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Inslee Touring Wash. Sites That Show Costs Of Climate Change

Gov. Jay Inslee took a walk through King County’s wastewater facility in Discovery Park on Tuesday as part of his tour of sites affected by climate change. 

Inslee followed West Point Treatment Plant manager Dan Grenet through the network of pipes, digesters and holding tanks that processes sewage for about 1.5 million people in Seattle and north King County.

The plant sits right on the shores of Puget Sound. Grenet says rising sea levels that come with global warming are already causing occasional damage when saltwater floods in with the highest tides.

“It causes big problems with corrosion in our facility, [specifically] in our pumps and piping systems,” Grenet said.

It also requires the added expense of treating much more water than normal, and can interfere with delicate biological treatment processes that purify sewage, says Pam Elardo, King County's director of wastewater treatment.

“That system is extremely sensitive to saltwater. If you have too much salt, it changes the osmotic pressure on the cell membranes and they will die. And we will lose the ability to treat effectively, the way we do now. So it’s a big deal,” she said.

Using the latest models, experts are still figuring out how much adjustment will be necessary. The costs are still unclear, but Elardo says they will have to adapt.

“It’s going to be expensive,” she said. “We’re either going to be building huge levies around facilities like this, or, in fact, moving facilities, like a pumping station."

How much might that cost? “Tens of millions, if not a hundred million dollars," Elardo said.

It’s not at all clear where the money will come from. And Inslee noted after the tour that it’s not just the saltwater intrusion the plant has to deal with; it's also subject to increased costs when there are big storms and extreme rain events that cause sewage treatment tanks to overflow.

“This plant is getting this challenge both on the downstream and upstream side,” Inslee said. “So they’ve got twice as many problems than I’d learned about before. It really does demand a response.”   

Inslee is using his climate change tour to raise awareness. Other stops along the way have highlighted the state’s ailing shellfish industry and this year’s extreme wildfire season.

The governor is also highlighting opportunities in developing clean energy technology. On Thursday, he is scheduled to visit a demonstration project in Bellingham on energy efficiency and weatherization.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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