Appendix E History of Olympia’s Wastewater System

The following brief historical summary is drawn mainly from Olympia’s earlier (1989, 1997 and 2007) wastewater management plans.


Olympia was founded in 1850 with the establishment of the townsite. Most early settlers traveled from the central and eastern states, and were headed for the gold fields of California, so non-Native American settlement in the South Sound area was sparse, and at first there were no public sewers or other utilities. By 1858 it became quite apparent that some control was necessary, if not for the public health then at least for a more pleasant environment. The first permanent sewers were installed in 1892; they were primarily short reaches flowing directly into Budd Inlet or the Deschutes Waterway. Sewers were expanded when needed, and the urgency of the situation usually prevailed over planning.

Until the mid-1950s, sewers carried both sanitary and storm flows in single pipes discharging into Budd Inlet. Adequate flushing and some dilution were seen as benefits over separate sanitary sewers. By the late 1940’s and early 1950s, reports of pollution in Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet made it clear that significant sewer infrastructure improvements would be needed as Olympia grew. Work in the 1940s had identified the need for routing wastewater flows from Tumwater and the Olympia Brewery towards a future treatment plant.

1950 - Present

The first sewage treatment plant was constructed at the site of the present LOTT facility adjacent to the Port of Olympia, and began operation in 1952.

In 1955 the City mandated that storm and sewer flows be separated in future systems and initiated a program to improve the situation by treating wastewater at a cursory level prior to discharge. In 1955, a Pollution Control Commission study of water quality in Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake resulted in the closure of the lake and Budd Inlet south of Priest Point Park to recreational use. The commission recommended intercepting all wastewater to eliminate outfalls into Capitol Lake, West Bay and East Bay, and diverting it to the treatment plant.

In 1956, the Thurston-Mason County Health District found that pollution in Capitol Lake had declined since Tumwater began diverting its wastewater to the treatment plant; however, contamination of Budd Inlet had increased. Its report also recommended directing flows to the treatment plant.

In 1975, another study by the Pollution Control Commission found that Capitol Lake was still not safe for water sports although contamination had decreased. The report also noted that effluent was present along several streets in northwest Olympia, probably because poor soils had led to failure of onsite sewage systems. To date, a fair amount of the older sewers in the downtown Olympia, Capitol neighborhood and parts of northeast Olympia remain as combined sewer systems that carry wastewater and stormwater to LOTT. See the Central Basin section of Chapter 5 for more detail.

The original treatment facility was owned and operated by the City of Olympia. The cities of Tumwater and Lacey began contracting with Olympia for sanitary sewage treatment in 1954 and 1969 respectively, and the three cities and Thurston County formed the LOTT Partnership in 1976. Olympia continued to own and operate the treatment plant on behalf of the LOTT partnership until July 2001, when the LOTT Clean Water Alliance (as it is now called) was formalized as a separate organization.

See Chapter 3 for more information on the current LOTT Clean Water Alliance long-term management plan, facilities and programs.

Sewer System Planning

During the past 50 years, Olympia’s wastewater infrastructure has grown substantially and has been extended into the UGA. In 1960, Olympia retained the Seattle consulting firm of Hill Ingman to complete the first comprehensive sewerage and drainage report. Olympia published its next Sanitary Sewer Comprehensive Plan in 1989, added Amendment No. 1 in 1992, and updated the Plan in 1997.

In the years 2002-2007, the City completed a thorough review and revision of the planning, design standards, operations and financing of the Wastewater Utility, which resulted in the 2007 Wastewater Management Plan.

These plans have guided development of the infrastructure for conveying sewage to the treatment plant with minimal risk to public and environmental health. Under these plans, publicly owned pipe systems have been funded, constructed, repaired and maintained.

As the City has grown in the 20th and into the 21st century, the gravity sewer system has gradually expanded to serve areas annexed to the City and into the outlying Urban Growth Area. Extensions have been prompted by the need to serve new subdivisions or commercial centers, with limited systematic planning. The focus has been on serving individual developments at the time of permitting rather than providing comprehensive regional service.

Extensions typically have adequate capacity for existing and future needs as well as high quality construction. However, these development-driven extensions have sometimes resulted in "leap-frog" service, and many gaps in service remain within the developed area. Areas not served by gravity sewers have utilized onsite sewage systems, and many of these properties are relatively close to sewer lines. Also, the focus on individual developments has resulted in the use of alternative technologies, such as STEP systems, that are cost effective on the development scale, but increase public costs and liability.