Suquamish Tribe to sue King County over repeated sewage spills in Puget Sound

Tribe gave King County 60 days notice to file a lawsuit for continual violations of Clean Water Act

The Suquamish Tribe recently filed a notice of intent to sue King County for continually dumping untreated or improperly treated sewage into Puget Sound.

In the letter dated July 21, the tribe gave King County officials 60 days’ notice to file a lawsuit for the county’s ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act and its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. According to the Tribe, public records show that King County discharged hundreds of thousands of gallons of sewage from the West Point Wastewater Treatment Plant, located at Seattle’s Discovery Park, into Puget Sound in 2018 and 2019. Of those discharges, the Tribe stated that King County is responsible for at least 11 significant illegal discharges of sewage with individual discharge events ranging from 50,000 gallons to 2.1 million gallons.

The release also states that King County is also responsible for numerous NPDES permit violations, including discharging “effluent wastewater” into Puget Sound between 2015 and 2020 and violating effluent wastewater discharge permit limits for pH and chlorine. These respective discharges and violations also occurred at the West Point Treatment Plant, as well as other treatment facilities near Centennial Park and Alki Beach.

According to the tribe, environmental impacts to Puget Sound from the repeated sewage spills include:

  • Fouling the water and habitat for aquatic species, resulting in the posting of health advisories and closure of beaches where Suquamish tribal members harvest shellfish;
  • Recalls of commercially sold shellfish;
  • Interfering with tribal member harvest and sale of salmon;
  • Disturbed important cultural activities such as the annual Canoe Journey;
  • Fecal coliform bacteria pollution is a persistent threat to human health and the safe harvest and consumption of fish

“The waters of Puget Sound and the entire Salish Sea are the Tribe’s most treasured resource,” said Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe. “We are obliged to protect these waters, not only for ourselves but for all who rely on them for healthy seafood, recreation, and cultural practices.

Forsman acknowledged the work being done by King County to prevent further discharges but called upon county officials to pick up the pace.

”We acknowledge that King County has invested and will invest more to improve their wastewater treatment system, but the Suquamish Tribe and its members are frustrated by the ongoing sewage releases and King County’s other pollution violations in Puget Sound, which continue to harm marine water quality and the Tribe’s ability to exercise reserved treaty rights and engage in cultural activities. We are running out of time and need swifter action. We look forward to discussions with King County, through our long-standing government-to-government relationship, during this 60 day notice period.”

In 2013, King County entered into a consent decree with the State of Washington and the Environmental Protection Agency in an effort to address “serious and ongoing” sewage discharges from its wastewater treatment facilities and combined sewer outfalls that violated the Clean Water Act, the tribal release states. In spite of a series of enforcement actions against King County, Clean Water Act violations have continued, including major releases from the West Point Treatment Plant.

“King County has been violating Clean Water Act standards since 2015,” Forsman said. “The dumping of sewage waste into Puget Sound must stop.”

The Suquamish Tribe, otherwise known as “The People of the Clear Saltwater” in their Southern Lushootseed language, have fished and gathered shellfish in and around Puget Sound since beyond recorded history. Bodies of water such as Elliott Bay and other waterways where King County has been discharging sewage constitute a large portion of the tribe’s treaty-protected fishing and shellfish harvesting areas.

“This lawsuit is not just about how these dangerous spills affect the Suquamish Tribe,” Forsman said. “The entire Puget Sound community deserves clean water. The shellfish, the orca, and all sea life rely on clean water, and all of our children – and children’s children – deserve clean water.”

”This is why the Clean Water Act was created. It’s time for King County to increase their commitment to protecting our shared waters.”