You are here: home   Issues   River of No Return   River of no return
River of No Return
  • This article by Daniel Person originally appeared in the Jul 01, 2014 issue of High Country News.
  • To read the full article, you must login or subscribe.
Please enter your email address to begin:

Continue 
Follow Us
Follow us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Follow our RSS feeds!
Topic: Climate & Pollution     Department: Feature     Comments: 0

NON-SUBSCRIBER PREVIEW

River of no return

Seattle’s Duwamish has been straightened, dredged and heavily polluted. Can a Superfund cleanup bring it back to life?
News: Jul 01, 2014
by Daniel Person

On the kind of sunny August day that rain-soaked Seattle lives for, Michael Jeffers pulls his white Ford Ranger into a dirt lot surrounding a cinderblock cube of a building in the city's Mount Baker neighborhood. The anonymous garage is nominally a car wash, with a hose and some sponges but no electricity. Standing water drips from oil drums clustered in the back alongside car batteries under ragged tarps. "This could be interesting," Jeffers says wryly as he climbs from his truck. "There have been problems with drugs here in the past."

Jeffers isn't the kind of cop who looks for drugs, though. The lean, gray-haired 53-year-old, who wears a smile like it's part of his uniform, is a stormwater inspector trying to help Seattle get a handle on the stuff that gets swept into storm drains by the region's famously heavy and frequent rain. All those little spills add up to big pollution problems in the Duwamish River, four miles away.

Today, he's already spoken to Russian mechanics and a "bad-credit-no-credit-no-problem" car dealer. Here, he finds a Vietnamese man, who explains in broken English that he does oil changes and takes used sludge to an auto-parts store for disposal. Satisfied, Jeffers gives the man an urban hydrology pamphlet, which he only glances at briefly. Just as Jeffers completes a circuit of the property, the owner, a tall man named David, arrives on a green Huffy bicycle decorated with a dreamcatcher. "There was an inspector here just last week!" he exclaims before Jeffers can say hello. "We ain't using no chemicals!"

Jeffers explains calmly that if hydrocarbons and other chemicals washed from vehicles run directly into the storm drain, they end up in the river, and David could be fined. Same with those oil drums and batteries. In reality, fines are rare, Jeffers later tells me, because the city would rather help businesses comply: "It's just a matter of pushing them in the right direction." Jeffers recommends that David build a dirt berm to direct runoff into a sewer, feeding it into a wastewater plant for treatment. David begins to relax: "It's just right now, we're barely getting business," he confides. "Times are tough."

There are 5 more pages in this article...

Introductory Offer - Save 20%

Print with digital OR digital only

Sample gallery

Included in this article

Duwamish sludge, from source to sink Duwamish sludge, from source to sink
 by Eric Wagner

A close look at ‘Seattle’s toilet’

From our friends

Inspiring words from a die hard reader:

"I subscribed to HCN for a number of years, loved every issue...I stopped subscribing because my work load escalated. It was ok the first few months but after six months I was regretting the decision...the relevance of HCN did not diminish. I continued to look at the enticing titles of articles in the online newsletter but couldn't read enough to satisfy the craving. So I'm back. I also kicked in another 50 bucks as a personal reminder that quality reporting is not free."

Robert E. Hall, Washington D.C.

From a HUGE admirer

I just want to tell you that I'm a huge admirer of High Country News. The reporting, the stories you write — it's so important to those of us in California who see ourselves as part of the West and share all its issues. And they're always all so well-written. When people I know move to the West, I give them a gift subscription.

— Dr. Stephanie Pincetl, UCLA

A constant commitment to the environment

Needless to say, we love and appreciate the fine work all of you do to illustrate the importance of our constant commitment to the environment.

Thanks to all of you for illuminating the critical issues of our world, country and the West. Keep up the great work!

Jeff and Lisa,
Atlanta, Georgia

Email Newsletter

The West in your Inbox

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Follow our RSS feeds!
  1. The death of backpacking? | Younger people don’t seem interested in this out...
  2. Why I am a Tea Party member |
  3. The privatization of public campground management | All the info you need to decide whether you love o...
  4. Efficiency lessons from Germany |
  5. The Latest: Interior commits to restoring bison on select lands | The “odd ungulate out” gets a tentative win.
  1. The death of backpacking? | Younger people don’t seem interested in this out...
  2. A graceful gazelle becomes a pest | Inrroducing an African gazelle called the oryx for...
  3. What's killing the Yukon's salmon? | An ecological mystery in Alaska has scientists and...
  4. Plains sense | Ten years after Frank and Deborah Popper first pro...
  5. North Dakota wrestles with radioactive oilfield waste | Regulators look at raising the limit for radiation...
HCN Classifieds
Subscriber Alert
 
© 2014 High Country News, all rights reserved. | privacy policy | terms of use | powered by Plone