Seattle Public Utilities proposes rate increase for drinking water

The bad economy is forcing Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) to propose a rate increase for drinking water each of the next three years to maintain Seattle’s drinking water system.

According to a release sent out by SPU, the rate for a typical Seattle household would go up between $2.41 per month in 2012 and $2.91 per month by 2014. The rates would be more for commercial customers, depending on usage. Even with the rate increase, SPU says water will still cost less than a penny per gallon.

Drinking water rates pay for:

· Protecting the safety and security of the water supply system.

· Operating two state-of-the-art water treatment facilities.

· Daily testing to maintain drinking water quality.

· Covering open water storage reservoirs in Seattle.

· Maintaining and repairing 1,800 miles of pipeline, 20,000 valves, 180,000 water-service connections, 13 water reservoirs and dozens of pump stations.

· Providing services to help customers manage their bills and resolve problems.

The Seattle City Council will consider the rate proposal over the next few months, with a decision expected by Thanksgiving. The new rates, if approved, would take effect on January 1, 2012.

Garbage collection normal on Memorial Day

Seattle Public Utilities is reminding folks that garbage, recycling and yard waste collections are on a normal schedule next week, despite the Memorial Day holiday. So if Monday is your collection day, put out everything by 7 a.m. like usual. The North Recycling and Disposal Station (1350 N. 34th St.) in Fremont/Wallingford will also be open during regular business hours, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Monday.

Sewer re-lining project snarls morning commute

Updated: As promised, Andy Ryan with Seattle Public Utilities has provided us a little more information about this morning’s project.

“We’re really sorry this happened,” Ryan starts off, “This shouldn’t have happened.” He tells us that the SPU contractor was supposed to be picked up and off the road by 7 a.m. but had to stay until 10 a.m. because of the curing process they used today.

Ryan says that there are two ways to fix a sewer line – dig it up and replace it or realign it. The most cost-effective thing is to reline the line with a resin product. In the past, crews have cured the resin using steam. Last night/this morning crews used a hot water method which took longer than expected. Admittedly, Ryan says, they needed 15 hours to do it right and were allotted less than that. The problem, he says, is once the crew is working on the line they are committed to finishing the project, they can’t just leave when the clock says it’s time to go.

SPU is looking closely at the communication breakdown to make sure this doesn’t happen again, Ryan says. Once the crew on the road knew they wouldn’t be done by 7 a.m. they should have alerted SPU, who would have gotten the word out to drivers and bicyclists using radio/TV traffic updates and the illuminated sign on Crown Hill.

Earlier:If you drove down 15th Ave this morning across the Ballard Bridge, chances are your commute took you much longer than normal.

“It took my 17 bus at least 20 minutes, maybe more, to move from near Shelter Lounge to onto the Ballard Bridge,” one person emailed. “It took an extra hour to get to work this morning,” another writes.

According to Andy Ryan with Seattle Public Utilities, a contractor doing sewer re-lining in the area ran into some complications. He says the overnight work they’re doing involves curing and the curing didn’t occur fast enough to get off the road by the morning commute. SPU is checking with the contractor for specifics and Ryan says he’ll get back to us with more details.

City to work with residents on Roadside Raingardens

About six months after Seattle Public Utilities started the Roadside Raingarden Pilot Project in Ballard (.pdf map here), many residents who live next to them are upset. Nearly 75 people gathered to voice their anger, concerns and frustrations to members of Seattle Public Utilities at an emotional meeting Wednesday night.

A properly draining raingarden.

The problem, according to community members, is nearly half of the roadside raingardens don’t work properly. In the raingardens that don’t drain, inches of water will sit in the bottom for days after it stops raining. Andrew Lee the Combined Sewer Overflow manager for Seattle Public Utilities, acknowledges that there is a problem. “What we’ve seen is that some of these raingardens are not performing the way that the tests indicated they would,” Lee says. “They’re performing actually much worse.” The design standards call for the gardens to drain within 72 hours after the rain stops, a timeframe that some residents think is too long.

Nearly half of the roadside raingardens aren’t draining properly.

“We find ourselves in a difficult and surprising position with this project,” Nancy Ahern the Deputy Director of Seattle Public Utilities told residents. She says that Seattle Public Utilities has built successful raingardens in other parts of the city with happy citizens. That doesn’t seem to be the case in Ballard. “To be clear, we are very supportive of the raingardens,” Karrie Mathison said during a presentation by residents, “the point is we want them fixed.”

Residents put together a presentation for SPU.

During the two and a half hour meeting, many residents voiced their displeasure at many parts of the raingardens – the depth of them, the steep slopes, the standing water and the signage that the Seattle Department of Transportation requires. “We don’t believe that these are something that should be in our neighborhood,” one resident said, comparing the raingarden to a detention pond.

One of the raingardens with a steep slope.

A main theme throughout the meeting was the lack of communication between SPU and residents. “I would ask you, first of all, to be straight and honest with us as this develops and pay attention to the real needs of the community,” another resident told the contingent from SPU. That is exactly what SPU intends to do. “We are interested in partnering with the Ballard community,” Ahren tells us after the meeting. Within a week residents will get communication from SPU, Ahren says, and they will reach out to key leaders in the community to possibly create a task force. The plan is to work with the community to define what a successful raingarden is, she tells us.

