The State Department of Ecology has issued a $85,200 fine to Lakehaven Water and Sewer District for contributing to pollution in Cold Creek through its Redondo wastewater treatment plant.
‘The fine is due to an overflow of incompletely treated sewage for a few days in early 2022.
Lakehaven is currently attempting to appeal the the penalty. The Department of Ecology gave Lakehaven until September of 2027 to correct the issue, according to John Bowman of Lakehaven.
“We just don’t believe that it might be possible to do that,” he told the Mirror.
When heavy rains flood the wastewater system that leads to Lakehaven’s Redondo wastewater treatment plant, it pushes wastewater at the last stage of treatment out into Poverty Bay. Specifically, this caused an increase in E. coli bacteria in 2022 that contributed to the shellfish toxicity from “conditionally approved” to “prohibited” near Cold Creek.
Lakehaven has two wastewater facilities, one in Lakota and one in Redondo. The Redondo facility specifically had the issue with overflow.
“Proper treatment and handling of wastewater is essential to protecting water quality and shellfish beds in Poverty Bay,” said Vince McGowan, Ecology’s water quality program manager in a press release. “We’re requiring Lakehaven Water and Sewer District to invest in its facilities to meet permit requirements and to protect water quality, shellfish harvesting, and recreational uses of the local beach and Poverty Bay.”
Ecology is penalizing the district for unlawfully polluting state waters, discharging effluent in an unpermitted area, and failing to report discharges properly and accurately.
In addition to the penalty, Ecology’s order requires the district to correct the issues causing overflows by 2027. The order also requires the district to notify the public when overflows occur, and to begin monitoring water quality in Cold Creek and Poverty Bay, according to the Department of Ecology.
The Lakehaven District provides service to a total of about 112,000 people, according to their website. This area mostly covers the city of Federal Way as well as small portions of the cities of Auburn, Pacific, Tacoma, Des Moines and Milton as well as an unincorporated area of King County.
When The Mirror reported on this overflow in September 2022, Lakehaven shared it was implementing several strategies to address the issue. These included hiring a consultant to evaluate overflow issues using flow monitoring; assessing identified flow issues with cameras; and working with homeowners to strengthen pipes on their property that let an abundance of rainwater into the municipal piping.
In the year since then, progress has been slow going. Bowman told The Mirror that a drier than average winter and spring made it challenging to assess flow issues. He said the only way to see where the issues are worst is to wait until the system is overwhelmed and then evaluate it.
Bowman said that Lakehaven is working toward two main ways to solve the overflow problem, including a long-term system improvement and ongoing maintenance. The long-term improvement is to build a diversion system to route overflow to Lakehaven’s second wastewater treatment plant in Lakota. The second action is to strengthen existing pipes so that aging infrastructure doesn’t allow excess water to enter the system in the first place, even in the case of heavy rains. These pipes include about half municipally owned infrastructure and half pipes on private property that feed into the main flow.
Retrofitting pipes is actually a pretty straightforward process involving a “sock” that is fed through a pipe by entering municipal pipes through two manholes, then using a robotic device to cut the sock to size, Bowman said.
Bowman said that adding this liner to pipes can make them “almost as good as new” for a lifetime of approximately 50 years.
Although Lakehaven hasn’t started a campaign to notify all local homeowners of the wastewater issue their pipes could be contributing toward, Bowman said Lakehaven did try partnering with private landowners in a targeted area.
“One of the areas where we first piloted a pipe lining project, we talked to all of the homeowners in the area that were going to do it, getting their permission to line their private side sewer as well,” he told The Mirror, adding that most homeowners participated.
The main barriers to retrofitting enough pipes and planning and building the overflow diversion are “time and money,” Bowman said. “There are only so many contractors in this area who do that kind of work.”
To address the money issue, Bowman said that Lakehaven is applying for several grants to support this extensive maintenance project. One wouldn’t provide actual funds until 2025.
The grants will go toward both lining pipes and the overall diversion plan. Bowman said they plan to expand the pilot partnership with homeowners as well, saying that “under this grant application we’re proposing to do more of that, because what we’ve seen so far is that we do reduce more infiltration into the system if we do our main lines plus the side sewers.”
These projects are also supported by local rates — 75% of their district comes from single family homes.
These customer rates are also going toward paying off a loan for the construction of Lakehaven’s new office building and other capital projects. To pay for these, Bowman said that “some of it had been collected already through rates and then we borrowed a large sum of money that funded the rest of the building and a number of other capital improvement projects that we have underway.”
These bonds and any fines, like the recent fine from the Department of Ecology, are paid for by ratepayers. Bowman said the terms of the bonds for capital projects is for 25 years and that Lakehaven is paying “roughly $4 million a year.”
Bowman did not share the exact cost of pipe fittings and the cost of the larger diversion project to direct overflow to the Redondo plant.