that the biggest pollution threat to Puget Sound right now is runoff, which the hundreds of millions slated for further CSO control won’t even touch. She quotes several authoritative sources as saying it seems like time to step back and re-examine priorities.
County Executive Constantine’s statement late today appears to reaffirm support for the ongoing projects – read on for the full text:
Lynda Mapes’ Seattle Times article highlights many important questions that should be part of a broader public discussion about protecting water quality, such as how we prioritize our investments, including controlling combined sewer overflows and better treating polluted runoff from our roads and neighborhoods.
King County strongly supports the objectives of the Clean Water Act and we will continue to comply with its requirements. We can’t ignore the localized health and environmental impacts of combined sewer overflows. We must be able to reconcile separate, often competing mandates. I believe we can achieve better outcomes if we work with stakeholders and encourage regulators to take a more integrated, watershed- and region-wide approach to cleaning up Puget Sound and other water bodies.
We’re taking this integrated approach in the Lower Duwamish, where King County is leading efforts to link CSO projects with river clean-up, better management of stormwater, and habitat restoration. I want a broader conversation about how we can bring a more holistic approach to setting priorities and tackling funding issues for Puget Sound as a whole.
Since the late 1980s, King County has made investments that have reduced combined sewer overflows by 61 percent. We’re now updating the plan that will guide the remaining CSO control investments. The public has told us that reducing these overflows is important. Now is the time to get stakeholder input on how we can maximize the value of our public investments within local watersheds and throughout Puget Sound.
The county’s home page for the Murray (Lowman Beach) project is here; the Barton “green stormwater” project info is here. Neither project is expected to be under construction before 2013.