Water quality report determines little contamination in Eagle Harbor, investigation begins into city, health district response
June 3, 2009 · Updated 5:03 PM
Reports issued last year indicated that many shoreline sewer pipes would have to be replaced or retrofitted.
Water samples taken from Eagle Harbor on Monday indicate very little bacteria contamination, according to the Kitsap County Health District.
"Sample results and the bacteria values are very low, at or near background" in the harbor, said John Kiess, water protection program manager with the health district.
The samples were collected from the Waterfront Park shoreline. Other waters that are included in a no-contact zone were not tested for bacteria.
"Waterfront Park is a good indicator (of contamination) because Eagle Harbor has relatively poor circulation," Kiess said.
Although samples indicate low levels of contamination, further testing will be conducted next week and the health district will maintain its 10-day no-contact advisory which extends from Yeomalt Point to Rockaway Beach and includes all of Eagle Harbor.
"The 10-day advisory is still in effect and there are no plans to alter it at this time," Kiess said.
The health district has not received further reports or indicators of sewage reaching north or south of Eagle Harbor, but the Washington State Ferry system did report sewage debris on pilings at the ferry terminal earlier in the week.
An estimated 140,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled over three days from the ruptured sewer main on the north shore of Eagle Harbor.
On Tuesday morning, city Public Works crews retrofitted the broken sewer main with a stainless-steel sleeve and reburied the pipe in the tidal flats on the north shore of the Harbor.
The focus has now shifted to the city and health district responses to the spill, and whether something should have been done earlier to prepare for a sewer main failure after reports issued last year indicated that many shoreline pipes were corroded.
Response praised and criticized by citizens
The ruptured pipe was first noticed on Saturday at about 3 p.m. and it took 65 hours until a final repair could be made.
Susan Anderson's home is the closest dwelling to the Eagle Harbor spill, with the sewer line rupturing several feet from a boat launch on her property located off Irene Place.
She was not aware that a sewer main ran parallel to her shoreline property, or that her home would be used as a staging area for the city and hordes of media who descended on the scene on Monday and Tuesday.
However, she praised the city for its work.
"I see it as an opportunity to recognize the good work of our public works people," Anderson said. "They have been on it and are really doing the best they knew how and getting to it as quickly as they could."
But shoreline residents further from the break, and those who used the harbor for recreation over the weekend, said little or nothing was done to alert them of the presence of raw sewage in the harbor.
Rockaway Beach resident Bob Wise, posting on Bainbridge Shoreline Homeowners blog, said he was outraged at the lack of communication.
"We live on Rockaway and have not been contacted about this spill even though we are now hearing that the beach is closed to contact," he said. "Also on Saturday and Sunday we launched our boat at the Waterfront Park boat dock. I was in the water on both days and the dock and beach in that area were filled with small children and kayakers, there were no signs of any kind."
The city admits there could have been a better notification system in place.
"Overall I think it was handled fairly well," said City Administrator Mark Dombroski, "I do think we could have done a much better job on the side of getting initial information out."
Scott Daniels, an information officer with the health district, said he couldn't comment on the notice that was given to residents but said the city acted quickly, in tough conditions, to fix the problem.
"They had limitations in terms of the way the infrastructure was laid out," Daniels said. "And in spite of that, their response was very good."
A joint city, health district after-action report is being prepared that will address the failures and successes of the response and repair operation, and how to improve notification systems. That report is expected within the next two weeks.
"This episode really is an example of out of sight out of mind until the alarm goes off," Dombroski said. "The real question now is we know it is going to get worse and what are we going to do about it?"
2008 reports indicated shoreline sewer lines were in danger of failure
In July and December of 2008, two reports issued by the Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association concluded that shoreline sewer pipes were being corroded.
The report was commissioned to investigate earlier pipe failures in the Wing Point area.
"The pipe along the shore line is subject to corrosive soil and corrosion is proceeding," the report states. "The lines will eventually require replacement or rehabilitation due to corrosion failures.
Although the report does not mention the 12-inch main in Eagle Harbor, it is thought that the Wing Point pipes were installed about the same time as those in the harbor, in the late 1970s.
Of those pipes, most do not have anti-corrosion measures and many suffer from corroded pitting. In pipes off Wing Point, pits were found to have worn through the pipes thickness by 50 to 66 percent.
The report also indicates that the soil the pipes are buried in have corrosive attributes that are continuing to eat away at the stability of the shoreline sewage system.
There are a number of ways to combat the corrosion, but primarily by polyethylene encasement of existing pipes or the replacement of pipes that are too corroded to be retrofitted.
The Public Works and Engineering department is now drafting a capital improvement plan to test, and possibly repair, shoreline sewer lines. That plan will come before the City Council this year to be given its priority ranking among the backlog of city infrastructure projects.
Who will pay for the sewage spill and future repairs
Fines of as much as $10,000 per day may be levied against the city by the state Department of Ecology.
Larry Altose, spokesman for DOE's Northwest Division, said earlier this week that punitive measures are a possibility. "Fines are possible, any discharge is subject to a fine, but we're weeks from that," Altose said.
The city is also on the hook for overtime costs for staff and pump truck rentals that were used to transport sewage to the waste water treatment plant while the pipe repair was being made.
Dombroski said that all expenses will be firmed up next week and then submitted as a claim to the Washington Cities Insurance Authority, an insurance pool that the city pays into.
Until reimbursements are made, payments for the operation will come out of the city's sewer utility fund.
Any future upgrades to the sewer will be charged to the sewer utility, which is already strained by continued costs associated with the waste water treatment plant upgrade.
The sewer fund is currently borrowing money from the water fund to keep the plant upgrade going, and doesn't have the capital to pay for sewer line upgrades.
"Replacing will be costly and expensive," Dombroski said. "This will stress the sewer fund."
The city will also have to take into account environmental factors for replacement, and other alternatives, such as moving the sewage mains further inland.
"We as a staff have to prepare and give options to a council and they have to decide whether they invest in repairs," Dombroski said. "The sad thing is this (sewer main) is one of the newer pipes in the our system. Many of our water and waste water systems are at the end of their useful lives, and were installed in the '40s and '50s."
The ruptured 12-inch pipe serves as a conduit for sewage from the downtown area west of SR-305 to the city's waste water treatment plant on Hawley Way. The pipe accounts for three-fifths of all incoming sewage into the treatment plant.
The city estimates that at least half of the roughly 140,000 gallons of sewage that spilled into Eagle Harbor contained solid waste. After a small patch was made on Sunday morning, the main continued to spew untreated effluent into Eagle Harbor until the permanent repair was finally made early Tuesday.
However, the real amount of sewage that has spilled into Puget Sound waters may never be determined, as the calculated amount of spill was based on when the problem was first reported at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
"There is always that possibility that it was spilling before, but for our purposes we are estimating from when we were first notified of the event," said Lance Newkirk, the Director of Operations and Maintenance with the city’s Public Works department.