Mercer Island neighbors say city ignored warning signs of pipe leaks

MERCER ISLAND, Wash. — A number of Mercer Island neighbors told KIRO 7 News that the city had ignored reports of warning signs of water pipe leaks, which possibly led to the city’s request to conserve water.


The City of Mercer Island said families will likely have to limit their water use for the summer, officials wrote in a Facebook post, after the city’s main water line broke a few weeks ago, causing 20 homes to evacuate overnight due to the risk of a possible landslide.

The main water line, which was installed in the 1950s and owned and maintained by Seattle Public Utilities, provides water to most families in the city.

Mercer Island is currently using a backup water line; however, officials said it will not keep up with summer water demand.

When the water conservation efforts take effect, the city said it will encourage families to limit how often they water their gardens, run their dishwasher, wash their clothes and vehicles, the post continued to write.

“This will ensure the Island’s water demand does not exceed the supply provided by the backup line and that City reservoirs will continue to meet resident needs while sustaining water quality, safety, and firefighting requirements,” officials wrote in the post.

It’s not clear if the city will force or encourage people to limit their water use and when this will take effect.

KIRO 7 News reached out to the city to get clarification. The city did not directly answer.


KIRO 7 News spoke with several neighbors who live in the Mercerwood Estates, where the main water line broke, located near SE 40th St and 95th Ct SE.

“It’s certainly concerning to know, given where we are and how much water we have as a state or at least a region in Washington. It’s frustrating to know we have to conserve water,” said Stefan Slivinski, who’s lived in the area since 2011.

Slivinski told KIRO 7 News that he and a number of neighbors have reported issues of water overflowing onto people’s properties in the area in the past, however, the city did not take their concerns seriously.

Just last week, he said he saw water overflowing near his water meter box, near the water main line, and reported it to the city.

The city said the water was natural spring water, he shared, and it took a significant amount of effort to have crews check it out.

“There was water pouring down the street, and they said it was totally normal. I said I’ve been here since 2011 and I’ve never seen water pouring down the street. So, this is very suspicious. There seems to be some amount of effort, in talking to our neighbors about this, is sort of a consistent theme with the city of making these claims of this sort of natural causes when it really doesn’t seem that way.”

After digging into the ground to check the pipe, Slivinski said crews found a hole in the pipe.

“This seems very unlikely to be spring water, but they were very adamant about that. And one of our neighbors really got on top of them and just pushed and pushed and pushed. And it took an enormous amount of effort for them to finally come out, dig it up and, yes and low and behold, it was in fact, it was a pinhole in our water line,” he said.

“It’s frustrating to know the city was just sort of playing it off as if it’s a natural thing,” he added.

When asked about the city’s response, he said a number of neighbors are not happy.

“There’s a level of frustration, but there’s also a concern of what else is being ignored. Because we’re certainly making a huge effort, and I can’t certainly take all the credit for that, others on the street have really pushed hard to get them to address this. And to know that’s what it took for them to do something. What else is being ignored? That’s my worry,” he shared.

Slivinski said he and other neighbors believe the city ignored warnings that possibly could’ve prevented the current situation.

“Knowing how they responded to my complaints and other complaints, I suspect yes. I suspect there were warning signs that were ignored or just kind of brushed aside and say it seems fine,” he shared.

KIRO 7 News also spoke with Arthur McGougan, who’s lived in the area since 1972.

He said he’s not concerned about the city’s water conservation request, since he and his wife do not use a large amount of water, however, he’s concerned for other families.

“Our neighbors, young families stuff like that. That’s a whole different ball game. You got kids. You need water,” he said.

McGougan has seen the main water line break four separate times since he’s lived in the Mercerwood Estates, he said.

“It took out a lot of our hillside,” he shared.

The military veteran told KIRO 7 News that he had hired a private engineer to look into his property and assess the soil.

“Our soils engineer drilled 60 feet down of our lower part of our yard there. Sixty feet down and there’s no bedrock. It’s all clay, gravel and sand. That’s all it is. Over the years, it moves,” he said.

“It shifts constantly,” he added.

KIRO 7 News looked at paper documents where a consulting engineer with William L. Shannon, indicated McGougan’s property, 14 inches beneath the surface, moved about three inches from 1981 to 1982.

Since then, McGougan said he and neighbors have noticed cracks on their home, caused by the shifting ground.

McGougan said he has contacted the city about the issues.

“In fact, we’ve had court cases against them,” he said. “Whether it’s Mercer Island or Seattle, somebody needs to take the lead on it and do something to stabilize the hill. If they need that water, and that pipe has to go through here, then they need to do something.”

If nothing is done to address this issue, McGougan said, the slowly shifting soil will continue to break the main water pipe and cause leaks, which will further shift the soil.

“Without seriously anchoring the hill, it’s going to continue to do that. There’s no change because the ground keeps moving,” he said. “If I lived long enough, I would have lake front property because that’s where it’s going.”


KIRO 7 News reached out to the city about the neighbor’s concerns and accusations.

A spokesperson for the City of Mercer Island did not directly answer, but shared the following statement:

“The City of Mercer Island and Seattle Public Utilities continue to work diligently to address the SPU water supply line that is out of service. This work is complex and highly technical due to the topography and soil composition that surrounds the pipe.

Throughout this assessment and repair process, the health and safety of the community is our top priority.

Mercer Island is currently receiving water through a smaller backup water line. As we shared yesterday, our anticipation is that summer demand will exceed the amount of water that the backup line is able to provide to the Island.

It is likely we will need to enact water conservation efforts this summer to ensure sufficient water levels are available in our reservoirs to keep the community safe. These may include reducing garden and lawn irrigation, running the dishwasher and washing machine only with a full load, using commercial car washes that recycle water, and reducing personal water use wherever possible.

We understand these measures are inconvenient, and we are continuing to evaluate what restrictions may be needed. The city is committed to providing timely updates to residents as they are available. We appreciate the community’s cooperation, understanding, and partnership in our commitment to the Island’s health and safety.”


KIRO 7 News reached out to Seattle Public Utilities to get a status update on the water main line repairs.

A spokesperson shared the following statement:

“Since April 3, Mercer Island and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) have been working together to address the water main leak and determine next steps with the water supply pipeline serving Mercer Island. The 1950s pipeline, which is owned and operated by SPU, delivers wholesale water to two City of Mercer Island water storage tanks. Mercer Island in turn owns and operates its own water distribution system, including those tanks, which provides water to the homes and businesses on the island. Essentially, SPU gets the water to Mercer Island, and the City of Mercer Island distributes the water throughout the island. SPU and Mercer Island collaborate closely on capital improvements to SPU’s pipeline.

A team of engineers, geotechnical experts, and planners has been assessing the leak and identifying viable repair options, such as lining the pipeline. While water pipeline leaks are not uncommon and SPU crews routinely repair pipes, the particular pipeline and leak are in a complicated location that make it difficult to excavate, which limit our ability to assess the cause and the range of repair options available. We are making good progress on the situation, but repair decisions are impacted by the complicated location and are taking some additional time to work through.

SPU and Mercer Island are working together and will continue to closely collaborate to select the best path forward for Mercer Island’s water customers and the community surrounding the pipeline leak location. In the meantime, SPU’s pipeline remains shut down where the leak was occurring, and water is being routed to Mercer Island’s water storage tanks via an alternative, smaller pipeline owned by Mercer Island.”

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