King County Jail resumes use of tap water

The King County’s downtown Seattle jail resumed use of city tap water Tuesday after numerous tests showed the water meets drinking standards, according to Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention.

Jail officials had been distributing bottled water “out of an abundance of caution” to those incarcerated since Sept. 29 after reports of cloudy water.

Previous and recent tests showed the water meets both U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Washington Department of Health standards for drinking, spokesperson Noah Haglund said.

“The turbidity in these latest samples was well below EPA standards,” he said.

Haglund did not respond to questions on whether the water in the facility remains cloudy in appearance.

The jail was connected to the city water supply the entire time while testing being done. Last year, the jail finished a project that replaced a large portion of its water-distribution system, Haglund said. In the last month, a Seattle Public Utilities water-quality expert visited the jail and did not identify any operational concerns.

Haglund said people in custody received water “at mealtimes and on request” and that laundry, showers and restrooms were unaffected.

“Everyone should have ample access,” he said in an October email.

Molly Gilbert, president of the King County Public Defenders union, disagreed with the characterization that those incarcerated had plenty of water.

While bottled water was handed out, the jail implemented a one-bottle-at-a-time policy, leaving many inmates to “decide between hydration and hygiene,” she previously told The Seattle Times.

The jail has also long been understaffed, meaning employees do not have time to hand out water bottles as frequently as needed, she said.

“We have people who are dehydrated, not brushing teeth and not having access to showers,” Gilbert said.

Previous reporting by The Times showed that since the beginning of 2020, staff vacancies have risen from 25 open positions to nearly 100 — almost a fifth of the jail’s corrections officer workforce. The shortage also affects opportunity for visitation.

Last week, the King County Jail said they plan to reopen “limited in-person visitation” in early November for people who have less access to video visits. Some in-person group programming like Bible studies and a high-school completion program has resumed.

King County, the King County Corrections Guild and King County Juvenile Detention Guild have also recently ratified new agreements to provide general wage increases of 4% to 6% each year, retention bonuses and new overtime premiums.

The news website PubliCola first reported the discolored water in September.

Do you have more information about the water at the King County Jail? Contact reporter Amanda Zhou at [email protected].

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