Bremerton completes combined sewage program
Source: Kitsap Sun, Bremerton, Wash.
Publication date: 2011-05-30
May 30--BREMERTON -- After 20 years and $50 million in construction projects, Bremerton has become the first older city in the state to fix an unsanitary sewer design that dates back to the early days of sewage collection.
The problem, known as "combined sewer overflows," involves sewers that discharge raw human waste whenever it rains more than a little. The problem is common among cities with aging sewer systems.
Since 1993, Bremerton has been working to solve the problem as required by a court order. The order resulted from an out-of-court settlement with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, which had sued the city under the federal Clean Water Act.
The consent decree, amended in 2000, required the city to complete projects on a specific schedule. In February, the Washington Department of Ecology certified that the work is now complete. And two weeks ago, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour dismissed the case.
"Soundkeeper applauds the work done by Bremerton over the past 17 years to come into compliance with the agreement," said Executive Director Chris Wilke in a letter to Mayor Patty Lent. "It is clear that Bremerton has worked diligently and expended considerable resources on its CSO reduction program. As a result, Bremerton has established itself as a regional leader in stormwater pollution prevention."
During the 1990s, Bremerton struggled to finance the separation of stormwater from sewage. City officials eventually hiked the utility fees that residents paid for stormwater. The fees were painful, but they kept the city on track for the past decade. Bremerton ratepayers are paying off loans and bonds covering 85 percent of the costs, with the remainder coming from state and federal grants.
Cleaning up local waters has become a source of pride for city officials, as well as many residents.
"Water is a crucial component to Bremerton's vitality as a city, from our pristine drinking water to the beautiful Puget Sound surrounding our city and parks," Lent said in a statement. "Constructing these comprehensive improvements to our wastewater system was a joint effort with a host of agencies, and we hope to be a model for other municipalities."
Puget Soundkeeper Alliance has approved consent decrees, similar to Bremerton's, with seven other cities and sewer districts in the region along with the state, which was allowing sewage discharges at Blake Island State Park.
Wilke's staff remains in close consultation with the city of Seattle, which is expected to spend $500 million on the CSO problem over the next 14 years.
"Compliance is not easy," Wilke told the Kitsap Sun. "This is quite an achievement for the city of Bremerton."
Wilke plans to attend a community celebration that Bremerton officials are planning at 9:30 a.m. June 29 at the Norm Dicks Government Center. The event will include displays, presentations and brief talks about Bremerton's achievements and future stormwater projects. Tours are planned to show off Bremerton's combined sewage treatment plant in East Bremerton as well as low-impact development projects, including pervious pavement in the downtown area.
The problem of combined sewer overflows is linked to the early development of cities, when it was common to dump raw sewage into the nearest body of water, said Tom Knuckey, managing engineer for Bremerton Public Works. Stormwater drained into the same pipes as sewage before people realized that the waste could be contaminating local shellfish beds and the waters in general.
In Bremerton, the first sewage-treatment plant was built in 1947. It was designed to treat all the sewage during dry-weather periods. But when it rained, sewage mixed with stormwater was discharged at various overflow points throughout the city.
In 1986, the Department of Ecology established a legal standard that allowed no more than one combined sewage overflow per year at each site. In 1992, Bremerton established its CSO reduction plan. A year later, the city signed legal agreements with Ecology and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance to accelerate the schedule.
The overall effort involved 23 separate construction projects, including two new pump stations and seven upgrades to existing pump stations. More than 12 miles of new pipes helped separate stormwater from sewage throughout the city, with stormwater directed into local bays and sewage transmitted to the West Bremerton treatment plant.
To address sewage problems in East Bremerton, a new $5.7 million treatment plant was built using ultraviolet light for disinfection. That plant turns on automatically when flows exceed the capacity of the pipe across Port Washington Narrows. Both sewage and stormwater are treated to safe levels before discharge into salt water.
In 2001, the national Public Works Journal recognized the East Bremerton plant for its innovative technology, calling it the first high-volume treatment system for CSOs in the nation.
Another important effort was getting people to disconnect downspouts from private homes and businesses where runoff from roofs was spilling into the sewer system.
"We conducted a public education program and imposed a five-year requirement to disconnect," Knuckey said. "We provided financial assistance for low-income (people) and technical assistance for everyone."
Meanwhile, the Kitsap County Health District was tracking down telltale sources of pollution throughout the Dyes Inlet watershed and getting people to repair their failing septic systems.
By 2003, water-quality tests showed that the waterways were cleaner than ever seen before. The effort proved so successful that some shellfish beds in Dyes Inlet -- which had been closed for nearly 40 years -- were reopened to commercial harvesting, which continues today.
Join a discussion about all things water-related at Watching Our Water Ways, http://pugetsoundblogs.com/waterways, a blog at pugetsoundblogs.com.
Timeline of Bremerton's CSO projects
1986: Washington State mandates CSO reduction to one untreated overflow each year
1992: City adopts CSO reduction plan
1993: Puget Soundkeeper Alliance settlement results in accelerated compliance schedule
1994: City begins construction of first CSO reduction project
2000: City adopts revised CSO reduction plan, implements public outreach program
2003: Health authorities reopen shellfish beds in Dyes Inlet
2009: City completes all CSO reduction projects, achieves 99 percent reduction
2011: City is released from legal obligations related to CSOs
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Copyright (c) 2011, Kitsap Sun, Bremerton, Wash.
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