You’re thinking that the combination of wastewater treatment and wildlife can mean only one thing: sewer rats. Well, rodents are real, we deal with them, and we can dispense with advice on what to do if you find one swimming in your toilet at night. And maybe you remember that cougar that strayed into Seattle’s Discovery Park. Rest assured that he wasn’t there to stalk fat balls in wastewater at King County’s West Point Treatment Plant.
You may not know that the grounds around wastewater facilities can be great places for wildlife as well as people. When designers planned an upgrade to West Point Treatment Plant in the mid-1990’s, they used updated technology to shrink the plant footprint and open up public space around the plant. The design aimed to buffer the view of the facilities from Discovery Park with the largest native plant restoration project ever carried out at that time. King County’s South Treatment features Waterworks Garden, connecting to City of Renton nature trails.
The Magnolia Wet Weather Facility designers used community input to add habitat to a storage tank site. Native plant landscaping, nesting gourds to attract purple martins, and an osprey perch pole will be visible to visitors of a new waterfront park surrounding the facility. In 2015, the project restored weedy slopes along 32nd Avenue West with native plants and trees and habitat logs.
These are only a couple of examples of a landscape portfolio that includes over 200 acres. Our newest treatment plant, Brightwater, is surrounded by acres of publicly accessible trails and natural areas. In 2016, Brightwater Center hosted a frog festival, bird festival, and a dragonfly workshop.
On October 20, 2016, the Brightwater natural area became a host site for three animal patients: native flying squirrels that had recovered and needed a home. All three flying squirrels were brought to PAWS in Lynnwod too young to survive on their own. One was found on a dog walking trail with an injured leg. The other two squirrels were victims of cat attacks. Flying squirrels glide gracefully through the air from tree to tree, but they move clumsily on the ground and are vulnerable to predators.
PAWS, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, contacted the Brightwater Center to ask about releasing the three recovered squirrel patients. They identified Brightwater’s conifer tree forest as perfect flying squirrel habitat. When PAWS arrived on a rainy Thursday, Brightwater Center employees walked up to the upland forest to witness the release, which simply involved hanging up the squirrels’ wooden box in a western red cedar tree. They also set up a motion detection camera in the tree to capture up-close shots of them coming out of the box.
The three squirrels were definitely curious and poked their heads out of the box to check out their new surroundings. A PAWS naturalist predicted they will probably use the box for 3-7 days and then find another home in a tree cavity.
Wherever we can, King County Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) helps nature thrive in our landscapes and restoration areas. Like WTD, everyone can do a little something to help Washington wildlife.
You can give local wildlife a home by creating a backyard or schoolyard habitat, practicing natural yard care, and volunteering to help with restoration projects. You can protect animals and birds by leashing your dog and giving your cat a rich indoor life and letting it enjoy the outdoors in a catio. Stickers and invisible window film help prevent bird strikes on picture windows. Remove plants and trees before or after nesting season to avoid disturbing baby birds and animals. And if you find an orphaned or injured animal call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator like PAWS.
Visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for information and books about living with our wildlife. Walk the trails and join our events at Brightwater Center to see nature in action.
And know that in Brightwater’s forested habitat, in the dark of night, three little squirrel patients have recovered to glide freely through the tree canopy once again.