Becoming a Steward of Puget Sound

By Cate White, MPA Earth Systems Science, Policy & Management & Coordinating Council Member, Sustainable West Seattle


Puget Sound is sick. Polluted runoff from sealed surfaces like paved streets, sidewalks and rooftops is the number one source of toxins entering Puget Sound each year. This toxic mix threatens human health, the economic vitality of the region, and the survivability of the Sound’s most emblematic species: salmon and orcas.

The good news is that local community members can adopt behaviors that will reverse the damage to Puget Sound and restore it to health. Our citizens are the stewards of the same streets, sidewalks and rooftops that convey 14 million pounds of pollutants into Puget Sound each year. Pollutants include motor oil, pesticides, fertilizers, grease, paint, heavy metals, and bacteria.

There are simple actions people can take to become stewards of Puget Sound. Among the most important are:

  1. Keeping water on-site with rain barrels, water cisterns, rain gardens, and porous surfaces,
  2. Practicing natural yard care,
  3. Picking up pet waste,
  4. Walking, biking, or riding public transit instead of driving,
  5. Planting and protecting native evergreens, and
  6. Using car wash facilities or washing cars on lawns instead of washing cars on driveways.

1. Keep water on-site with rain barrels, rain gardens, and permeable surfaces

A big part of the problem with polluted runoff is that it runs quickly over hard surfaces and collects toxins that flow directly into our streams, rivers and Puget Sound. Rainwater retained onsite that percolates through soil can cleanse many of the toxins.

Keeping water on-site may sound counter-intuitive. One might think “if the polluted rainwater runoff is bad for Puget Sound, then it must be bad for my yard.” But that isn’t exactly true. A healthy soil profile with lots of microbes and fungi can help degrade many of the pollutants like hydrocarbons that wash off our streets and driveways. Some mushrooms can absorb heavy metals too (although they do require proper hazardous waste disposal). So filtering rainwater through healthy soils is a first step toward cleaning the water that goes into Puget Sound.

There are many ways to retain water on one’s property. You can use rain barrels to collect water that is later used to water gardens. Or, you can build a special kind of garden called a rain garden to absorb rainwater. Or, you can replace cement surface with permeable surfaces that absorb water. Learn more about each of these alternatives at

2. Practicing natural yard care

Directing rainwater into porous surfaces for absorption is half the solution. The other half is making sure that those surfaces have the ability to break down pollutants. Soils rich in organic matter that have lots of microbes are critical to solving polluted runoff because those microbes can start metabolizing and degrading many pollutants. Soils that have chemicals added like synthetic fertilizers, pesticides (herbicides, fungicides or insecticides) and other unnatural chemicals don’t develop the microbial populations that are necessary to break down pollutants. So any garden made to absorb rainwater should be organic.

The best things to add to your soil are organic compost and woodchips. You can work compost into your annual/vegetable beds, but topdressing soil with two inches of compost works fine. Raking a one- to two-inch compost/sand mix into your lawn can help absorb more rainwater as well. Woodchips in perennial beds and natural areas help create an environment similar to a forest floor in the Pacific Northwest, encouraging beneficial fungi. Soils in need of nitrogen can benefit from a “mulch sandwich: two inches of compost with three to six inches of woodchips on top.  Avoid bark. It repels water and resists breakdown, suppressing the fungal populations that plants need. Woodchips can be obtained from tree trimming crews working in your area.

3. Picking up pet waste

Creating a poop-free Puget Sound is more important than you might think. According to King County, there are more than 200 tons of pet waste deposited in the Puget Sound region every day, and water runoff flushes some of it into streams, rivers and Puget Sound. Dog poop contains things like E. coli, Giardia and Roundworms – nasty stuff that we don’t want in Puget Sound. The very best thing you can do when walking your dog outside is to bring plastic bags, pick up the poop, and dispose of it in a trash can. Do not contaminate your compost with pet waste. This is one of those rare cases where throwing something away is the best option. Or, if you have trouble managing your dog’s mess in a dog-run, you can line it with arborist woodchips 1-foot deep to allow beneficial fungi to filter pollutants.

