Seattle Public Utilities Wastewater Pump-Out Program addresses a crucial community need
information from Seattle Public Utilities
Spills involving human waste from RVs contaminate our waterways and put our community’s health at risk. They also have negative effects on people experiencing homelessness who are staying in RVs, including depriving them of their dignity.
In 2019, there were nearly 100 RV wastewater spills reported to Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), but the actual spill count is likely much higher. With approximately 2,700 people living in cars and RVs in Seattle and King County, and no easy way for them to safely dispose of human waste, many more RV spills go unreported.
“I’ve only driven to the dump once,” says Dante, who is experiencing homelessness and currently stays in his RV. “It’s dangerous due to the age of my RV. The cost and logistics are hard, too.”
“The stress of not having a safe bathroom is hard to relate to for most people,” says Chris Wilkerson, SPU RV Wastewater Program Coordinator. “It has a huge negative impact on people’s physical and mental health and on the health of the surrounding community.”
In response to this growing need, SPU has created a pilot program to dispose of human waste from RVs and help prevent spills.
“This program was born out of an increasing trend of expensive spills to our infrastructure, causing risks to public health and contamination to our water bodies,” says Ellen Stewart,
SPU Source Control and Pollution Prevention Division Director. “We decided to solve the problem at the source by starting a pilot program to provide sewage pump-out services to RV residents on a regular schedule."
In early 2020, SPU began partnering on the program with human service agency Saint Vincent de Paul (SVdP).
“The wastewater program in which Saint Vincent de Paul partners with SPU is a classic public-private partnership that is good for the community,” says Jim Reisteter, a SVdP volunteer. “SVdP provides a home visit offering food, clothing, gas cards, toiletries, hygiene items, and lunches while SPU provides the pump out.”
“This program has made a tremendous difference in my life,” said Kayla, a client. “It has helped me to stay safe and focused on my employment.”
Danny, another client who has requested pump-out services, says, “It helps keep the area clean and lets me sleep at night with one less worry.”
As of mid-December 2020, SPU had successfully completed 1,100 pump-outs in areas of the city that have a high concentration of RVs and the pilot has led to fewer reported spills-good for our RV neighbors, good for the environment, good for our community.