City Light Dams and Safety

With the severe damage recently caused to the spillway feature of California’s Oroville dam, which forced 188,000 people to evacuate, we spoke with Chief Dam Safety Engineer Kim Pate, who shared insight on City Light dams, their structures and emergency protocols.

Can you explain what happened with Oroville?

The best way to get up to date information from Oroville is to refer to the California Department of Water Resources web site at California Governor Brown is providing updates and transparency to this incident and assessment.

How are City Light dams different/similar to Oroville?

Every dam is different. There are some generalities, but every dam is different in how they operate and how they’re constructed.

Most City of Seattle dams are concrete, except for South Fork Tolt which is an earthen embankment dam like Oroville, though the Tolt is about a third of the size and height. The issues with embankment dams are different than concrete which means we look at different information; not necessarily more or less significant, just different areas to watch.

Tolt also has a different type of spillway—a Morning Glory—which is a big round piece of concrete situated in the reservoir upstream of the dam and not on the face of the dam. When in service, the water pours in like a drain and comes through the concrete channel.

The other difference is that our dams don’t have anything like Oroville’s emergency spillway. We can’t rely on something like that, so we must keep a close eye which means our equipment is well-maintained. In fact, our Morning Glory spillway is going through a rehabilitation this summer just to improve the hydraulics of its lifting and lowering. It’s fine now, but it’s a step to ensure we’re increasing the reliability of our equipment.

We have numerous individual inspections at our projects, and in fact our City crew walks the project daily for a visual inspection.

What procedures does City Light have in place in case of a situation like this?

We have established a comprehensive Emergency Action Planning (EAP) process in concert with our regulators. This includes an annual process review and exercises to test the functionality of the program.

It’s important that people know that monitoring our dams is a daily routine. Our staff is constantly around these dams. If there’s any subtle changes—doesn’t have to be major—we’re actively looking from a civil, mechanical, electrical, operational point of view.

The important thing with an EAP is that it’s not just City staff who can activate it. If anyone sees something unusual they have the power to activate the EAP by contacting their emergency management agency, their local sheriff’s department or even their Mayor’s office. We also have annual meetings with the city of Carnation (located near Tolt) which is built around our emergency action plan. It’s a time where residents can ask us anything they want. We work closely with them. We even have an emergency siren that goes off once a month to check on it. The schools, the city halls, the whole region is very engaged in understanding our Tolt project.

For further information on City Light dams, consider a tour. Kim also suggests visiting FERC for up-to-date information about other projects and resources.

Unusually High Electric Bill? This Info Might Help

City Light has recently received an increased amount of customer contact about higher bills. Here’s what customers need to know to address potential concerns.

Cold winter weather is a contributing factor to high bills, as it keeps people inside and often leads to higher energy use (heating, lighting consumption, cooking, entertainment, etc.). According to the National Weather Service, this is the coldest winter we’ve experienced in decades.

City Light also has bi-monthly meter reads, so some customers might see a higher bill based on an estimated meter reading. The estimated meter read is based on the customer’s past energy consumption, and if a customer receives an estimated meter reading, it is indicated on the bill.

Two final factors to consider when you look at your bill from the beginning of 2017: City Light’s rates increased by five percent in January as part of the Strategic Plan approved by the Seattle City Council, and a 1.5 percent surcharge is in effect until City Light replenishes its Rate Stabilization Account.

Customer service is a top priority for City Light and we ask our customers to please contact us with any questions or concerns. If you feel like your City Light bill and/or meter read is inaccurate, we would like to work with you to address the issue. Customers can contact us directly via the following:

  • Phone: Customer Call Center – (206) 684-3000 This is a shared call center with Seattle Public Utilities, so call times may run long.
  • Email:  This is probably the best way of reaching us, as the call center may experience large call volumes.

Customers can also take a picture of their meter when emailing it to us; just make sure to include the account number associated with the meter. If  you live in an apartment, condominium building, or other multifamily unit and have meter access issues, we can work with the building manager(s) on a solution.

If there is a bill inaccuracy, City Light will fix it. If the meter read is correct and customers still need help with their bill, we offer programs such as Budget Billing. Customers may also contact us for information on payment arrangements.

Seattle City (spot)Light: Liz Zimmerly

For Chicago native Liz Zimmerly, a move to Seattle was an initial test run to see if it was a place that she and her family would enjoy living. Ten years later, they are established Washingtonians who embrace the natural beauty of the PNW whether it’s camping, gardening or exploring the tide pools near their Rainier Beach home. The outdoors also serve as a training ground for Liz, who competes in the annual Seafair Triathlon (this summer will be her 3rd year).

Liz is City Light’s manager of Performance Support Services, and she has helped to implement programs like the Race and Social Justice Initiative, Women and Minority Business Enterprises, the Business Case Process and Benchmarking and Best Practice Research. “My team and I are responsible for managing several programs that serve the utility. It’s a common theme that the programs are focused on helping the utility be efficient, effective and equitable in the way that we do business,” said Liz. The work draws on Liz’s technical expertise as an analyst in the energy and environmental field, as well as her social justice leadership experience with organizations such as Su Casa, a house of hospitality for homeless women and children on Chicago’s Southside.

