Living environmental history with our first engineer

To understand our story, it’s best to start from the very beginning.

Back in the 1950s, wastewater flowed largely untreated into Lake Washington, the Green and Duwamish Rivers, and Puget Sound, fouling water and closing local beaches.

So, in 1958 through public support and grassroots outreach, voters created our regional wastewater treatment system. The new regional sewer system that was originally called Metro is now King County Wastewater Treatment Division, or WTD.

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Construction quickly began on our two largest treatment plants, West Point in Seattle and South Plant in Renton, as well as the large tunnels and pipelines to capture the sewage that was going into Elliott Bay, the Duwamish River, and the waters off Alki Beach and Golden Gardens Park.

Both plants were officially up and running by 1966. By the late 1960s, water quality improved dramatically and there were visible differences in the sights (and smells) of our region!

Tom Gibbs, a University of Washington engineering graduate, joined Metro as its third employee in June 1959 and saw the transformation of our waterways through his own eyes.

Tom went on to become Metro Executive Director and instilled values in the agency that still hold true today.

Tom recently welcomed us to his home for an exclusive interview, and he described his early accounts of the waterways, his experience in the first Duwamish River cleanup efforts and the spirit of the agency during that time.

These videos highlight the innovations that took place in one of the nation’s most ambitious and successful regional water pollution cleanups.