Seattle beachgoers were puzzled Tuesday to find the outdoor showers and a fish-cleaning table at popular beaches shut off at the height of summer.
The shut-off came after Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) this month cited pollution discharges to Puget Sound from an outdoor shower at the Alki Beach Bathhouse as well as the divers shower and fish-cleaning table at Seacrest Park. The Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation operates both.
SPU in its July 11 letter said untreated water from the facilities was discharging directly to Puget Sound, a violation of pollution laws. The Parks Department was required to inform SPU of a plan to sever or remove the “illicit connections” to the Sound within 14 days. The department shut off the water.
At the beach Tuesday, families wondered what could be such a big problem with washing the sand off their feet.
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“It doesn’t seem like it would make that much of a difference,” said Riannon Cutler, of Maple Valley. “And it is kind of unfortunate for people who need the shower.”
Sylvia Ochoa moved to Seattle 15 years ago and was at Alki with family members who recently moved here.
“Aren’t there other things that are going to pollute the water? It seems like there are other things they can worry about. People are only going to rinse the sand from their feet. This is hard on the parents,” Ochoa said.
She had tried to use the shower, only to find it not working. “We thought that was kind of weird,” Ochoa said. “But it’s Seattle. We expect weird things.”
A citizen complaint led to the action, said Joelle Hammerstad, spokeswoman for the Parks Department.
SPU dispatched its Stormwater Source Control Team to investigate a report that the showers and fish-cleaning sink were discharging “prohibited substances to local receiving waters,” according to SPU’s letter.
The shower and fish-cleaning table at Seacrest Park have been there 20 years, and the Alki Beach House was put in 10 years ago.
It isn’t the first time Seattle Public Utilities has busted the Parks Department.
The department spent $300,000 changing the plumbing at Lincoln Park’s Colman Pool within the past three years when SPU notified it that discharging backwash from the pool directly to Puget Sound was not acceptable, Hammerstad said.
The discharges are regulated through municipal stormwater permits.
Louise Kulzer, a manager in SPU’s program-development section, said the most recent problem wasn’t just sand on people’s feet.
“It’s the lotion and the soaps, and the sunscreen. And chlorinated water is a problem. Chlorine is a very potent pollutant and kills fish,” Kulzer said.
Also at issue was washing of equipment used in a pottery studio run by the department next to the shower.
“If the shower is being used as a regular sink and people are washing themselves and things from a pottery studio, that is not something most people want to contact,” Kulzer said. “They expect the water to be clean.”
The incident pointed to the parks system’s aging infrastructure, Hammerstad said.
“We are already dealing with a $267 million backlog of major projects that we know about,” Hammerstad said.
“ This would go into the category of things that until two weeks ago we didn’t even know were a problem.”
She said the Parks Department was looking into what it would take to correct the problem. “Is it as simple as digging this up and finding the right connection, or is it a major engineering problem? We don’t know yet.”
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org