A proposal by Issaquah to inject storm water from Issaquah Highlands into an aquifer threatens the drinking water supply for most of Sammamish residents.
This is the second assault on the aquifer, which the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District relies upon. I wrote about the first one December 18, 2012. In that case, the Issaquah City Council approved a plan called Lakeside development at the Highlands that will allow a storm water injection well right above a drinking water aquifer.
I wrote at the time something seemed pretty amiss:
The Council, which ultimately approved the agreement unanimously, said it was comfortable with the safeguards and alternatives. Several said they get their drinking water from the aquifer as well and are personally motivated to protect the aquifer. (Emphasis added.)
I’m personally uneasy. Having served on Sammamish City committees and commissions for eight years, I understand the process and thinking that went into this Agreement but I’m nonetheless concerned about the affect on the aquifer.
Now, it turns out Issaquah has applied for a permit with the State Department of Ecology to resume injection of storm water into the aquifer of substantially untreated water. The problem: untreated storm water from the Issaquah Highlands has fecal coliform (ie, bird and pet poop), heavy metal contaminants and a host of other bacteria. This threatens our drinking water. The aquifer serves most of Sammamish, in addition to parts of Issaquah and all of Klahanie. (Note to Klahanie residents: You’re in the Issaquah Potential Annexation Area. Welcome to your new landlords and stewards of your environment.)
More alarming: Ecology is poised to grant this permit. Ecology’s pending action is a stunning turn-about from its long history of protecting water. Furthermore, Ecology has been exerting extreme pressure on the City of Sammamish to control storm water runoff into Lake Sammamish, demanding that development runoff be controlled to pre-development conditions (ie, virgin forest). This is a nearly impossible demand in an urban area. While Low Impact Development can help dramatically, it’s impossible to feasibly return to pre-development conditions. The City of Sammamish and some citizens, many represented by the Citizens for Sammamish activist group, have been arguing with the City Council for years over the new, highly restrictive regulations demanded by Ecology. Regardless, treatment and control of polluted storm water is imperative. Why in the world would Ecology be so strict with the City of Sammamish and give Issaquah a pass?
While the permit application is pending, Issaquah is diverting untreated water into the North Fork of the Issaquah River, which flows into Lake Sammamish. This water pollution can accumulate and potential affect home values of lakefront homes (who wants to live with lakefront you can’t use?). The right thing to do would have been for Issaquah to treat the water in the first place–it’s chosen not to do so.
Now Ecology is ready to permit Issaquah to inject contaminated and polluted water into the aquifer. Also keep in mind that this very same storm water injection site was shut down by Ecology in 2008 because high levels of fecal coliform were detected in monitoring wells a short distance from the District’s drinking water wells. Issaquah has been trying to restart the injection of storm water ever since. The city is tired of the Water District’s objections to protect the water supply for 54,000 customers–most of whom reside in Sammamish–so Issaquah has decided to take over the part of the District and the three prime wells inside Issaquah’s boundaries in order to shut the District up and do what it wants with the storm water–the impact to Sammamish be damned.
The Sammamish City Council and City Manager are aware of the situation but so far have not protested either to Issaquah or to Ecology. I find this to be rather perplexing, since our City Council and our City Manager represent us residents (and voters) of Sammamish.
The Sammamish City Council meets Tuesday, May 7.
Here is the Water District’s press release:
Sammamish Water District Fights Issaquah’s Attempt to Inject Polluted Runoff Into Drinking Water Aquifer
State Dept. of Ecology Set to Grant Unprecedented Permit
Allowing Fecal Coliform-Polluted Water Near Wells Serving 54,000 people
Sammamish, WA, Monday, May 6, 2013: Disagreements over clean water and a plan to inject polluted stormwater runoff into a pristine aquifer, just 600 feet from drinking water wells serving 54,000 residents on Seattle’s Eastside, are coming to a head between the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District (District), the City of Issaquah (City) and the State Department of Ecology (Ecology).
