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SPU Watershed Protection Staff Protects More Than Just Our Drinking Water

The Seattle Public Utilities Watershed Protection staff doesn’t just protect the safety of the water you drink—they also protect your safety.

In order to provide 1.4 million customers in Seattle and surrounding areas with clean, safe drinking water, Seattle Public Utilities’ (SPU) mountain watersheds are closed to the public*. This means no agricultural, industrial, residential, or recreational use, so that contaminants have little opportunity to enter the water—that’s why our water is among the best in the nation and requires less treatment than most other cities.

Our Watershed Protection staff is responsible for making sure that our two watersheds remain protected from a number of threats. They deal with wildfires, hazmat spills, and other environmental concerns. But that’s not all they do. In addition to resource protection, these SPU employees also respond to public safety situations. Due to the unique nature of their work, Watershed Protection team members are trained in a variety of diverse skillsets—Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), wildland firefighting, water and avalanche rescue, and Aquatic Invasive Species Inspector are just a few of their certifications.

“Water rescue?” you might be thinking. “Why are they trained in water rescue if no one is allowed in the watersheds?” Turns out, there is a neighboring, public body of water next to the protected Cedar River Watershed—Rattlesnake Lake.

Rattlesnake Lake and the Rattlesnake Ledge Trail are owned and managed by Seattle Public Utilities as a non-development buffer to the watershed. The Rattlesnake Recreation Area is an increasingly popular recreation destination. Partly due to this year’s pleasant summer and fall weather, and partly due to our region’s increasing population, the area has seen a significant increase of visitors in 2017.

As you might expect, an increase in visitors can lead to an increase in safety incidents, which the Watershed Protection staff respond to. The staff typically averages around 19 search and rescue or medical responses a year, but that amount has more than doubled in 2017—41 responses already, with two more months to go!

Halloween 2017 was a particularly eventful day for rescue operations.

The first event was a water rescue: someone had overturned their canoe on Rattlesnake Lake. When Protection staff arrived they found the victim, visibly distressed and hypothermic, trying to hold on to the swamped boat. With assistance from Eastside Fire and Rescue, Medic One, and the King County Sheriff, the team pulled the man from the water, administered first aid, and transferred him to a hospital where he made a full recovery.

Just as the water rescue was wrapping up, Watershed Protection staff received notice that a hiker near the top of Rattlesnake Ledge had broken an ankle. Two members of the same team headed to their rescue, providing first aid and transporting the hiker down the trail to safety.

Thanks to the Watershed Protection team and other SPU employees working in areas like public litter abatement, stormwater pollution prevention, and sharps collection, Seattle residents can feel safe in knowing that SPU is committed to protecting the health and safety of the communities we serve.

*While SPU watersheds are closed to the public, the Cedar River Watershed Education Center provides tours (for all ages) led by our knowledgeable Naturalists.