Local drinking water ranks among the best, exceeding new federal standards for contaminants

Spada reservoir (Photo courtesy Snohomish County Public Utilities District)

This story has been updated with additional information on critical acquifer recharge areas in Edmonds and also the status of both state and federal standards.

With the recent announcement of new stricter federal requirements aimed at keeping drinking water free of contaminants, readers have asked questions about how Southwest Snohomish County water supplies measure up.  While the new standards apply to all contaminants, levels of the so-called “forever chemicals”  — known as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, PFAS for short —  are receiving increased attention as their presence in our environment continues to grow.

It is important to note that these new federal standards are not yet in effect. Water suppliers currently operate under the mostly less- stringent Washington State Department of Health standards, and testing and reporting for these won’t become mandatory until December 2025. The federal standards would replace these state standards, but only after the state health department conducts the necessary rule-making to adopt them, which could take several years — pushing it out to 2029 and possibly beyond.

This chart provides a comparison between Washington’s standards for PFAS in drinking water and the newly approved federal standard. Ppt refers to parts per trillion of the chemicals in drinking water. (Courtesy of the Washington State Department of Health)

Also note that this article focuses on drinking water only – the water that flows from your tap at home. It does not address stormwater, which is known to contain PFAS at various levels —  groundwater, wells, springs or other water sources.


PFAS are a large family of human-made chemicals. They have been used since the 1950s to make a range of stain-resistant, water-resistant,and non-stick consumer products. Some examples include food packaging, outdoor clothing and non-stick pans. PFAS also have many industrial uses because of their special properties. In Washington state, PFAS exist in certain types of firefighting foams utilized by the U.S. military, local fire departments and airports.

While some PFAS have been removed from common products due to health and environmental concerns, others continue to be released into the environment. PFAS have been targeted as a public health concern because they do not break down naturally, can travel large distances in water or air, and can build up in the tissues of animals, plants and people — not unlike chlorinated hydrocarbons such as DDT.

While the deleterious effects of DDT are well known and documented, scientists are still studying how PFAS affect human health. Current data and anecdotal evidence suggest that exposure to them can result in increased cholesterol levels, decreased birth weights, and higher risk to certain types of cancer, but these have yet to be scientifically proven.

Learn more at these links:

Health Effects of PFAS, ATSDR

Basic Information on PFAS, EPA

One source of PFAS exposure is our drinking water, where these substances have been discovered above recommended federal and state levels in various communities nationwide. Since PFAS do not leave our bodies but build up as we consume more, scientists are concerned that we may start seeing harmful health effects as levels rise.  Background information about the growing threat of PFAS in drinking water supplies is available at the American Water Works Association’s PFAS resource page here. Information specific to Washington state is available from the Washington State Department of Health here.

PFAS in Washington state drinking water supplies

While there are some trouble spots in Washington – in particular Airway Heights near Spokane and areas around Joint Base Lewis-McChord due primarily to PFAS-containing firefighting foam use on airfields – most Washington state residents enjoy water well within acceptable limits for these compounds. The state health department has launched a public dashboard to track PFAS contamination levels, actions being taken or planned, and includes an interactive map of PFAS contamination shown in  water systems test results. (See an image of the non-interactive map below.)

Note that only the purple areas tested above acceptable levels; while PFAS was detected in the amber areas, all were within state and the new proposed federal standards.

The good news: Tests confirm that drinking water in all southwest Snohomish County incorporated and unincorporated jurisdictions show no detectable levels of PFAS, confirming the safety of local water supplies.

The map below focuses on southwest Snohomish County. In addition to the purple and amber areas, this map adds green dots – which are prevalent enough to obscure most of the map – denoting systems that test completely free of PFAS.

Southwest Snohomish County water sources

The majority of local communities’ drinking water comes from the Spada Reservoir, located about 30 miles east of Everett. Maintained and managed by the City of Everett, it supplies water to about 675,000 people comprising 75% of the homes and businesses in Southwest Snohomish County, as shown in the map below. (You can also download the map here).

While the City of Everett handles retail water accounts for its own residents, it also supplies water wholesale to a number of other jurisdictions directly and to several secondary purveyors (see full list here), which then supply various cities and towns.

The Alderwood Water and Wastewater District (AWWD), one of Everett’s largest wholesale customers, supplies the cities of Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Brier and several unincorporated areas. AWWD is “special-purpose district,” a local government agency that provides a specific service — in this case, water and wastewater services.

