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Navy Spills Sewage in Puget Sound, Faces Legal Action

The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Credit: Megan Reid, Kitsap Sun.

Back in September, it was reported that 450,000 gallons of sewage had leaked from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard into Sinclair Inlet over a two-year period.

The sewage spill — which works out to about 540 gallons a day — had gone unnoticed due to the lack of smell. However, a monthly water test uncovered higher-than-normal levels of bacteria.

The leak was narrowed down to two temporary trailers in the shipyard, where the pipes had been incorrectly connected to the stormwater system instead of the wastewater system. Though the volume of the sewage spill was concerning, public health officials did not believe it posed a threat to the people of the Puget Sound.

“The impact of the spill is negligible at best because monitoring didn’t even pick up bacteria level,” said John Kiess, environmental health director for the Kitsap Public Health District.

While the sewage spill was believed to be an accident, it wasn’t an isolated incident.


Another Sewage Spill

On Tuesday, March 5, Kitsap County health officials issued a warning to the public: stay out of Sinclair Inlet.

An estimated 4,000 gallons of raw sewage had been dumped into the water over the weekend, beginning on Saturday and lasting into Sunday.

While no direct cause was reported, the spill was sourced to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Luckily, the area was already closed for shellfish harvest due to the population.

It was unsafe to go swimming, wading, or types of water recreation or play where water could be swallowed or get into the mouth, nose or eyes. It was advised that people avoid direct skin contact if possible.

Operating a major installation on public waters certainly does not come without its risks. As this 2017 spill in Virginia confirms, it’s an unfortunate pattern that the Navy just hasn’t been able to break.


Suquamish Tribe Takes Action

The Suquamish Tribe, located in the coastal town of Suquamish in Washington state, have just given military officials 60 days’ notice of an impending lawsuit.

They plan to sue the U.S. Navy over the sewage spills, that have released “hundreds of thousands of gallons of untreated sewage” into the Puget Sound. The lawsuit will be filed under the Clean Water Act, which strictly prohibits discharging pollutants without a permit.

It is unclear how the Navy will react, as officials at Naval Base Kitsap have declined to comment.

The Suquamish — meaning “people of the clear salt water” in Lushootseed — have inhabited the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years. They traditionally made their living by fishing and hunting the waters of the Puget Sound.

Exposure to raw sewage impacts an average of seven million people a year. Dangerous viruses, bacteria and parasites in the affected water can cause severe illness and even death.


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