A tsunami in Sammamish – unless we act

Guest Op-Ed 
By Kent Treen 
Sammamish City Council Member  

Kent Treen

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.

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Issaquah plan threatens Sammamish, Klahanie water supply, lake water quality

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.)

[Read more about this issue at a new Water District website devoted strictly to this.]

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:

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