Guest blog: Seattle takes step forward on solutions for Puget Sound
These solutions do at least three important things: protect our waterways from polluted stormwater, create more vibrant and beautiful neighborhoods, and pull carbon dioxide pollution from the atmosphere.
By Kerri Cechovic
Washington Environmental Council
A wave of green infrastructure solutions is taking shape and gaining momentum here in the Northwest and across the nation. These solutions do at least three important things: protect our waterways from polluted stormwater, create more vibrant and beautiful neighborhoods, and pull carbon dioxide pollution from the atmosphere. Late last month the City of Seattle reached an agreement with federal and state regulators for a plan that includes scaling up its green infrastructure efforts.
Just what is green infrastructure? Scientists and engineers have
developed technologies that mimic the natural way the earth filters water to
prevent polluted stormwater runoff, which is the single largest unaddressed
source of water pollution in Washington state. These new techniques include
maintaining existing plants and trees, reducing the use of traditional
pavement, and promoting the infiltration of rainwater by way of rain gardens,
permeable concrete, water reuse, and green roofs.
From Bremerton to Puyallup to Spokane, you can find examples of green infrastructure in neighborhoods and community centers. The city of Puyallup has helped community members build 62 rain gardens in three neighborhoods. In Bremerton, the city has constructed rain gardens and bioswales along Pacific Avenue, and converted a blueberry farm into a beautiful recreation site for the community – incorporating rain gardens, permeable pavement, and a green roof for the picnic pavilion. And here in Seattle, the Street Edge Alternatives street projects lined streets with grasses, shrubs, trees and bioswales. Increased use of these green infrastructure techniques has nearly eliminated polluted runoff from the SEA street site over the past three years.
June, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved the first of its kind
agreement with the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) and Washington State
Department of Ecology to ensure the systematic control of Seattle’s chronic
sewage overflow (CSOs), while allowing the city to use cost-effective and
environmentally beneficial projects to control and treat both stormwater and
sewage overflows. This is a more integrated and flexible approach, allowing the
city to allocate dollars in a smart way to meet the requirements of the federal
Clean Water Act. It’s important to note that the agreement was improved to
include toxic organic chemicals, which was critical for environmental community
The projects will include a range of important tools and capital construction projects – incorporating a mix of retrofits, green stormwater infrastructure, and large underground storage tanks, pipes, and treatment. The agreement will now go to the Mayor for his signature, followed by a federal court review and public comment period. It is expected to be finalized by the end of the year.
This is a tremendous opportunity and an important step for Seattle to meet its commitment to protect our waterways from both chronic sewage overflows and polluted stormwater runoff. Studies show that targeting rapid urban development with low impact green infrastructure solutions is far cheaper and more effective than trying to clean up pollution after it enters our lakes, rivers, and the Puget Sound after an overflow.
Of course, a greener urban landscape absorbs more carbon, helping to reduce the carbon pollution overload in the Earth’s atmosphere. And these solutions offer other benefits, too. They can act as habitat patches, corridors or bridges for birds and other wildlife. They can beautify street edges, parks and waterfront spaces, improving neighborhoods and making our city an even greater place to live, work, and raise a family.
While there is still much work and critical decisions ahead, the city of Seattle has taken a smart step to help move the ball forward to protect and restore the health of the Puget Sound and provide solutions that benefit all of us.