Signs required by SDOT for the “bump out” raingardens.

The first course of action for SPU is to address the standing water. “Our first objective is to get the non-performing rain gardens to drain so we don’t have the standing water,” Lee told the group. “We fully understand the safety concerns that people have.” The department will do a retrofit to the non-performing raingardens as soon as possible to get them draining, although this may not be a final solution. Ahren wants the community to have a voice in what that final solution might be. If the raingardens that aren’t working can’t be fixed, SPU is willing to take them out and restore the street to the way it was, Ahren said at the meeting.

The roadside raingardens is a pilot project for SPU to create a solution for Ballard’s Combined Sewer Overflow issues. If this first project is deemed successful, other parts of Ballard may get these raingardens. You can read more about the project here.

Free tree-cycling until January 9th

The city is offering free curbside “tree-cycling” until January 9th for customers who subscribe to curbside food and yard waste collection.

Trees and greens need to be cut into sections of no more than six feet with branches trimmed to less than four feet to fit into the collection trucks. Sections of trees should be bundled together with string or twine. Apartment and condo residents can put one tree next to each yard waste bin with no extra charge.

Flocked trees or trees with tinsel on them will be collected as extra garbage. These trees must be cut into three-foot pieces and each piece will be charged as extra garbage. (Just a reminder that starting on January 1, each extra unit of garbage will cost $8.10.)

Residents who don’t subscribe to food and yard waste collection can drop trees and greens at the North Recycling and Disposal station (North 34th Street and Carr Place N) from December 26th through January 9th. Tree sections must be cut into sections eight feet or less with trunks four inches or smaller in diameter. One vehicle can drop off three trees.

RainWise Roadshow coming to Ballard

Ballard is the test market for Seattle’s new RainWise incentive program, which pays homeowner who live in certain areas of the neighborhood to create rain gardens on their property.

On November 6th, see how Ballardites are taking advantage of the program and learn how to do the same. The Ballard RainWise Roadshow will offer informative displays and a self-guided walking tour of local projects that are preventing polluted runoff from overflowing into Salmon Bay.

Seattle Public Utilities created this video for the Roadshow:

Ballard RainWise Roadshow from Edgar Riebe on Vimeo.

Susan Stoltzfus from Seattle Public Utilities sent us this:

During heavy rains, pipes that carry combined stormwater and sewage overflow into the local waterway – a combined sewer overflow (CSO). Currently about two million gallons of combined stormwater and wastewater overflow into Salmon Bay every year.

But we can reduce the amount of stormwater entering the sewer system and reduce CSOs by building rain gardens, cisterns, and green alleys. The walking tour includes stops at roadside raingardens, a green alley test site, and homes where residents have already received rebates that cover most of the cost of building a rain garden or installing a cistern on their own property.

The Ballard RainWise Roadshow will be held on November 6th from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Sunset Hill Community Club (3003 NW 66th St). Feel free to drop in anytime. See the flyer here (.pdf).

Drainage issues in roadside raingardens

To help reduce the amount of storm water that flows into the sewers, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is building roadside raingardens along 28th Ave NW.

The future raingardens are still under construction and some of them are filling up with water during major storms like we had last weekend, and aren’t draining. “The swales have been filling up during the heavy rains and the water has been sitting in them for days without draining,” Nancy, one of the neighbors emailed us. “A few days ago there was a group of folks with clipboards and cameras having a meeting on the sidewalk and looking at the full swales.”

“The drainage capability of the rain gardens will improve when the all of the weirs are installed and the landscaping is planted, mulched and growing,” Christine Woelfel, SPU Project Manager Supervisor tells us. “At present, some of the bio-engineered soil isn’t draining as anticipated and we’ll replace it before the plants and mulch go in.”

Woelfel tells us that the inlets for many of the raingardens are plugged with sandbags to keep the water out during construction, and they’ve discovered that the seal isn’t tight enough. “All this rain is complicating the construction and we’ve needed to pump out the rain gardens to dry them out quickly so the contractor can get back to work as soon as possible to complete the project,” Woelfel says.

“Additionally, the water depth in some of the unfinished rain gardens was deeper than 6-inches,” Woelfel says. “Since 28th Ave NW is a main path for school children, we wanted to be cautious and not allow deeper water, even on a temporary basis, so we pumped them out. Once the construction is done the raingardens will drain normally and pumping will be unnecessary.” (Thanks Nancy for the email and photo of the city pumping the raingarden.)

Seattle’s rooftops are going green

The city of Seattle has nearly 360,000 square feet of rooftop gardens on 62 public and private buildings, according to a new report (.pdf) just released by the city.

The rooftop of the Ballard Library.

Three of those buildings are in Ballard – Bastille Cafe and Bar (5307 Ballard Ave. NW), the Ballard Library (5614 22nd Ave NW) and the Re-Store bike shed (1440 NW 52nd St).