4. Walking, biking, or riding public transit instead of driving

Oil and gas from cars and heavy metals like zinc and copper that come from tires and brake pads create a toxic nightmare for Puget Sound’s marine life. The Seattle Aquarium estimates that more than 2 million gallons of used motor oil ends up in Puget Sound each year.   And according to Seattle Public Utilities, “even small amount of oil can smother fish eggs and developing shellfish in our lakes and streams. Just 1 pint of oil causes a slick the size of 2 football fields.”

We can all drive less to reduce pollution. When you have the option, choose to walk, bike, or ride the bus instead of driving a car.

5. Planting and protecting native evergreens

Our native forests are integral to our success in reducing polluted runoff. Native evergreen trees are stormwater-holding tanks. For example, a mature evergreen can absorb as much as 250 gallons of rainwater a day.  However, we are losing our native forests not only to development, but also to invasive species like English Ivy, Holly, Laurel, Knotweed and Himalayan Blackberry.

You have a lot of options to help plant and protect our native evergreens. If you have a large yard, you may consider planting evergreen trees. If you have an evergreen that has been taken over by English Ivy or Wild Clematis, you can periodically cut the vines at the ground and at chest level to keep if from fruiting and re-infecting forest restoration work elsewhere. If you prefer getting some social time in while saving the Sound, consider joining restoration efforts.

  • Groups that run forest restoration projects include: The Nature Consortium, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, EarthCorps, or Green Seattle Partnership.
  • Good trees and shrubs to plant include Madrona, Doug Fir, Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, Evergreen Huckleberry, Shore Pine, Pacific Rhododendron, Salal and Sword Fern. Non-native plants (Rosemary, Thyme, fruit trees) for food or ornament are fine, as long as they’re not invasive.
  • Garden Cycles is a West-Seattle based business that removes invasive species:
  • The West Seattle Nursery has a good selection of native plants:

6. Using car wash facilities instead of washing cars on driveways

Finally, there is the car wash. Soaps can include phosphates, which can lead to low oxygen levels in our waterways, thereby killing fish through oxygen depletion. Soaps can also include phthalates that have been linked to reproductive problems and obesity. So, it’s best not to wash your car on your driveway and let soap wash down the storm drains. Going to a carwash is a much better alternative because the soapy water doesn’t go untreated into storm drains. If you are considering a high school fundraiser, ask your local carwash if they will give you discounted gift certificates for resale instead of washing cars in a school parking lot.

Why we should become stewards of Puget Sound

There is a lot at stake. Citizens are losing their rights to fish and swim in the Sound’s waters or to make their livelihoods from local fisheries and ecotourism. Warnings are posted around the Sound alerting people to the dangers of eating fish and shellfish. Over the past decade the gross revenue earned by Washington’s shellfish industry fell by two-thirds to $55 million in 2008 due in large part to pollution-related harvest closures.

We are also losing the salmon and orcas that underpin the identity of Pacific Northwest residents and help to drive tourism to our region. Puget Sound’s Coho Salmon are classified as a “Species of Concern.” Our orcas are the most PCB-contaminated marine mammals in the world and our Southern Resident Killer Whales are a federally listed “Endangered Species.”

We can reverse these trends. Exciting efforts are being implemented throughout the region to staunch the flow of polluted runoff using rain gardens. Seattle’s Street Edge Alternative Project (SEA Streets) used rain gardens and evergreen trees and shrubs to effectively reduce stormwater pollution by 99 percent. This creative use of “green stormwater infrastructure” actually beautified the community, increased its carbon sequestration capacity with lots of vegetation, and is promoting natural drainage. King County Wastewater Treatment Division now plans to implement similar “green stormwater infrastructure” in the Sunrise Heights and Westwood neighborhoods of West Seattle to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSO) at the Barton Pump Station.

Together, the citizens of Puget Sound can take small steps, like picking up dog poop, volunteering in a forest restoration effort, and going to the carwash – and large steps like building rain gardens – to restore Puget Sound to health. Through collective effort, we can hope to see robust salmon and orca populations once again.

