Annexation could resolve area’s contamination, fire concerns

November 30, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District considers absorbing Overdale Park

Concerns about contaminated drinking water and inadequate fire protection could evaporate soon for Overdale Park residents.

The neighborhood near the former Albertsons store could be annexed into the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District after a yearslong debate about arsenic-tainted wells and questions about a stable water supply.

Overdale — through a neighborhood water association — has operated a private water system since the 1950s, not long after houses started to sprout at the then-rural site. Residents turned to the Sammamish district for service in 2005, after arsenic contamination left a well near East Lake Sammamish Parkway Southeast unusable. In addition, another neighborhood well could no longer meet residents’ demand for water.

The outdated system also put the neighborhood at risk from fires. Engineers discovered some fire hydrants in Overdale lacked the pressure to fight fires.

If a blaze had occurred, pressure could have dropped to unacceptable levels for firefighting in minutes — and left homes unprotected from fire.

The problem is detailed in a report the Sammamish district issued in April.

The agency has since added a water tender — or tanker — to the fire response plan for the neighborhood.

The neighborhood system supplied water to about 140 households. The district collected about $30,000 per year from the neighborhood water association to supply water to the community.

The decision to petition the Sammamish district for annexation came after numerous contentious discussions about the decades-old neighborhood water system and potential impacts to emergency response, health and property values.

The district board has scheduled a Dec. 6 public hearing on the annexation.

Nita Weiss, a neighborhood resident since 1977, said the water system had deteriorated in the decades since she settled in Overdale.

“We have grown so much that it’s a definite need,” she said. “I’m thrilled we’re going with Sammamish.”

EFR leaders learned about the fire hydrant problem in the spring, as the Sammamish district conducted tests in preparation for possible annexation. Fire Marshal Bud Backer said the agency could not be sure how long the pressure problems had lasted.

“Somewhere down the road in the annals of history, there should have been certification of the water system that would have said it could provide sufficient fire flows in order to obtain building permits and build structures in that area,” he said. “How the situation got missed — or did it degrade over time? — I don’t know how we got to where we are today.”

District plans to reduce fire risk

If the Sammamish district annexes Overdale, engineers could send additional water into the neighborhood system to provide sufficient fire hydrant pressure.

In the meantime, EFR has added a water tender at Station 71 — along East Sunset Way near Issaquah City Hall and about three miles from Overdale — to the response plan. The tender carries about 3,000 gallons — “more than enough water to attack a house fire,” Backer said. More equipment might be necessary for larger blazes.

“We are aware of the situation there,” Backer continued. “We’re dealing with it with the best way we’ve got available to us.”

The neighborhood is divided into higher and lower pressure zones. Residences in the higher-pressure zone — most of the homes east of 232nd Avenue Southeast — face increased fire risk.

District Planning Engineer Jay Regenstreif said planners had proposed upgrades to improve flow to fire hydrants if the annexation occurs.

“The way that area is set up, that area has somewhat limited access to how much water their pumps can put out for fire protection,” she said.

The district surrounds Overdale on all sides. If the district board decides to annex the neighborhood, the King County Boundary Review Board and the King County Council must approve the annexation.

District General Manager Jay Krauss said the approval from both boards could extend the annexation timeline to months.

Contamination prompts tough decision

The district serves about 16,300 water customers and 10,100 sewer customers in parts of Issaquah, Sammamish and unincorporated King County. Customers elect a board to direct budget and policy decisions for the 62-year-old district.

“It will make the water supply more firm, shall we say,” Regenstreif said.

Before the neighborhood turned to the Sammamish district in 2005, Overdale customers relied on a well drilled in 1963 and another well — near East Lake Sammamish Parkway Southeast — drilled in 2004.

Discussions about future water sources intensified throughout the past year. The debate also exposed divisions between residents and the volunteer board in charge of the neighborhood water system.

Overdale residents considered a handful of options before petitioning the district for annexation. Residents also met a representative from the state Office of Drinking Water to discuss choices.

The other options included a pricey water treatment system to counteract the arsenic contamination in the well near East Lake Sammamish Parkway Southeast or drilling the well deeper to search for acceptable water.

Federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations for arsenic in drinking water allow 10 parts per billion. The arsenic level in the contaminated Overdale well exceeded 11 parts per billion. The poisonous element occurs naturally in the ground near the well.

The discovery raised concerns among Overdale residents, because arsenic presents a long-term health risk, and arsenic-tainted groundwater has been linked to numerous cancers and other maladies.

Tests recorded high manganese levels in the well water, too. The element does not pose a health risk. Overdale residents said iron and manganese cause unpleasant odor and taste in drinking water.

Customers also considered blending well water and Sammamish district water in order to meet EPA standards.

The neighborhood water association also considered extending the existing arrangement between Overdale and the district.

Overdale resident Weiss said the neighborhood had changed in recent years. The neighborhood, she said, could be better served as a full-fledged Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District customer.

“Our water system when I first moved here in ’77, it was fabulous and the water board was fabulous,” she said. “But it has over the years deteriorated and a volunteer board no longer works.”

Get involved

Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District

  • Agenda: Overdale Park annexation public hearing
  • 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6
  • Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District office
  • 1510 228th Ave. S.E., Sammamish

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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