Where cities and counties are typically funded by taxes, special-purpose districts like AWWD are funded by directly charging for their services. In Southwest Snohomish County, cities and local jurisdictions (for example, Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace) typically buy water from AWWD, but operate their own systems of supply lines, meters, accounting and billing. AWWD’s customers in unincorporated areas typically purchase water and/or wastewater services directly from AWWD as retail customers.

According to the Alderwood Water and Wastewater District PFAS information page, “Because of the protected nature of the City of Everett’s drinking water, there are no sources of PFAS in Everett’s watershed.”

“While Everett conducts its own monitoring activities to ensure the purity of its water, we at AWWD conduct our own independent testing as well,” said Michael Kundu, AWWD spokesperson. “In 2023 we monitored quarterly for 29 PFAS compounds, and none were detected.  Thus, AWWD’s drinking water remains safe and protected from contaminants including PFAS substances.

“AWWD, in partnership with the City of Everett, will continue to monitor all federal and State government requirements related to water quality as we move toward the December 2025 deadlines [when the new standards take effect],” he continued. “AWWD is committed to our mission of providing safe, healthy drinking water to our customers. Accordingly, AWWD publishes a ‘consumer confidence report/drinking water quality’ report each year around July (see last year’s report here); we’re planning to issue that report again this summer and we expect to inform our customers that once again, their drinking water surpasses all federal and state drinking water requirements.”

The other local purveyor serving Southwest Snohomish County, the Olympic View Water and Sewer District, was formed in 1937. Today it serves an area bounded by 200th Street Southwest on the north, 244th Street Southwest on the south, Highway 99 on the east and Puget Sound on the west, which includes the unincorporated Esperance area and the Town of Woodway (see map here).

Unlike other local purveyors whose water comes from the Everett system, Olympic View sources its water primarily from the South Fork Tolt River Watershed managed by the City of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). According to the Washington State Department of Health, “three rounds of tests have not detected PFAS in drinking water from the Tolt or Cedar Watersheds” operated by SPU.

In addition, Olympic View supplements the Tolt supply from its own water treatment plant tied to the spring-fed Deer Creek system in Woodway. According to the most recent water quality report from Olympic View, “The water supplied from this source [Deer Creek] meets or exceeds all safe drinking water standards. The Deer Creek source is blended with the SPU source.  The source of water delivered to your home may be either Deer Creek or SPU or a blend of both.”

But concerns have been raised about recent action by the Edmonds City Council to manage stormwater (which generally contain PFAS at various levels of concentration) in the city’s two critical aquifer recharge areas (CARAs). The CARAs were established to protect groundwater and public drinking supplies from potential contamination and to ensure adequate groundwater availability, and they include the Olympic View-managed drinking water wells located at both Deer Creek and 228th Street Southwest. As reported earlier in My Edmonds News, the council recently approved an amendment to the city code that would allow shallow underground injection control (UIC) wells, which — according to city staff — would both help protect water quality and control stormwater runoff by diverting runoff into subsurface wells. Some citizens and Olympia View officials fear that proximity of these proposed wells to the CARAs could result in PFAS contamination of the Deer Creek water that comprises a portion of the drinking water supplied by Olympic View to its customers.

See the latest water quality reports from the various jurisdictions and purveyors at the links below:

Edmonds (Spada reservoir water supplied by Alderwood Water and Wastewater District)

General Water System Information

Water Quality Report

Lynnwood (Spada reservoir water supplied by Alderwood Water and Wastewater District)

Water Quality Report

Mountlake Terrace (Spada reservoir water supplied by Alderwood Water and Wastewater District)

General Water System Information

Water Quality Report

Brier (Spada reservoir water supplied by Alderwood Water and Wastewater District)

Full Utilities Report (includes water)

Everett (Spada Reservoir)

PFAS Information

General Water Quality

Everett Water Fact Sheet

Seattle (Tolt and Cedar watersheds)

PFAS Information

General Water Quality

Alderwood Water and Wastewater District

PFAS information

Olympic View Water and Sewer District (Tolt and Deer Creek water)

PFAS Information

Water Quality Report

In addition, in December 2022 The Seattle Times published a detailed backgrounder on the issue of PFAS in Washington state drinking water. Read it here.

— By Larry Vogel

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