Backfield maneuvers involving years of legal posturing, thousands of pages of public records demands between the three agencies and failed collaboration attempts forces the District to take the issue public. The District maintains that Issaquah officials plan to obtain a stormwater discharge permit from Ecology that will allow the City to inject stormwater runoff contaminated with fecal coliform (bird poop and other fecal matter), heavy metals and bacteria from the Issaquah Highlands into the ground water that feeds three wells owned and operated by the District.
Issaquah rejects District offers for solutions
The District has been attempting to work with Issaquah since 2005 to prevent this contaminated runoff from entering the aquifer, even offering to co-fund a water treatment facility to clean the water to at least drinking water standards before being injected so close to District wells. Issaquah refused each effort, instead filing an application for a permit from Ecology to allow it to inject the stormwater runoff immediately uphill from the District’s wells that provide drinking water to most of the City of Sammamish and parts of Issaquah and unincorporated King County, including the area known as Klahanie.
Wells found contaminated in 2008; Ecology shut down stormwater injection site
After monitoring wells showed high fecal coliform contamination in the aquifer near the injection site, the District convinced Ecology to shut down the Issaquah stormwater injection site in 2008 to protect the drinking water. Since that time, Issaquah has diverted the untreated stormwater to the North Fork of Issaquah Creek, which runs directly into Lake Sammamish.
Issaquah chooses to take over District instead of cleaning the water
In 2011, the City examined their options for dealing with the stormwater and the District’s objections to injection into the aquifer. Instead of spending an estimated $1,500,000 on active pre-treatment of the stormwater, Issaquah officials chose to spend the same amount to assume, or take over, parts of the District inside the Issaquah city limits and where three of the District’s primary drinking water wells are located.
Documents obtained through public records requests providing incriminating evidence. The City has made it clear the true motivation for assumption is to take control of the drinking water wells that are close to the stormwater injection site, eliminating the District’s opposition to the threat to the aquifer and drinking water supply of 54,000 customers.
Ecology reverses long-standing water quality fight
It is still unclear today why Ecology would reverse its long-standing position of ground water protection and consider issuing a permit allowing Issaquah to inject stormwater into the aquifer. Ecology has aggressively sought for decades to impose regulations to protect water from contaminated stormwater runoff. It is requiring cities, including the neighboring City of Sammamish, to update Storm Water Plan regulations to pre-development conditions, a set of rules that has drawn legal challenges from a variety of cities. Ecology also proposed a strict set of rules that were successfully blocked in the Legislature because of the highly onerous demands that would have been imposed.
While one can debate the merits of these two examples of proposed Ecology rules, there is no debating that Ecology’s imminent approval of the Issaquah permit application is a complete reversal of its history of being a steward of water quality. Ecology is poised to issue a permit within weeks to Issaquah that will allow the City to inject the contaminated water within feet of or directly into the aquifer. This will be the first time in the State that Ecology permits this process without aggressive pre-treatment. This also runs counter to the State Antidegradation Policy that protects any ground water source of drinking water.
Taking it to the public
Frustrated by Issaquah’s refusal to collaborate on a solution, or to ratify agreements that had been negotiated in the past, and by the imminent issuance of Issaquah’s stormwater discharge permit request with Ecology, the District has no choice but to take these issues into the public domain where citizens most impacted by these decisions can become informed and be heard.
“Our 54,000 customers in Issaquah, Sammamish and unincorporated King County have a right to know what’s going on and understand the threat to their drinking water,” says Jay Krauss, General Manager, Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District. “For years the District has made good-faith efforts to peacefully resolve these issues in the interest of ground water protection. We’ve even offered to co-fund stormwater treatment. Instead, we’re the target of a takeover to silence our concerns. It’s time to invite the public into the conversation.”
Contact Sammamish City Council:
and City Manager Ben Yacizi:
Contact Issaquah City Council:
Contact Department of Ecology:
Disclosure: I am affiliated with Twelves Unlimited, which is communications consultant to the Water District.