At King County and the City of Seattle, we know that communities will come together around traditional projects we propose to reduce untreated discharges of stormwater and wastewater (combined sewer overflows, or CSOs). We plan community meetings and briefings, post Web sites, send out newsletters, and attend local events to work closely with people as we plan, design and build projects.
It turns out that one of our tools for controlling CSOs brings people together around neighborhood yards instead of a project site.
As the RainWise program builds more rain gardens and installs more cisterns, program staff from the City of Seattle and King County learn about the extra benefits for people. Sure, controlling stormwater can solve drainage issues, and rain gardens can address a world of landscaping problems. But these projects also bring people together and give a sense of greater purpose. Read how three projects create community and help people meet their environmental goals.
Sarah and Kavan, University District
After the “Pineapple Express” of 2015 and a year of watching the front yard grow only dandelions, Sarah and Kavan realized they could solve many problems at once and help their community by installing a rain garden.
“Our yard was a poorly maintained sod patch in back of a rock garden,” Sarah recalls. Now, the rain garden flows into the rock garden with a mix of colors, plant heights and textures.
“Before, bees would flock to our mountain sage plant in the rock garden, but only in August. Now, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and songbirds enjoy our garden all spring and summer.”
Less than two weeks after they first got in touch with a contractor, Sarah and Kavan were gazing upon a beautiful rain garden and a water-saving cistern.
The project was a family affair, says Sarah. “Our kids even enjoyed doing the infiltration test as a science project!”
She marvels at the unexpected. “My favorite thing is something I didn’t anticipate: the community love that comes with a rain garden.”
“People stop and slow down by our property now, and if I’m outside I get to have lots of great conversations about rain gardens with my neighbors and visitors. I feel proud to have done this for our neighborhood and our region.”
Peace Lutheran Church, West Seattle
In 2014, Peace Lutheran Church joined Earth Ministry and became a Greening Congregation, advocating environmental stewardship within the religious community. They came up with a mission statement and formed a “Green Team. For the Green Team and the church, joining the RainWise program fit their aspirations.
“We’re a faith community, so it’s a matter of connecting that sacred reminder with how we are living in the twenty-first century,” says Pastor Erik Kindem.
The church wanted their members to be involved, so flexibility and collaboration was important. The contractor they hired agreed to let them participate and even helped to coordinate volunteer days.
Michael Troug is the Green Team leader for the congregation. “We wanted to experience it. It’s been really great for us to have a hands-on approach – that’s really important,” he says.
The Green Team has cared for the garden ever since it was installed. People notice the garden’s beauty walking around the neighborhood, and passersby have taken notice.”It says something about the community and it brings beauty into the world,” observes Pastor Kindem.
Brace Point Pottery, West Seattle
Ceramic artist Loren Lukens at Brace Point Pottery isn’t just growing plants with the water captured by his cisterns. Besides watering his garden, he incorporates the stored water in the pottery-making process. Loren’s property is a showcase for cistern water collection in the Fauntleroy neighborhood.
Loren and Brace Point Pottery invited the community to see the connection between art and a healthy environment. In spring 2016, Loren co-hosted three RainWise events in coordination with an art show and the West Seattle Art Walk. Loren gave a tour of the facility and told visitors how much he appreciates using cistern water for his pottery glaze buckets.
“We’ve paved over so much of the landscape that everything flows off too quickly and it has the effect of overwhelming the sewer system,” Loren observed.
“Fauntleroy Cove has periodic overflows of pollution. In twenty years here we’ve witnessed algae blooms and toxic red tide events as well as closing the beach to all kinds of uses.”
Stormwater contributes a sustainable element to Loren’s art. “It’s also the aspect of reusing water as much as we can and not using treated water to do things.”
Being a steward of the water cycle means far more to Loren Lukens than watering his garden and creating art. “It aligns with my ethics and sense of right and wrong.”