Snohomish adds pipelines to help keep sewage out of river

SNOHOMISH — The city had a problem keeping sewage from spilling out of the only pipeline downtown. When rain came, millions of gallons of untreated water polluted the Snohomish River, violating national standards for clean water.

To fix this, Snohomish added three half-mile pipelines this past year from Historic Downtown to the wastewater treatment plant just west of Highway 9.

The $4.7 million project was completed in June. About 80 percent of the project was paid for by state grants. Snohomish paid $900,000 using a public works trust fund loan, city engineer Steve Schuller said.

In addition to the new pipelines, the city built a walkway beneath Highway 9, upgraded other pipelines and added a pump station on First Street.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony with Rep. Hans Dunshee as a keynote speaker is scheduled for Sept. 13.

With this project done, the city is turning its focus to two other projects at the wastewater treatment plant in an attempt to reduce pollution in the river. The end result would transfer most of its untreated sewage to the plant in Everett. This could happen as early as 2016.

Snohomish would also be in compliance with federal guidelines, something it has not done in about a decade, Schuller said.

Because of pollution going into the river, the city in 2003 was sued by the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, a Seattle environmental group.

“It was to the point that almost every time it rained, raw sewage was going to the Snohomish River,” Executive Director Chris Wilke said. “It was a human health risk and it was damaging our natural resources.”

Both parties agreed in May 2003 to settle. Under this decree, Snohomish agreed to reduce its sewer overflow and upgrade its sewer treatment plant.

Under federal standards, Snohomish could only overflow on average once per year. The problem was that during the winter season, the city was failing the standards regularly, depending on the amount of rain.

“We would overflow a million gallons of wastewater each year,” city engineer Steve Schuller said.

The pipeline did not have the capacity to hold both the sewage and rainwater. The excess went to the Snohomish River from two different pipelines underground, one located at the intersection of Second Street and Avenue H. The other one was at the corner of First Street and Avenue E.

There is still work to be done.

As early as October, the city plans to accept bids to build integrated media for the sewer treatment plant lagoons.

The devices would concentrate bacteria on certain areas, which in turn would feed on sewage and reduce the nitrogen that gets into the river.

High levels of nitrogen were the main reason the water treatment plant was out of compliance, Schuller said.

“As of 1999 standards, the treatment plant needs to take care of the 85 percent of nitrogen, which it does not do in some days,” he said.

The city plans to start construction in January and finish by December 2012. The project is estimated to cost $4.8 million, and is being funded in part by the state through the Department of Ecology. To help pay for it, the City Council increased sewage rates for the next five years.

The integrated media is only aimed to be a short-term solution. The long-term solution is building a pipeline from the sewer treatment plant to the one in Everett, which has greater capacity.

The cost is estimated to be between $37 million and $40 million.

Details are still being negotiated between the two cities. Both city councils may make a final decision on this agreement this fall, public works director Tim Heydon said.

Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422;

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