Seattle Wastewater Plant Flood Report Calls for Emergency Training

Flooding inside the West Point sewage treatment plant in February caused $57 million in damage and 235 million gallons of untreated wastewater to be dumped from an emergency outfall near Seattle's Discovery Park.

A contractor's report on the flooding that damaged Seattle's West Point sewage treatment plant in February 2017 found that better emergency training is needed for the staffers and the plant does not have enough capacity to handle emergency events. The flooding caused $57 million in damage and 235 million gallons of untreated wastewater to be dumped from an emergency outfall near Seattle's Discovery Park.

The contractor, AECOM, was hired to investigate the flood. Seattle Times reporters Lynda V. Mapes and Christine Willmsen wrote that the report found that a new $40 million alarm system installed only days before the flood does not adequately prioritize what workers need to do in an emergency. It said the shift supervisor was faced with more than 2,100 alarms in less than an hour during the crisis, and it wasn't clear which ones were critical and which ones were not.

"If the disaster had occurred during the day, wastewater managers said, people would have been seriously injured or killed. Managers said they were lucky no one died. One employee injured her leg during a harrowing escape as a torrent of water filled rooms, walkways and stairwells," they reported, adding that the Washington Department of Ecology will reviews the report before determining any fines for the plant's "violating its wastewater permit for months while it dumped 30 million gallons of raw sewage and hundreds of tons of partially treated solids, stated the ecology communications manager, Jessica Payne."

Christie True, director of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, released this statement July 18 on the report: "The King County Council’s independent review offers an objective look at our operations from the perspective of highly-qualified professionals from the engineering firm AECOM. We are grateful for their insight, which largely affirms our earlier analysis, and agree with the recommendations they propose to increase system redundancy to protect workers, equipment and the environment during emergencies; strengthen safety and training protocols that surpass current requirements for our utility; and enable us to incorporate a number of improvements in projects already planned, which will make these upgrades cost-efficient."

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