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Kohl-Welles secures funding for orca study


Impact of wastewater effluent on Puget Sound marine life to be investigated.


On an average day, King County’s West Point Treatment Plant treats more than 130 million gallons of combined wastewater and storm water runoff.

The treatment process deals primarily with domestic waste, while the industrial waste pretreatment process addresses toxins that harm the biological process of secondary treatment. While there have been recent studies elsewhere in Puget Sound that suggest that Chinook Salmon are impacted by wastewater, little is known of what impact King County’s wastewater effluent has on marine life – specifically on the struggling Southern Resident Orca population that call Puget Sound home—or on the salmon upon which they depend to survive.

Metropolitan King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles wants to know more. That’s why she secured funding in 2019-2020 King County Budget to commission a study that will investigate the impact wastewater effluent has on marine life in the Puget Sound, including on Southern Resident Orcas and their prey.

“Like so many others, I was heart-broken as I watched a mother orca carry her deceased baby with her for weeks this past summer,” said Kohl-Welles. “Tragically, not one calf has been born and survived in the past three years. All I could think was something is very wrong here and we need to better understand what impact we as a County are having on the livelihood of this iconic mammal.”

The study, which will be carried out by a contracted third party, would be designed to determine whether undiluted wastewater effluent represents a toxic influence on Puget Sound marine organisms, including orcas, and the food chain of marine species on which these whales depend on for food, primarily Chinook Salmon.

The study would also evaluate and describe potential new technologies that could be implemented at county wastewater facilities to significantly limit or control toxic discharges into the Sound.

“My hope is this study will work in concert with the recommendations that come out of the Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery Task Force,” added Kohl-Welles. “But we cannot wait for the state or federal government to act on this urgent issue. Our whales are essentially starving and it’s going to take an enormous effort from businesses, local governments, and citizens alike to reverse course. I’m confident that this study will help begin this effort.”

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