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In the 1950s, wastewater flowed into Lake Washington and Puget Sound and many rivers and smaller lakes without enough treatment, fouling water and making a sullied mess of local beaches.

In 1958 the voters created Metro and developed a regional wastewater treatment system based on watersheds as opposed to political boundaries.

Shortly after Metro was formed, construction began on the county's two existing regional treatment plants, West Point in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood and South Treatment Plant in Renton, which were officially up and running by 1966. By the late 1960s, regional water quality began improving dramatically.

In 1994, King County assumed authority of Metro and its legal obligation to treat wastewater for 34 local jurisdictions and local sewer agencies that contract with King County.


Enabling legislation – as codified in the Revised Code of Washington, Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (Metro), February 1989

Better than promised: an informal history of the municipality of metropolitan Seattle, Bob Lane, King County Department of Metropolitan Services, 1995

Tom Gibbs, former King County Metro Executive DirectorTom 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. We asked about his early accounts of the waterways, his experience in the first Duwamish River cleanup efforts and the spirit of the agency during that time. Tom describes the innovations that took place in one of the nation’s most ambitious and successful regional water pollution cleanups.

Hear Tom’s story in this series of five short videos.

Related content

Sources for this history:

History of King County Metro (wastewater treatment utility) , WTD YouTube channel

Snapshot in time: Magnolia|R. H. Thomson and Seattle sewers , Queen Anne & Magnolia News

Metropolitan Seattle Sewerage and Drainage Survey, March 1958

WTD year in review

Seattle and King County: more history! (King County archives)