Brightwater treatment technology promotes Puget Sound salmon and orcas

The advanced treatment technology of King County's Brightwater Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant will contribute to improved water quality in Puget Sound, benefiting marine life according to a recent Endangered Species Act (ESA) review by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Brightwater effluent will be treated to such a high level it will greatly exceed all federal requirements...

SEATTLE, Aug. 22, 2006 -- The Brightwater Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant's advanced treatment technology will contribute to improved water quality in Puget Sound, benefiting orcas and chinook salmon according to a recent Endangered Species Act (ESA) review by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Brightwater effluent will be treated to such a high level it will greatly exceed all federal requirements.

Fisheries, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was asked by the Army Corps of Engineers to review Brightwater project's biological assessment under Section 7 of the ESA after federal officials listed southern resident orcas as endangered. Chinook, a favorite food of orcas, is listed as threatened under ESA.

"We are proud to be in the forefront of technology that will help us save orcas and salmon as well as deliver multiple benefits to the people of the region," said King County Executive Ron Sims. "Integrating multiple benefits into an infrastructure project like Brightwater is important to recovery of Puget Sound and the wildlife that depend on it."

The Corps had issued a federal permit to King County's Water Treatment Division for the Brightwater project in 2004 after an 18-month consultation. The permit covers the entire project, including the treatment plant north of Woodinville, a 13-mile conveyance pipeline, and an outfall in Puget Sound.

In a letter to the Corps, NOAA Fisheries supported King County's conclusion that construction of an outfall in Puget Sound and operation of the Brightwater facilities "may affect" the listed species, but would be unlikely to adversely affect orcas.

The agency also acknowledged that the endangered marine mammal would likely benefit from the use of the new treatment technology at Brightwater King County plans to treat wastewater with membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology, which will remove 75 percent more pollutants than conventional wastewater treatment methods that already meet stringent requirements for discharge into Puget Sound.

"Killer whales are likely to benefit from the proposed action because the use of MBR treatment technology at Brightwater will result in the discharge of treated effluent with contaminant levels substantially below what they would be if the Brightwater facility were not permitted," said the concurrence letter from NOAA Fisheries.

NOAA Fisheries also noted that Brightwater's MBR technology will more effectively remove mercury from wastewater, reducing its presence in Chinook salmon.

"[NOAA Fisheries] previously analyzed the effects of the outfall operation on Puget Sound chinook and found that less mercury in the wastewater system and better treatment will reduce the potential for effects to Puget Sound chinook, which may also reduce the potential for bioaccumulation of these contaminants in southern resident killer whales."

"The MBR process at Brightwater will produce treated water so clean, we'll actually be able to reuse it for non-drinking purposes like irrigation and industry," said Executive Sims. "Reusing highly treated water not only reduces discharges to Puget Sound, it also reduces irrigation water withdrawals out of rivers, which helps salmon habitat."

Also in the letter, NOAA Fisheries stressed the importance of taking steps to protect orcas during the construction of a mile-long outfall in Puget Sound off Point Wells. Though orcas have not been commonly sited in the area, during consultations with NOAA Fisheries, the county agreed to take steps to mitigate potential construction impacts to the animals. Measures include establishing buffer zones and work windows, conducting acoustic monitoring, and using bubble curtains and other sound attenuation methods.

Construction on the Brightwater treatment system is already under way, with construction of the outfall scheduled for 2008.

During the Brightwater siting process, King County invested $10 million to conduct studies with the University of Washington on Puget Sound oceanography, geology and marine biology, dramatically increasing our knowledge of Puget Sound.

People enjoy clean water and a healthy environment because of King County's wastewater treatment program. The county's Wastewater Treatment Division protects public health and water quality by serving 17 cities, 17 local sewer utilities and more than 1.4 million residents in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. Formerly called Metro, the regional clean-water agency now operated by King County has been preventing water pollution for more than 40 years.

For more information, visit the website of the Wastewater Treatment Division, King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, in Seattle, WA: http://dnr.metrokc.gov/wtd/

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