King County

A Streamlined Resource for the Homeless

When a single mom with two children flees a domestic violence situation and has no money, no relatives, and no place to go, what does she do? She can contact 211.

I am not sure many people know about this service, but the state manages a resource line that provides the names and contact information of organizations that assist the public. The resource directory is also online at

The 211 website search function for transitional housing in King County came up with 71 listings. A statewide search came up with 143 listings. The listings typically provide the phone number, hours, a link to the website, and the address. (Note: the addresses for domestic violence shelters are not listed.)

When searching “domestic violence,” a page that narrows the search by topics appears. Topics include a multilingual shelter hotline, domestic violence support groups, counseling services for children affected by domestic violence, and much more.

Overall, the website was fairly easy to use and you can search by county or area code, which is nice. You can even create an account to save searches. The second option is to call 211. The phone operator first prompts you to press one for English and two for Spanish. These two options make me wonder what non-English or Spanish-speaking refugees and immigrant populations do when first faced with a crisis situation.

The voice-recorded operator then directs the caller to dial a number for H1N1 or census information. After wasting my valuable minutes, I am finally transferred to a real-life person. His name is Cory. I soon learn from Cory that the area code of the phone number a person used to dial 211 directs them to that specific county’s information line. For example, I live in Seattle, but I have a 360 area code, so I was automatically routed to the call center for Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties.

Puget Sound fouled by West Point sewage

Last spring, PBS's Frontline aired an episode called Poisoned Waters that investigated major U.S. waterways in “peril” due to pollution. Among them was Puget Sound.

“We thought all the way along that [Puget Sound] was like a toilet: What you put in, you flush out...We  [now] know that's not true. It's like a bathtub: What you put in stays there,”Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire told Frontline.

Puget Sound just got a little dirtier. Beginning Monday night and lasting until Tuesday morning, around 10 million gallons of sewage flowed from the West Point Treatment Plant, located in Magnolia, into Puget Sound.

“This situation is unacceptable,” wrote Christie True, director of King County's Wastewater Treatment Division, on the King County website.

According to King County's website, “the overflow began as employees prepared the plant for high flows during last night’s rainfall. Standard operating procedures during wet weather entail readying an emergency bypass gate that can open automatically to prevent flooding inside the plant that could harm workers and damage equipment.”

A switch malfunctioned, activating the bypass gate and diverting the untreated wastewater into Puget Sound. Pam Elardo, the plant's manager, told the Seattle Times that it took three hours to repair the switch in order to close the bypass gate.

King County immediately closed nearby beaches out of concern for public health and inspection. The county took samples of the water and will continue to monitor the water over the next couple of days.

Daniel Lathrop's picture

updated: King County mishandled federal block grant spending

Updated, a link to the wrong report was posted previously.

King County mishandled at least hundreds of thousands in federal money from a justice department block grant program, according to a recent report from the Washington State Auditor.

The county, Washington state's most populous, misspent close to $400,000 of federal money and failed to meet numerous program requirements -- inlcuding that the money be used for new spending rather than be used to offset budget cuts:

The county disputed some conclusions but agreed that the money had been misspent, but said it would seek retroactive approval  from the Department of Justice.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Should we worry as swine flu fills emergency rooms with a vaccine in short supply?

rita_hibbardwebHow much of a problem is swine flu shaping up to be? Don't blame me if my head is spinning. Seems like I've been advised to be very worried -- like when the White House council of science advisers warned it could kill  30,000 to 90,000 Americans -- and then, maybe not so much. Symptoms are mild. Runs its course in three to five days. Wash your hands and you won't get it anyway. Like that.

This week the flu is filling emergency rooms in Spokane in Washington state, while around the West, parents and others seeking the vaccine line up, often futilely, waiting for a vaccine that is in extremely short supply.

The vaccine simply isn’t being produced in sufficient quantities due to production problems, reports the Associated Press. Only 13 million doses have been delivered, compared to the 12o million doses originally promised. Okay, I'm a little worried.

"As nervous Americans clamor for the vaccine, production is running several weeks behind schedule, and health officials blame the pressure on pharmaceutical companies to crank it out along with the ordinary flu vaccine, and a slow and antiquated process that relies on millions of chicken eggs.

In Spokane, where officials expected to have about 58,000 doses of swine flu vaccine by now, just 12,700 doses have been delivered.

Seattle pledges more pollution control to help Puget Sound

The city of Seattle and King County will step up efforts to prevent raw sewage from flowing into Puget Sound and its tributaries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

But the steps are small compared to those called for by environmentalists who want to see Puget Sound and the Duwamish River cleaned up. The current schedule gives Seattle until 2020 and King County until 2030 to almost completely end pollution from so-called "combined sewer overflows." (PDF)

These sometimes-smelly oopsies result from a piping system that mixes untreated sewage with rainwater runoff. Most of the time it's a good system because the rainwater -- aka stormwater, the largest remaining water pollution source in the country -- goes to a wastewater treatment plant.

But when a lot of rain hits overloaded systems like the one King County and Seattle operate, the whole mess comes shooting out into waterways. Sometimes the stuff backs up into streets or even basements.

Major pollution discharges into the Duwamish River are scheduled to continue for decades, despite today's order and despite what's supposed to be a  major EPA effort to clean up the Duwamish.

Such discharges happened 336 times in the Seattle-King County system in 2007, the most recent figures available.

A surprising number of these overflows happen during relatively dry periods after little or no rain.