Seattle's RV campers dump an estimated 1 million gallons of raw sewage into waterways per year

In addition to the homeless who are living in tents on the sidewalk, Seattle is also dealing with an increasing number of people who are living in RVs. Because these people have no homes, they have nowhere to properly dump the sewage that accumulates in their vehicles. Instead, the waste gets dumped directly into storm drains that connect to waterways. Two business groups in the city have funded testing related to the dumping and reached some stunning results:


Using Environmental Protection Agency wastewater pump-out and treatment statistics, it’s estimated that Seattle RV campers likely discharge more than 1 million gallons of untreated sewage annually into our waterways, including the Duwamish Waterway and Salmon Bay…

To better understand the potential impact of RV discharges, the Sodo Business Improvement Area and Ballard Alliance commissioned Anchor QEA, a Seattle-based environmental science and engineering firm, to evaluate existing water-quality data and collect a storm drain water sample from a heavily populated RV parking area in Sodo. The sample from the storm drain in the midst of the RVs registered 300 times greater than the state water-quality standard for fecal coliform bacteria…

While a more definitive pollution-identification study is needed on the relative impact of illegal black-water discharges, the data points strongly suggest that illegal dumping of sewage and trash, along with unsanitary conditions in unregulated RV encampments, increase public-health risks and could result in serious outbreaks of communicable diseases such as hepatitis A and typhus.

The business groups that funded the testing have shared the results with the city and are now calling on city leaders to act: “It is time to stop ignoring the impacts of unregulated RV encampments and illegal raw-sewage dumping.”


Seattle created a “safe lot” for homeless people living in RVs back in 2016, but it was eventually abandoned because of the cost:

Responding to concerns about a growing number of vehicles parked for weeks and months in Fremont, Ballard, Magnolia and other neighborhoods, Murray in January issued and the City Council approved an emergency order to quickly open a pair of safe lots for the homeless — one in Ballard and one in Delridge.

The Ballard lot opened last month, but was at capacity with 20 vehicles as of March 15 and is costing the city about $35,000 per month — $1,750 per vehicle, Murray spokesman Viet Shelton said. That’s the same as median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle, according to Zillow’s latest estimate.

A new “safe lot” has been proposed recently but once again the projected cost is sky-high:

This being Seattle, it’s projected to cost the city $382,000. That’s for overnight parking in one lot in the U District, holding 20 to 30 cars. Which means each spot would cost $1,000 to $1,500 a month – in the ballpark of what it costs to rent a studio apartment.

“I heard about that budget, and it just boggles the mind,” said Karina O’Malley, who manages a homelessness parking program for a church in Kirkland at less than one-thirtieth the cost. “This stuff is not rocket science. What is the deal with Seattle?”


Things haven’t improved at all since I wrote about an RV that crashed into a local business last year. I think what’s going on here is that businesses have realized the city isn’t going to respond to their pleas to do something about the RV campers and the problems they bring with them. On the contrary, the city has made it extremely easy for campers to continue doing what they are doing.

The Seattle City Council will deliberate Tuesday how to address the growing amount of unsafe RVs on Seattle streets.

“It’s really a public health issue,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. “The main goal is we’re taking care of the people inside these RVs.”…

Most notably, in the proposed ordinance, those living in RVs can refuse to leave or move their RVs if they feel it would jeopardize their safety.

“Initiating or continuing an investigation into the potential violation of Section 11.75.020 shall not occur if there is an explicit objection from the person allowed to occupy the motor vehicle that is deemed to be extensively damaged if such enforcement would increase the occupant’s vulnerability or exposure to unsafe living conditions.”

In other words, the homeless in these RVs can just tell the city to go away.


Instead of continuing to fight a battle the city’s elected leaders don’t care about, it seems the business groups are trying to focus the city’s attention on something it will care about, in this case that’s the environment. Maybe a few of the left-wing city council members will decide this is now a problem that deserves their attention and do something about it.

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