Bastille boasts planter boxes full of greens, herbs and tomatoes for the meals they serve. “It works for them as a business model,” Seattle City Councilman Mike O’Brien says, “You can’t get spinach salad much fresher than something that was picked moments ago on the roof of the building and transported by staircase down to your salad.” But enjoying a fresh salad isn’t necessarily the purpose of a green roof. It’s also environmentally friendly. “In the summer, they think about half the greens are produced on site in a space that was formerly just, essentially, soaking up heat from the sun,” Councilman O’Brien says, “Now it’s producing something productive and adding a myriad of benefits.”

One of the benefits of the green rooftop is it is believed to slow stormwater runoff. The city is working on ways to reduce the amount of rain water that enters into the city’s pipes at the same time. “Green roofs, we think, can get us that two to four hour delay on the peak stormwater flow,” Joel Banslaben, a Senior Sustainable Strategy Specialist for Seattle Public Utilities says, “Which will allow the system to recover from that initial flush of the system and then slowly release it into once the treatment plants have the capacity to absorb some of that.” The city is currently testing this theory at five sites, including the Ballard Library.

Earlier this year, Seattle Public Utilities rolled out the RainWise incentive program for parts of Ballard, in which the city will pay for rain gardens or cisterns on private property. If it makes financial sense for the city, RainWise may incorporate green roofs as early as next year. “Going into 2011 we’re looking at incorporating green roof incentives in that RainWise program,” Dave Laclergue with the Department of Planning and Development tells us.

Moving forward, Councilman O’Brien hopes that green roofs become the norm for new developments just as getting LEED certified has become. “I think we’re going to see in the future that green roofs are essentially the smart, best practices for the way to go.” In fact, half of new commercial developments in the city are designed with planted rooftops.

If you’re interested in seeing Seattle’s public green roofs, the city has put together a self-guided tour found here (.pdf)

New city ordinance has restaurants going green

New rules go into effect Thursday requiring restaurants, coffee shops, food courts and cafeterias in Seattle to serve one-time use foods in compostable or recyclable containers.

Drew Greer, owner of Ballard Brothers Seafood and Burgers says this ordinance is a move in the right direction. “I wholeheartedly believe that the new city requirements are fair and Ballard Brothers packaging systems provide the duplicatable model for all the fast food chains that operate in the city,” Greer says, “We proved the system was doable two years ago and have perfected in over the last two years.” The restaurant has been using compostable packaging and utensils for two years. “It’s just good business and follows Ballard Brothers Seafood & Burgers tenets of using only wild sustainable seafood, conserving resources and buying the best quality products with the least negative impact on our environment,” Greer says.

“By offering their customers recycling and composting choices, Seattle restaurants will help prevent up to 6,000 tons of food service ware and leftover food from being sent to the landfill every year,” says Tim Croll the Solid Waste Director at Seattle Public Utilities. “That’s the equivalent of a garbage train more than 100 cars long that will just disappear.”

Greer says that in the time he’s been participating in the Cedar Grove composting program, two-thirds of the waste produced at the restaurant has been diverted from the landfill.

The new rules mean that napkins, paper bags, wooden stir sticks and other take-away containers can go into compost bins. According to Seattle Public Utilities, hot and cold beverage cups and lids will now go into recycling containers instead the trash. The food establishment must provide the appropriate container for disposal. There are a few exceptions until July 1, 2011, including utensils, straws, small portion cups, and foil faced, insulated wrap.

The biggest hurdle for Greer is working with the customer. “Most of the time it is about reeducating our customers to understand that all their waste from the table once they are done eating goes in the green bins, except the plastic red baskets and plastic beverage cups that get washed in our dishwasher,” he says.

Seattle is the first city in North America to require single-use food service packaging be either compostable or recyclable. Issaquah will implement similar rules next year. More information on the ordinance can be found here.

City says Golden Gardens Creek has low levels of fecal coliform

Golden Gardens Creek may not be as contaminated as first thought.

File photo from May 2009.

Water samples taken by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) on Wednesday show very low levels of fecal coliform, a press release from Joelle Hammerstad at Seattle Parks and Recreation states. The press release goes on:

Parks requested that SPU take samples from the creek to determine the health and safety of the creek for recreational use. SPU has a team of inspectors who are trained to detect sewage inflow that is entering stormwater systems. Sampling on Wednesday confirmed that sewage from the City’s system is not entering the stream.

“As a result of the information released today, Public Health – Seattle & King County does not recommend closing the creek,” said Charles Wu, King County Public Health & Environmental Investigator. “However, there is always the potential for urban streams to be contaminated from a variety of sources, including pet and wildlife waste, and so we advise people to stay out of urban creeks at all times.”

It is normal for bacteria levels in urban creeks to fluctuate due to changing conditions, such as rainfall and the presence of other sources of bacteria including wildlife, pets and human activity.

Earlier this week we reported that Surfrider Foundation has found high levels of fecal coliform in the creek since they started testing the water in March. “The City values volunteers who care about our urban parks and streams and intends to work cooperatively with volunteers from Surfrider Foundation to compare sampling information, provide technical support and develop a better common understanding of the data that are being collected,” the press release from the Parks Department states.