Skip to comments.Sewer spill's trail led to environmental agency’s office (WA Dept. of Ecology)
Posted on 04/10/2009 1:44:39 PM PDT by jazusamo
The state Department of Ecology in 1996 officially declared Burnt Bridge Creek to be severely polluted with fecal coliform.
The environmental regulators, it turns out, had unwittingly contributed to the problem.
This week, Vancouver city workers made a startling discovery near the regional office shared by Ecology and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at 2108 Grand Blvd. At some point in the building's history, a sewer pipe that was supposed to be connected to the city's sanitary sewer main had been incorrectly connected to a stormwater line instead.
"The only thing that's supposed to be in the stormwater pipe is rainwater," said Brian Carlson, Vancouver's public works director.
Instead, raw sewage flowed out of the building and into an underground stormwater system that runs for almost a mile. Collecting stormwater runoff from a wide swath of central Vancouver, the intermingled goop dumped directly into Burnt Bridge Creek where it passes under Fourth Plain Boulevard. It is one of 80 stormwater outfalls entering the creek, which ultimately drains into Vancouver Lake.
State employees shut down a pair of restrooms in the building Wednesday.
City officials agreed to repair the problem at the building owner's expense, which should allow agency personnel to go about their business of protecting the environment as usual by next week.
"The irony is not lost on us," Carlson said.
State officials, who lease the building, believe the problem dates back to the 1970s when the building opened as a satellite garden center to a Fred Meyer retail store across Grand Boulevard.
Employees were stunned by the news.
"As a person who loves her area and the environment, it was like, 'Holy crap, let's get this taken care of,'" said Laura Sauermilch, a spill-response specialist who was the first to be informed of the problem by a city worker on Wednesday.
Jay Manning, the agency's state director, called the discovery "embarrassing and upsetting."
Employees immediately posted signs on the doors of the men's and women's restrooms, directing almost 100 workers based in the office to find other alternatives. By Thursday, a half-dozen porta potties and portable hand-washing stations had been brought in.
Melinda Merrill, a Fred Meyer spokeswoman in Portland, said the company constructed the building a few years after the 40,000-square-foot retail center opened across Grand Boulevard in 1968.
Merrill said the retailer intends to cooperate in sharing information, even though it no longer owns the property.
The building's current owner is pressing for a quick resolution.
"I'm just horrified," said J.D. Watumull, vice president of Honolulu-based Watumull Properties. "We're just trying to get it rectified and back to the way it was."
Local and state agencies have yet to sort out the legal matter involving what could be construed as a violation of clean-water laws. Normally, law enforcement is handled by the Department of Ecology.
"We wouldn't automatically leap to a penalty," said Kim Schmanke, an Ecology spokeswoman based in Lacey. "We would look to correct the problem and if it's corrected, then move forward."
Burnt Bridge Creek, which flows 13 miles through the center of Vancouver, violates the Clean Water Act. The level of fecal coliform is too high for human health; dissolved oxygen is too low to support aquatic life; and the water is too warm to support salmon.
Biologists suspect a remnant population of coho salmon and steelhead still live in the creek, said Guy Norman, regional administrator for Fish and Wildlife.
Fred Meyer closed the garden center on Grand in the mid-1990s.
It reopened as a state office building in 1997. Currently, it serves as home base for 80 Department of Fish and Wildlife employees, 14 workers with the Department of Ecology and three employees of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
For the past two and a half years, city workers have been using a probe mounted with a small television camera in a comprehensive survey of 300 miles of underground stormwater pipes crisscrossing Vancouver.
Carlson said this is the first time workers discovered an old sanitary sewer pipe cross-connected with stormwater.
Dvija Michael Bertish, a local environmental activist, has long raised alarm about human waste fouling Burnt Bridge Creek. He was gratified to see one problem resolved.
"Can you imagine the vast amount of sewage going the wrong direction?" said Bertish, who represents the Rosemere Neighborhood Association, an independent nonprofit organization. "For so long, the city has been declaring it's all about dog poop and birds and raccoons and it's not people at all."
The jokes right themselves”
“...allow agency personnel to go about their business...”
“....the building opened as a satellite....”
“....it was like, Holy crap.....”
“We’re just trying to get it rectified.....”
We’d better trust them to tell us how to live. You know, to save the planet that we are destroying and all that.
You’re right. LOL!
But! But! They are liberals! They have all the answers! I (and they) thought their shit did not stink. Angels would appear with lace hanky’s to remove their blessed deposit to a sanctuary in the heavens above.
I can’t figure out what took them so long to figure out it was coming from a storm drain. Take samples from the creek and see where the cleaner water is. Check possible storm drains below that area. Then shove the probe (there’s another one!) up that one drain rather than all 300 miles.?
There was a building back in New Jersey that was built and after about a year of being in use the toilets started backing up. It seems they never connected the sewer line to the main line! Yuck!
This Burnt Bridge Creek isn’t a raging creek by any means, more of a runoff creek when it rains.
Nevertheless you’d think they could have pretty much pinpointed the place where it was dumping into the creek from the pipe after a good rain by tracing the pollution upwards until there was no more pollution. Sounds like they weren’t trying real hard.
They should be able to get a refund on their sewer bill.:)
they are government employees...why would you expect effort? there were no guns to take away...
“sewage going in the wrong direction. ????
Workers with the city of Vancouver this week made a startling discovery near the regional headquarters of environmental regulators. A sewer line had been incorrectly connected to the citys stormwater collection system, which discharges directly into Burnt Bridge Creek. (Zachary Kaufman/The Columbian)
Water quality has been monitored extensively in Burnt Bridge Creek since 1972. Based on data collected in 1991 through 1993, the creek was included on the 1996 303(d) list, the first comprehensive listing of impaired surface waters in the state. Subsequent data collected by the city of Vancouver and Ecology show continued exceedances of water quality standards for fecal coliform, temperature and dissolved oxygen.
People can help keep bacteria out of the water. Bag and trash dog poop. Check your on-site sewage system to make sure it is maintained and working properly. Make sure that the State of Washington Department Of Ecology hasn't been dumping raw human sewage into the creek since at least 1972*
You're quite welcome; my pleasure.
This story has been picked up by the AP...I wouldn't be surprised if Rush talks about it on his show tomorrow :-)
"Next week" rather.
I think you’re right about Rush or possibly Hannity or someone else picking this up.
I first saw the article in the Oregonian and it was the AP piece so checked the Columbian so I could post the entire article.
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