Water district concerned Madrona School’s wells could contaminate customers’ water source

    A rendering of the completed building. (Image courtesy the Edmonds School District)

    The thought of moving to a different old building in a different corner of the Edmonds School District in the fall is emotional for Madrona K-8 principal Kathleen Hodges.

    She, as well as the students and staff at the school, have been eagerly watching a new school building take shape on their campus with excitement and the expectation of moving in this fall. Now, that won’t happen because of a disagreement between the Edmonds School District and Olympic View Water & Sewer District.

    “Now, what I have is 650 students that don’t get to move into their new building,” she said. “That’s an important thing to keep in mind.”

    Construction is ongoing at the new building at Madrona K-8, part of a $49.25 million project on the existing campus at 9300 236th St. S.W. in Edmonds. The building is designed to accommodate the school’s unique programs, which draw from throughout the district.

    Classes are multi-age and team taught, Hodges explained, meaning classes may contain, for example, 40 or 53 students within a specified age range, with two teachers to each class. As a result, there are limitations to where Madrona can be placed — and the new building was designed to make the most of the school’s unique system.

    “It’s designed just for our quirky program,” Hodges said. “I want our kids to have that learning environment.”

    Currently, the only available Edmonds School District location with the space to accommodate Madrona programs is the old Alderwood Middle School, which is where the school district plans to move the school this fall. The school’s classrooms will need to be adjusted and adapted for Madrona’s programs. In addition, transportation routes and schedules will need to be altered. Details for these changes will be ironed out over the summer.

    The disagreement between the Edmonds School District and the Olympic View Water & Sewer District stems from 16 underground injection control (UIC) wells on the Madrona property for stormwater detention.

    According to Lynne Danielson, general manager for the water district, the Madrona K-8 site sits near the border of the five-year and 10-year areas of influence zones. That means that when a drop of water hits that area, it is expected to take about five to 10 years to reach the water source–in this case, Deer Creek, she explained.

    Danielson said the main source of concern for the water district is the depth of the 16 wells expected on the site, and plans for monitoring how that is affecting the Deer Creek. She said most UIC wells within the Olympic View Water & Sewer District are in residential areas and are only about 20 feet deep, while the ones proposed for Madrona are 80-120 feet deep.

    “The issue we have is if you get rid of the first 80 feet of filtering because you’re putting it at 80-120 feet, how long does it really take to get (to the water source)?” she said. “We don’t know. We haven’t had the ability to test it.”

    Plus, she said, a vactor truck can usually remove filter material up to 20 feet deep. Typically, if a well like this fails, the filter material can be cleaned out and replaced but that becomes much more difficult at deeper depths.

    The wells work by allowing water to filter through what is known as a dry sand layer of earth before reaching the aquifer (see above diagram). Stormwater will be allowed to flow freely through the sand and will not be injected or pressurized into the aquifer, according to district spokeswoman Kelly Franson. This system was selected by the Edmonds School District after receiving input from the school’s community, which values highly environmentally sound practices, Principal Hodges said.

    Danielson said the water district proposed alternatives early on, but when it became clear they were not feasible alternatives, they asked for stronger water testing guidelines and more frequent testing, especially in the first five years, but continuing after that.

    The water district would also like to see a plan in place if something were to happen and Deer Creek were to become contaminated. Deer Creek is the source for 40 percent of Olympic View Water & Sewer District’s water.

    “It’s not our goal to displace the kids, it’s not our goal to do any of that,” Danielson said. “We have nothing other than a legislatively required job of protecting our water source and protecting our customers and making sure they don’t end up with contaminated water.”

    According to the Edmonds School District, the Olympic View Water & Sewer District first raised concerns about the project in October 2016.

    In mid-2017, an interlocal agreement was signed between the Olympic View Water & Sewer District, the Edmonds School District and the City of Edmonds. The agreement allowed construction to begin on the site last summer without an agreement between the water and school districts, with the understanding that the City of Edmonds would not issue a Certificate of Occupancy for the new building until an agreement had been reached between the school and water districts.

    Danielson said the water district signed the interlocal agreement allowing construction to begin in good faith that they would be able to reach an agreement with the school district by the time the new building would be scheduled to open.

    Franson said there has been a lack of communication from the water district since that agreement was signed. A meeting between the two groups was cancelled in September 2017, and the water district rejected mediation in December 2017, Franson said.

    Once the city receives a green light from both districts, it will issue the Certificate of Occupancy, said Phil Williams, public works director for the City of Edmonds.

    The project had been issued a permit because the stormwater system meets standards set by the Department of Ecology and the City of Edmonds.

    “I don’t think anyone has said that’s an inappropriate or poor choice of technologies,” Williams said. “I think the current discussion is on how it will affect water sources operated by Olympic View Water.”

    “We reviewed the plans for this system and ultimately approved them,” he added.

    Officials with the water district, school district and City of Edmonds all expressed hope that the issues will be resolved quickly. That hope is part of why Madrona students will move next year rather than continue in the old building where they are currently being taught. The next phase of construction for the new school is to tear down that building so additional new facilities can be built. Construction so far is on schedule for the project, so construction will continue as planned.

    And once the issues are resolved, Madrona K-8 will return to its campus as soon as it can.

    “The school district has invested time and money in an approved system,” said School Board Director Ann McMurray. “We’d like to get the water turned on and the kids in their new school as soon as possible.”

    “Hopefully, the adults can come together soon for the sake of the kids,” she continued.

    Resources from the Edmonds School District about this issue can be accessed at this link. Similar resources from Olympic View Water & Sewer are expected to be posted on its website on Thursday.

    — By Natalie Covate

    2 Replies to “Water district concerned Madrona School’s wells could contaminate customers’ water source”

    1. The longer this dispute drags out, the more taxpayer dollars that are being wasted, including the need to retrofit an obsolete school. It is absurd to use taxpayer dollars to retrofit an obsolete school and then still need to use taxpayer dollars to fix the issue. These two public entities with elected officials need to figure this out quickly. Regardless of who is at fault, the solution is not to use taxpayer funds to retrofit an obsolete school while a brand new $50 million dollar school sits unused. The solution is to use, if necessary, taxpayer dollars to fix the problem quickly and turn the water on. Every dollar used to retrofit an obsolete school and solve this problem takes away from every single student in the Edmonds School District.

      Please resolve this quickly and turn the water on.


    2. Sounds like an Errors & Omissions lawsuit should be filed against Olympic Water and Edmonds school district. Lawyers for both insurance carriers will seek mediation. Should no agreement be reached, the next step is litigation. The insurance carriers should pay for the defense costs but if a judgement is rendered against either party, insurance may not cover the amount of direct damages. Perhaps the respective board members should consult with their insurance companies and their agents to reconsider their position. Direct damages could cost either party millions. A third party attorney that specializes in Professional Liability for public entities should be consulted. The Washington State Bar Association may provide a referral.


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