Wednesday, November 21, 2012

When It Rains, It Pours

Above: The fencing around Capitol Lake in downtown Olympia on Tuesday afternoon is partially under water. Andy Haub, city of Olympia's public works planning and engineering manager, said high tide was 15.5 ft. at 11:19 a.m. on Tuesday and that the peak flow of the Deschutes River was running at 46,000 cubic feet per second. He said city utility crews are starting to take precautions to prevent potential flooding in downtown Olympia.
When It Rains, It Pours

By Janine Unsoeld

It’s been a busy week for Andy Haub, city of Olympia’s public works planning and engineering manager. Not only is he monitoring potential flooding in downtown Olympia due to recent heavy rains, he is still reeling from the estimated 1.5 million gallon discharge of bacteria-laden, high nitrate, raw wastewater into Budd Inlet via a pipe located near East Bay Drive.
In a city press release issued Wednesday, November 14, city public works crews discovered, on November 13, that domestic wastewater was discharging to Moxlie Creek.  Moxlie Creek runs under downtown Olympia in a large pipe and discharges to Budd Inlet at the head of East Bay. Crews immediately corrected and reported the discharge.

Upon investigation of the cause, public works staff discovered that the discharge began in mid-September after a plugged pipe that had been opened for cleaning and maintenance was not re-plugged. The plug prevented wastewater from entering the downstream stormwater system.
At the time, Haub said, “Due to the complexity of the system, public works crews did not recognize the connection between the wastewater, stormwater and Moxlie Creek systems.”

It is estimated that up to 1.5 million gallons of wastewater were discharged over the last two months. The city has reviewed their procedures and have taken steps to prevent future occurrences.
On Wednesday evening, November 14, at the regular monthly board meeting of the LOTT Clean Water Alliance, board member and Tumwater City Councilmember Tom Oliva asked LOTT staff for more information on the situation. Oliva asked if there was a process regarding liability, including fines, and if environmental damage has been established.
LOTT staff and Laurie Pierce, operations and facilities director for LOTT, responded that they did not have much more information. Pierce clarified that per the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, LOTT is the clearinghouse for all reports to Ecology, and LOTT was responsible for reporting the incident.

Yesterday, in a telephone conversation with this reporter, Haub reiterated his own disappointment that the incident occurred.

“We made a mistake - it’s our responsibility. There were no outside contractors responsible. This was work performed by city staff….A sequence of minor mistakes created a perfect storm for a unique situation.” Haub said that during a thorough debriefing with staff, it was realized that the situation occurred over a period of six months and 14 staff were involved.

Pat Bailey, compliance specialist for municipal wastewater in the southwest regional office of the Washington State Department of Ecology, said in a telephone conversation late today that the city of Olympia reported the incident themselves. Under the type of permit, the incident is supposed to be reported immediately or within 24 hours.

“From what we can tell, at this point, because Olympia reported it as soon as they turned the wrench (to stop the discharge), there probably won’t be any monetary penalties… and the city reported it to LOTT within the required five days. I just spoke with Andy on Monday and we’ll get a full report and get together within a week. We don’t want something thrown together, we want good facts,” said Bailey.
Bailey said Haub was truly upset when he called her to report the incident. “It happened. The great thing is that there are quite a few old collection systems - sewer to stormwater cross connects - and this one has been corrected.”

For more information, go to: or Andy Haub, Planning and Engineering Manager, (360) 753-8475,
Above: Fencing nearly under water around Capitol Lake warns that the Capitol Lake is closed due to New Zealand mud snail contamination.