Today, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, we asked Liz to share City Light initiatives that are raising the visibility of its female workforce, specifically the “Women in Energy” group that’s led by Sarah Davis. In keeping with this spirit, Liz also talked about the two women whom she admires most…her grandmother Virginia Doede and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Liz with her son Elijah after the Seafair triathlon. She competed in the sprint distance and he completed his first kids’ triathlon.

“I’m very excited about this ‘Women in Energy’ group that’s forming. The group is just getting started (spread the word!), but it’s something I’ve always wanted to see here. With my engineering background, I’m used to working in organizations where women aren’t in the majority. I’ve even worked in a few places where I was the first woman doing different roles. While City Light does have many successful female employees, we’re not represented equally in all different parts of the organization…some of the trades, our top leadership. When I see those kind of outcomes, I think that City Light is missing out by not having everyone’s voices in the room. So, it’s an opportunity. As women, we have shared experiences and it can be very encouraging to come together and support one another in terms of mentorship, career advice and other avenues.”

“One of my heroes is Madeleine Albright; the first female U.S. Secretary of State, fluent in multiple languages, completely brilliant and accomplished. She plowed the way. I’m most inspired by my grandmother Virginia. She went to college, which wasn’t very common for women at that time, and wanted to be a doctor. She was married right out of college, had six children and went back to work in an office once her kids got older. I just always loved her kindness and her love of learning. She was somebody who taught me about loving and accepting everybody and is my inspiration for supporting City Light’s equity work.”

My driving passion, no matter if it’s professional or personal, is to try to make a difference. A positive difference in some way. My favorite quote is ‘Do all the good that you can, by all the means that you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.’ ”

Thank you, Liz, for sharing your drive and motivation, inspiring others with your work and for being a part of the City Light team since 2011.

Seattle City spot(Light): Shanna Crutchfield

Shanna Crutchfield always knew she would live in Seattle. Upon graduating high school, she moved from Louisiana to join (as she says) “the majestic mountains and beautiful natural landscape” of Washington state. Last year, Shanna celebrated 30 years of service with the city of Seattle, an achievement recognized by the Mayor’s office. What made the moment extremely special was that Shanna received the award alongside her sister, whose 30-year career at the Seattle Police Department was also honored. Shanna also has another sister who retired from Seattle Public Utility a few years ago.

For years, Shanna was City Light’s program manager for the Race and Social Justice Initiative, but she joined City Light in 1988 as an administrative specialist. Her career spanned various positions, including her home base at South Service Center where she was the executive assistant to the director and at the Seattle Municipal Tower (SMT), where she served as a liaison to the law department. She’s also impacted the organization within the personnel department, developing new initiatives and supervising employee training. Shanna has worked in every business unit of the utility, and through her training programs, she’s interacted with every employee—two feats not many can claim.

Shanna’s dedication to serve others shines. It’s a mission that drives her very being, extending into her West Seattle home, where she’s hosted more than 40 international students. This motivation is also seen in her favorite quote, “If you don’t like the way the world is, you change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.”

In this week’s (spot)light, Shanna shares her career at City Light and how it’s helped light the path to her next chapter in life…retirement.

(L-R) Shanna Crutchfield with Mayor Ed Murray, and her sister Melba Ayco at Mayor’s Award ceremony last year

“The Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) is important. We’re here to provide the best customer service experience and to do that, we must be intentional in making sure that we’re addressing the needs of every customer…that no matter where they live, what they look like, or what their economic status is, that if we want to live out the mission and vision of this utility, then we must be committed to RSJI,” Shanna said.

“That’s what makes it important for me. I know that there are certain communities of people, certain neighborhoods, who at times feel like they’re forgotten. For a government agency, I think that must be a core value…that we’re here to serve and that what you look like and what you have access to, should not be a barrier to that service.“

“RSJI also recognizes workforce equity and access to education. Coming to Seattle, I immediately jumped into the workplace. Pursuing college wasn’t an option. To see how I progressed in the organization, without having a 4-year degree, is a prime example of equivalency. I made an investment in City Light and they made an investment in me.”

“My favorite thing about City Light is the people. When I see the lights on the streets, I think about the people who do this work. That tangible light represents the commitment from our employees, and that commitment benefits all, no matter who you are. The people here take pride in providing a service to the public. And because I spend a lot of time with employees in training rooms, I get to see that, I get to hear that.”

“I have two children who live in Houston. That’s one of my future goals…to move to Texas to be closer to them. I also have twin granddaughters, and that really excites me. That’s another piece to my job…when I do this work, and think of other people doing this work, I know it’s going to make better outcomes for their future.”

“I had no idea when I started that I would be here this long. The city provides such growth opportunities. There are so many different departments, and for me at City Light, because of all the movement, all the special projects and opportunities that I’ve worked on, it has been an amazing career.”

***Shanna’s last day at City Light is Friday, March 3. Shanna, thank you for your unwavering service to the City of Seattle. Congratulations on such a fulfilling career and best wishes for a wonderful retirement!