‘Spill hotline’ speeds up response to pollution

A few years ago, residents were alarmed when they noticed an unusual smell as well as a foamy look to their neighborhood catch basin.

The pollution was the result of a garage-based wash area illegally connected to a downspout that emptied into the basin. A newly created “spill hotline” now allows Federal Way residents to alert the city to similar water quality issues. The hotline ensures a report of the incident will be delivered promptly, and that an investigation into the pollution’s source will start in a timely manner, said Dan Smith, surface water quality coordinator.

“It will help us react to and know more about storm water pollution in our community,” Smith said.

The direct connection means Smith can get busy figuring out the cause of pollution. It also means the public will play an active part in identifying unauthorized storm water discharge and alerting officials to its existence.

“It’s great to have an extra set of eyes out there because a lot of these discharges come and go,” Smith said.

This was the case about a month ago when a resident called Smith to report a white chemical-like smelling substance in the neighborhood catch basin. Smith was able to follow the pipe system to the source — a homeowner that was painting and using the storm water drain near the home to rinse away the residue washed from paintbrushes.

Finding the pollution’s source allows city staff to educate the public on the harmful effects that soap suds, paint, chemicals and other items can have on Puget Sound. The hotline will operate 24 hours hours a day, seven days a week. Callers can remain anonymous, but staff encourages callers to leave as much information about the discharge as possible.

“We want people to know they can call and we’re not going to tell on that person (who reported the pollution),” Smith said.

The hotline was formed in compliance with the state’s Department of Ecology Western Washington Phase II Municipal Stormwater Permit. The permit was set in place in 2007. The city had up to two years to form a hotline for residents to inform staff of possible storm water pollution, according to the permit. The city is required to keep a log of the calls it receives and the actions it takes to address illicit discharges, according to the permit.

Though the city had efforts in place to address storm water pollution, which eventually empties into Puget Sound, the hotline is expected to streamline the process, Smith said. In the past, residents with concerns may have called the fire district or Department of Ecology with concerns. The reports were then passed on to Smith, who was deployed to investigate the discharge.

“We are trying to get the public informed they can call one number,” Smith said. “We are kind of taking the links out of the chain and making it more efficient.”

Contact Jacinda Howard:

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To report water quality incidents, call (253) 835-2700 during business hours or (253) 946-6416 after hours and on weekends and holidays. To learn more about the city’s surface water quality program, visit

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