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Originally published Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 3:38 PM

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Seattle bargains for creative solutions to sewer and stormwater overflows

Seattle, state and federal officials have worked through a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Justice Department that has inspired traditional and green infrastructure options to reduce pollution in local waterways.

Seattle Times Editorial

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AFTER years of bureaucratic wrangling, Seattle Public Utilities has reached a tentative agreement with state and federal regulators about how to deal with chronic overflows of untreated sewage and stormwater into city waterways.

The Seattle City Council begins review Thursday of a plan that seeks to use creative approaches to a known problem, allowing for better results and lower costs.

Seattle and environmental regulators have negotiated a settlement in the shadow of U.S. Justice Department legal challenges that gives the city leeway to mix traditional infrastructure responses to combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows with effective responses that save money.

In addition to constructing large holding tanks, the city will be allowed to add in green infrastructure techniques: rain gardens, street swales and low-impact development. They can be combined with incentives to use rain barrels and permeable surfaces to reduce runoff.

The key, as the city points out, is a mix of tools that combine to reduce the frequency and volume of overflow episodes.

A point of pride for The Seattle Times is the credit the city, state and federal officials give to articles by reporter Lynda V. Mapes that helped to change the conversation on the pollution hazards from stormwater overflows, and how scarce resources might be best applied.

None of this is inexpensive. The estimated cost of the related capital construction is $500 million over the next 13 years. This could increase Seattle water and sewer bills by $60 a year by 2025. The return on investment is a healthier environment and cleaner water for fish and recreation.

King County is next up to reconcile its sewer and treatment operations. None of these fixes by the city, or eventually the county, must be allowed to diminish existing water-quality standards. That is indeed the point.

One certain lesson: Progress is cumulative. The work the state Legislature has done to minimize heavy metals in brake pads and regulate lawn and garden products is all on the same purposeful pathway.

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