Carnation City Council Declares State of Emergency Over Doubts Regarding Seattle’s Operation of Tolt Dam

In a unanimous decision, the City Council of Carnation declared a State of Emergency last night due to lingering concerns over the City of Seattle’s ability to safely operate the Tolt Dam.

The dam is located 16 miles upstream from Carnation on the South Fork Tolt River and is a critical water reservoir for the metropolitan Seattle area.


Owned and operated by the City of Seattle, the Tolt Reservoir and Dam supply 30% of drinking water to 1.5 million residents in the metropolitan Seattle region. The reservoir has a capacity to store 57,900 acre-feet of water.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) own safety engineers conduct annual inspections, with an independent consultant performing a comprehensive review every five years. The City of Carnation has also been actively participating in the ongoing relicensing process for the dam.

Concerns Raised

Carnation’s community has been unsettled by two significant incidents involving the dam’s alarm system. The first was on July 28, 2020, when the dam’s alarm system failed, causing panic and evacuations within the city.

Although the alarm was determined to be false within a minute, the emotional impact lingered. On August 22, 2023, the alarm failed again, reigniting traumatic memories and evacuation protocols beginning again in the eastern part of Carnation.

Mayor Ribail remarked, “2,300 residents in Carnation live in constant fear due to the traumatic events in 2020. We have waited three years for reassurances that the Tolt Dam Alarm system is reliable and that Seattle is a responsible operator. We are done waiting.”

Community Forum Planned

To address these concerns, Carnation’s civic leadership has organized a community forum inviting Seattle’s Mayor and City Council. The aim is to discuss desired changes in the relationship between the two cities concerning the dam’s operation. Carnation staff visited Seattle City Hall today to personally deliver the invitations.

Deputy Mayor Harris weighed in, saying, “The City of Seattle has been able to externalize the costs of its utility services for decades. Whether we’re talking about the loss of salmon habitat because of their dam on the Skagit, the billions of dollars of investment we’re being asked to take to resolve their sewer overflows into Puget Sound, or in this case, the recurring trauma being inflicted on the City of Carnation due to their Dam on the Tolt, it ends up being the REGION that bears the cost of Seattle’s infrastructure. It’s time for the Federal Government and the State to make sure that Seattle fixes these problems and that communities like ours, who’re constantly being asked to pay the price for Seattle’s infrastructure, are made whole.”

Moving Forward

With Carnation’s State of Emergency Declaration now in effect, there is mounting pressure on the City of Seattle to urgently address these concerns, as trust in its ability to manage the Tolt Dam erodes. The upcoming community forum will serve as a pivotal moment for both cities to come to a resolution.

Comments are closed.

Living Snoqualmie