BREMERTON, Wash. — Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton’s public works department says it has discovered another sewage spill — one that leaked an estimated 450,000 gallons (1.7 million liters) of wastewater into Puget Sound over the past two years.
The bathrooms in two temporary trailers constructed at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in 2016 were improperly connected to a storm water system instead of the wastewater system, the Kitsap Sun reported. As a result, flushes from the toilets flowed into Sinclair Inlet.
"For two years, people were walking past and nobody smelled it," said Cmdr. Ben Leppard, public works officer for Naval Base Kitsap.
The problem was discovered last Wednesday after monthly water testing showed elevated bacteria counts, Leppard said.
Authorities don't believe the spill posed a danger to the public.
Health officials are warning the public to avoid contact with the water of Sinclair Inlet near Bremerton after 80,000 gallons of sewage spilled from Naval Base Kitsap.
Health officials warned the public to stay out of Sinclair Inlet after two sewage spills earlier this year. In August, a blocked sewer line caused 80,000 gallons (300,000 liters) of wastewater to flow through a storm water vault into Sinclair Inlet. In February, an open valve at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard caused a 1,000-gallon (3,785-liter) spill.
After the last reported spill, the Navy instituted enhanced testing protocols, which helped officials respond and identify the source of the spill more quickly. As soon as the sample came back with the result that indicated a problem, public works started trying to find the source through the 30 miles (50 kilometers) of underground pipes on base rather than waiting for another month of testing to confirm that it might be occurring, as had been the procedure in the past.
"With this spill, and the last one, and the last one, it's an opportunity for continuous process improvement, and that's what led us to change our process last month," Leppard said. "It honestly allowed us to identify this in a matter of days, compared to what could've been a month or two more."
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Temporary facilities like the trailers where the latest spill originated are common at the shipyard, but most are just offices and don't contain bathrooms that require sewage hookups. The Navy plans to revisit all of the building and trailers that have been put in place on base within the past ten years to get "a full confirmation that things are going where they're supposed to be, such as the wastewater system is going into the wastewater system," Leppard said.
The estimated 450,000 gallon (1.7 million) spill volume is the high end of the public works department’s spill volume estimate, since usage of the trailers fluctuated.