After reading Susanna Lin’s excellent article on Urban Villages, I decided to “dive deeper” into the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) that she referred to as it was hard for me to believe that in this day and age we would be dumping sewage into our waterways. The City of Seattle defines Combined Sewer Overflow as follows:
“In Seattle, like many older cities, sewer pipes carry both wastewater (used water and sewage that goes down the drain in homes and businesses) and storm water (rain or snow that washes off of streets and parking lots) to a sewage treatment plant. In many parts of Seattle the mixed wastewater and storm water flow together in a single pipe. During a heavy rain, the pipes may get too full and start to overflow into Lake Union, Lake Washington, the Duwamish River or Puget Sound. When this happens, it is called a COMBINED SEWER OVERFLOW (CSO). This provides a “safety valve” that prevents back-ups of untreated water into homes and businesses, flooding city streets or bursting underground pipes.”
There are 151 overflow locations throughout Seattle and King County with 5 overflow locations in Wallingford. That page provides a map of their locations plus live indicators when they are overflowing.
The Wallingford and Ballard neighborhoods are among the biggest offenders when it comes to combined sewer overflows of raw untreated sewage within the Seattle area. In 2014, Wallingford dumped 12.3 million gallons of untreated waste while Ballard dumped over 40 million gallons.
One response from the city has been to subsidize residential run off mitigation through RainWise, helping you build cisterns and rain gardens on your own property. Many Wallyhood residents qualify for this program. If you would like to learn more about the state of CSO, you can refer to the Seattle Public Utilities CSO Program: 2014 Annual Report
As a result of a suit filed against the City of Seattle and King County for violations of the Clean Water Act and the Washington Water Pollution Control Act, on May 29, 2015 the City of Seattle developed its Long Term Control Plan. Unfortunately it will not be completed until December 2025.
So now I have some questions.
- How much have the overflow numbers increased with the added housing growth in Wallingford, Ballard and all of Seattle?
- Will the city’s Long Term Control Plan be adequate to accommodate all of the future growth of 50,000 homes in the next 10 years as outlined in the Mayor’s HALA (Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda) plan? (This goal does not include additional housing units planned by developers and builders that are independent of the HALA initiative)
- At the end of the day, I have to ask myself “What is the Mayor’s definition of Livability”? Does it include additional pollution of our waterways for the sake of housing growth? I, for one, certainly hope not.
I would like to thank Jim Bentley of Wallingford for the research and data that he provided to assist me with this article.