The Washington State Department of Ecology announced this week that it has penalized the Lakehaven Water and Sewer District $85,200 for releasing incompletely-treated wastewater to flow into Cold Creek on three days in early 2022, contributing to shellfish bed closures in Poverty Bay in Des Moines.

Ecology said that heavy rains coinciding with high tides at the Redondo wastewater treatment plant caused the spillage, and issued an administrative order requiring system improvements and an enhanced emergency notification system.

The Lakehaven Water and Sewer District owns and operates the Redondo Wastewater Treatment Plant, located in the Redondo neighborhood of Des Moines. The January and February 2022 weather events are the latest in a series of heavy rainfall and high tide events that led to overflows at the facility since the District lengthened the plant’s outfall line beyond the shellfish beds in 2009. Heavy rainfall coinciding with high tide events caused wastewater to back up at the treatment plant instead of discharging into the bay. After overflowing treatment channels within the disinfection building, the wastewater spilled out of the effluent channel outside the disinfection building and into nearby Cold Creek, which flows into Poverty Bay.

The combined January and February 2022 events discharged approximately 484,000 gallons of incompletely treated wastewater. Incomplete disinfection allowed harmful bacteria and viruses to enter the creek and the bay. Bacteria and viruses are pollutants that can cause illness to humans and wildlife, and can make shellfish unsafe to eat.

The potential for similar overflows into Poverty Bay contributed to a 2022 decision by the Washington State Department of Health’s Shellfish Program to close harvest on approximately 68 acres of the bay’s shellfish beds. This closure remains in effect.

“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. “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.”

John Bowman, the District’s General Manager, said:

“Excess inflow and infiltration from high rainfall events can overwhelm our Redondo treatment processes. Lakehaven continues to invest in wastewater system improvement targeting the reduction of stormwater entering the collection system. These improvements will serve to protect the local shellfish beds and beaches of Poverty Bay and the Puget Sound.”

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.

Lakehaven Water and Sewer District has 30 days to pay the penalty or appeal it to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board.

Water quality penalty payments to Ecology are placed into the state’s Coastal Protection Fund, which provides grants to public agencies and Tribes for water quality restoration projects.