King County’s downtown Seattle jail resumed use of city tap water Tuesday after numerous tests showed the water meets drinking standards, according to the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention.

Jail officials had been distributing bottled water “out of an abundance of caution” to those incarcerated since Sept. 29 after reports of cloudy water.

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Previous and recent tests showed the water meets both U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Washington Department of Health standards for drinking, spokesperson Noah Haglund said.

The cloudiness was intermittent, according to Haglund, who said jail staff reported no appearance of “discoloration or unusual cloudiness” in the tap water Wednesday.

The jail was connected to the city water supply the entire time testing was being done. Last year, the jail finished a project that replaced a large portion of its water distribution system, Haglund said. In the last month, a Seattle Public Utilities water-quality expert visited the jail and did not identify any operational concerns.


Haglund said people in custody received water “at mealtimes and on request” and that laundry, showers and restrooms were unaffected.

“Everyone should have ample access,” he said in an October email.

Molly Gilbert, president of the King County Public Defenders union, disagreed with the characterization that those incarcerated had plenty of water.

While bottled water was handed out, the jail implemented a one-bottle-at-a-time policy because of security concerns bottles would be melted down, leaving many inmates to “decide between hydration and hygiene,” she told The Seattle Times.

The jail has long been understaffed, and employees do not have time to hand out water bottles as frequently as needed, Gilbert said.

“We have people who are dehydrated, not brushing teeth and not having access to showers,” Gilbert said.


In an interview, she said people rarely got more than one shower each week, not because of water concerns, but due to the staff shortage.

County spokesperson Chase Gallagher said people weren’t forced to choose between hygiene and drinking water and that restrooms, showers and laundry were never shut off.

Gallagher also disagreed that staffing levels impacted the distribution of water or anyone’s ability to take a shower, calling Gilbert’s characterization “inaccurate.”

Previous reporting by The Seattle Times showed that since the beginning of 2020, staff vacancies have risen from 25 open positions to nearly 100 — almost a fifth of the jail’s corrections officer workforce. The shortage also affects opportunity for visitation.

Last week, the King County Jail said it planned to reopen “limited in-person visitation” in early November for people who have less access to video visits. Some in-person group programming like Bible studies and a high-school completion program has resumed.

King County, the King County Corrections Guild and the King County Juvenile Detention Guild have also recently ratified new agreements to provide general wage increases of 4% to 6% each year, retention bonuses and new overtime premiums.


The news website PubliCola first reported the discolored water in September.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include additional information about the access to bottled water and showers in the jail.

Do you have more information about the water at the King County Jail? Contact reporter Amanda Zhou at