By Kent Treen
Sammamish City Council Member
The debate about the negative impacts of development mostly focuses on what we all see and experience, like the pain of traffic, overcrowded schools, and the loss of trees and wildlife. But development triggers a more powerful force, that unless properly mitigated, can be the most destructive of all: stormwater.
When development does not handle its stormwater properly, its runoff will cause permanent damage to our creeks, our endangered kokanee salmon, our drinking water, our lakes and to our neighbors living downhill (just ask the residents in the Tamarack neighborhood).
To my shock and disbelief, I learned recently that in 2013 the City Council relaxed the strict storm water regulations that were in place for the Town Center development.
As the public record shows, they put the financial interests of development in the Town Center ahead of our environment, explicitly for the developers’ financial gain.
Why we need to act now
The Town Center sits on top of the plateau, above our aquifer, over two salmon bearing creeks, and above other residents’ properties who also have rights. This is the biggest development in the City’s history, and it should meet the highest standards for stormwater retention.
Development should be required to protect our creeks, preserve our pristine drinking water, restore our endangered kokanee population, and prevent damage to downhill properties.
In this commentary, I call on my fellow council members to unite and roll back the breaks being given to developers at the expense of our unique environment in Sammamish.
We need to act before stormwater becomes a water storm.
City Council relaxes the rules for developers’ financial gain
In 2007 the city completed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Town Center because of the size and impact of the project on the city. The EIS process involved consultants, city staff, planning commissioners and residents’ feedback.
The Town Center will have over 107 acres of forested land converted to impervious surface:
(view of Town Center future development, north of SE 4th St. Source: Kent Treen)
At the end, the EIS recommended Town Center-specific stormwater regulations, recognizing the sensitivity of the environment around the Town Center area (critical aquifer recharge area, Kokanee spawning creeks, adjacent downhill neighborhoods).
Based on the city’s work on the EIS, the City Council enacted strict regulations requiring 100% onsite water volume retention to keep the volume and quality of water leaving the Town Center same to their pre-development level.
Below are snippets from the Council resolution enacting these regulations.
The code adopted in 2010 was very clear, reflecting the value we place on our natural resources and water quality:
(source: City Council Resolution 2010-430)
But then, in 2013, after a lengthy discussion, the City Council relaxed the rules.
The adopted 2013 resolution, snippets shown below, speaks for itself:
City Council basically said: “Because meeting the strict regulation is too expensive, we will relax the rules” (paraphrasing):
And added that essentially they are “ok with staff being flexible with the standards to improve financial viability” (paraphrasing again):
And specifically relaxing the 100% water retention standard:
(source: City Council Resolution, 2013-559)
According to the City Council webpage, “The Sammamish City Council is elected at large by the community to represent their interests”.
The 2013 City Council betrayed that trust by putting the financial interests of a future developer in the Town Center ahead of its residents.
Effectively, the City Council shifted the cost of dealing with stormwater from the developer to residents. Under the current rules, residents will need to spend their money to protect their property from water coming from development in the Town Center.
What is stormwater ?
Stormwater is rain or any other form of precipitation including snow melt. It’s not just about storms. Nature retains water in soil and vegetation, where it’s then released slowly into the ground or air. This slow process also removes toxins and pollutants.
Development replaces the soil and vegetation (especially trees) with impervious surfaces (roofs, roads, patios, sidewalks), which increases the runoff rate and decreases the filtering of pollutants. As the water travels downhill, it picks up whatever pollutants or chemicals are in its path: silt, fecal matter, brake dust, fertilizer, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides.
Without adequate stormwater regulations, these pollutants end up in our creeks, lakes and drinking water, and the increase in flow rate causes erosion and flooding. About 75 percent of the toxic chemicals in Puget Sound are carried by stormwater runoff from paved roads, driveways, rooftops, yards and other developed land.
Below are a few pictures showing the impacts of stormwater on Ebright Creek and Lake Sammamish – under our current conditions, before the majority of the Town Center has been built:
(Ebright Creek, during the last winter. Source: Wally Pereyra)
(Sediment washed into Lake Sammamish. Source: Wally Pereyra)
Stormwater ponds, like the one shown below, capture stormwater that slowly infiltrates the ground or discharges away while pollutants remain in the pond. These ponds are regularly maintained by the City by pumping the pollutants out to special handling by the County.
(Stormwater Pond in Sammamish. Source: Wally Pereyra)
The current status
In 2016, a wholesale revision of the City’s overall storm water regulations was adopted in Ordinance 2016-428 that repealed the specific Town Center stormwater regulations.
I watched that 2016 meeting’s tape and there is no discussion of Town Center regulations or water volume control. To me, it looks like the special water retention controls for town center are gone.
I reviewed the City’s current code on stormwater. At best, it is unclear what, if anything, the code says about onsite volume retention in the Town Center or any other part of the city. I asked Mayor Karen Moran to review the code as well and she reached the same conclusion.
The public deserves a clear notice on what the rules are. Even if the standard exists in a city manual somewhere, it needs to be brought front and center into the city code in a clear and unambiguous manner.
Speaking of the Mayor, before she was elected to City Council in 2017, the Mayor was a water commissioner at the Sammamish Plateau Water District and knows a lot about our water and our aquifer. After speaking with her about my concerns, she raised her own concern about possible aquifer contamination if stormwater is not handled properly: “It can take decades, if not more than a century for an aquifer to recover from a single contamination. There is not a price tag we can put on our drinking water. It must be protected.”
City Council needs to act – now
We must not gamble with the environment. Once development has been permitted and built, it’s too late.
We need to reinstate the original water retention standard, now repealed, that was enacted in 2010.
We cannot let decisions of a city council be motivated by the financial considerations of a developer. The public, which includes developers, residents and city staff, deserves a clear notice of the standard so it can be followed. Right now, it is not clear. I believe we should err on the side of clarity and specificity on such critical issues for our city.
Town Center stormwater is an issue even proponents of the project agree on. As well said by former Council Member Ramiro Valderrama, an outspoken supporter of the Town Center, who in 2016 asked for a 60 day moratorium on the Town Center for the following reason:
“How are we going to mitigate the stormwater that is going to affect the aquatic and wildlife, coming off the Town Center, since we reduced the retention levels to 60%…?”
Valderrama’s complete remarks from the Sammamish City Council Study Session, September 13, 2006, asking for a moratorium on the Town Center:
What was true in 2016 when Valderrama was concerned is also true today.
I am even more troubled today, four years later, after seeing the devastating results of last winter’s storms.
I’m calling on my fellow Council Members to unite in protecting our environment by bringing clarity to our stormwater onsite water volume retention standard in the Town Center sub area.
(Kent Treen is a Sammamish City Council member. The opinions expressed above are his own. Edited for formatting)
Copyright (c) 2021 The Sammamish Comment
Copyright (c) 2021 The Sammamish Comment