Helping Communities Celebrate the Rain

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Our native plants are geared up for rain- but are we?

Rain defines the Pacific Northwest. From fall to spring, rain fills streams, creeks and rivers that shrink during our dry summers.  Rain transforms into mountain snow that melts and becomes our drinking water. Rain wakes our native evergreen trees from their summer sleep when winds sweep clouds inland from the ocean every fall.

Fall rains were once celebrated for refreshing the summer-parched land. The first peoples who lived here depended on the rains to call salmon home from the sea.

Today, rain means worry where it once meant life. In our bustling, developed region, the rainy season brings dark, dreary days and unending traffic jams. Fall storms raise the threat of urban and rural flooding.  Heavy rains sometimes fill sewers and storm drains to overflowing. The first fall rains wash toxic pollution from streets and yards into creeks and rivers just as the salmon begin their upstream journey.

Across our region, environmental stewards are helping our communities celebrate the rainy season again. King County Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) is supporting some of these water quality champions with funding from the WaterWorks Grant Program.

King County launched the WaterWorks program in 2015, approving the first round of grant awards in July 2016.  Since then, eleven local organizations and agencies have embarked on a variety of projects to improve water quality in WTD’s service area and benefit ratepayers. Eleven more awards will start the next round of projects in early 2017.

Below, you can read about several projects that received awards. Watch for more WaterWorks stories in the future as our grant recipients tie a bow on completed projects, and a new round of grant recipients gets to work.

West Woodland Elementary School Rain Garden

 

westwoodland5loThe West Woodland Elementary PTA renovated a rain garden that was quietly doing its job but was “loved to death” by students with limited play space. The WaterWorks grant funded fencing and signage “to give the garden a voice and spur some creative ideas for families and neighbors to create their own rain gardens”, says Pipo Bui, a garden volunteer at the school in North Seattle.

The grant will also help integrate stormwater education in the school’s curriculum.

westwoodlandsignloThe revitalized garden has already become an outdoor education center. Parent and volunteer Anna Portinga gave a tour of the rain garden to over 500 students- every single class in the elementary school. That same weekend, Jan Satterthwaite started her “Jane’s Walk Habitat Crawl” at the school rain garden.

Says Pipo Bui of Jane’s tours, “They are a lovely testament to the integration of this rain garden with neighborhood wildlife habitat.”

Green River Farm

A special farm on the Green River will transform from conventional to organic with WaterWorks funds. Seattle Tilth will work with Hmong families, many refugees from the Vietnam War, who have been farming the site for 15 years. Through this grant, the farmers will adopt organic practices, reducing use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that contaminate ground and surface water. They will install a native plant buffer that protects the river from erosion when the rains pour down.

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Green River Farm workshop, photo by Seattle Tilth

Floating wetlands for water quality in the Duwamish River

King County’s Water and Land Resource Division (WLRD) will design, install and monitor floating wetlands in the Duwamish River. Floating wetlands are an innovative method of improving water quality by using engineered wetland “rafts”. WLRDs project evaluates the potential of different types of floating wetlands to improve water quality, enhance shorelines, and increase salmon habitat. Community stakeholders have opportunities to learn about floating wetlands and contribute to the design, construction, and installation.

You can learn more about floating wetlands in this slide show by WLRD’s Mason Bowles.

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King County WTD is helping to test this innovative technology for water quality with a pilot study of floating wetlands at the Brightwater North 40 natural area.

Water quality education in the Green-Duwamish watershed

Nature Vision, a non-profit organization, received funds to teach water quality education programs both in the classrooms and in the field in the Green-Duwamish River watershed.

naturevision3“The Green Duwamish Watershed is a much underserved area with almost no access to environmental education” said Ginny Ballard, Executive Director for Nature Vision. “Young people need a knowledge base to become members of a thriving sustainable community. We’re planning to reach 5000 students with this grant funding and help students become water stewards.”

naturevision1At WTD, we are doing our part every day. We build facilities to reduce untreated discharges of stormwater and wastewater to Puget Sound.  We partner with the City of Seattle on the RainWise program, helping neighborhood stewards control the stormwater on their own properties and build community at the same time. We walk our own talk when we redesign our facilities and build new ones:  where we can, we put in rain gardens, bioswales, pervious pavement, and moisture-loving plants. We’re piloting floating wetlands at the Brightwater natural area.

Everyone who takes on the challenge to slow down and clean up stormwater runoff is a water quality hero. King County is proud to support our WaterWorks grant recipients as we all look forward to a time when we once again welcome the sound of raindrops on our windows.

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