Multiple ‘Duwamish Alive’ Work Parties On Earth Day

Come join over 1,000 volunteers at 13 sites across Seattle and Tukwila in a joint effort to restore the watershed of the Duwamish River.

Communities, non-profits, businesses, and families will be engaging in restoration efforts that range from on-the-river kayak cleanup to graffiti removal to pulling invasive species. The work parties go from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm.   Snacks, tools, and gloves will be included, all you need to bring is yourself!

After the work party you can join Nature Consortium for a festival with free food, live music, and hands-on arts activities. To sign up, please email, or call 206-923-0853.  For more information contact Amy Truax, Restoration Project Assistant, Nature Consortium,

The locations where the work parties will take place are:

  • South Park:
    • Duwamish Waterway Park
    • River trash cleanup by kayak and canoe
  • Georgetown:
    • Gateway Park/8th Avenue South
  • White Center:
    • Roxhill Bog
  • Delridge / Pigeon Point:
    • Brandon Street Natural Area
    • Puget Creek Natural Area
    • West Duwamish Greenbelt/ Pigeon Point
    • Herring House Park/T-107
  • Tukwila:
    • Cecil Moses/NorthWind’s Wier
    • Duwamish Hill Preserve
    • Codiga Farm

Click here ror a Google map of the locations.

Barton Basin Sewer Overflow Project Public Meeting

King County Wastewater Treatment Division will be hosting a community meeting for Westwood and Sunrise Heights neighbors to discuss the Barton Basin CSO-GSI Project.

The meeting is Wednesday, April 6, from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm at the Westside School, 7740 34th Avenue SW, the new name for the red-brick school one block east of 35th just south of SW Holden St.

Come  learn more about the proposed Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) project to control combined sewer overflows (CSO) at the Barton Pump Station near the Fauntleroy Ferry Dock.

This is the first of many opportunities for community participation and to learn more details about the project.  Meeting summaries will be posted on the following website – Seattle/BeachCSO/MeetingCalendar.aspx

For more information, special accommodations, or if you are unable to attend the meeting and would like arrange a small group meeting, please contact Maryann Petrocelli 206-263-732

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Chief Sealth Students, Teachers Hosting World Water Week

The first annual World Water week will take place the week of March 21-25 at Chief Sealth International High School. World Water Week will promote understanding of the relationship between members of our local community with water here and around the world, with the emphasis on improving that relationship through conservation and local action addressing equal access for all global citizens.

The week will consist of five days full of powerful speakers and engaging workshops for students, teachers and the community.

  • Monday, March 21st will feature an exciting keynote speaker, Robert Glennon). Glennon is a professor of law and public policy at the University of Arizona and is the author of the bestselling book, Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and what to do about it. His talk will be preceded by personalized video message from Alexandra Cousteau, famed global water activist and filmmaker. Congressman Jay Inslee, as well as a representative from the Mayor’s office, will also be in attendance. Representatives from the Duwamish Tribe will attend the event and provide a blessing for World Water Week. Before the keynote lecture, there will be a water resource fair with tables from local government and non-profit organizations. There will also be some live music and refreshments. This event will be free and open to the public.
  • Tuesday night will be an evening event for Chief Sealth students and parents, with the focus on water and environmentally related career, college, and internship opportunities. There will be booths from many local colleges and organizations, as well as break-out sessions from environmental journalists and hopefully some green engineers.
  • Wednesday and Thursday will be made up of in-school workshops focused on raising awareness of our local water sources and the global water crisis.
  • Friday will be our big day. There will be no regular classes during school. There will be 4 “periods” plus lunch. Each grade level will participate in a water carrying (“Carry 5”) walk. Students (and staff) will carry 1-5 gallons of water around the track for a couple of miles. We will be simulating what over a billion people do every day to gather fresh water for their families. This whole event is actually the culmination of a month-long fundraiser that the school will be doing for Water 1st International. During the other three rotations on Friday, students and staff will sign up for workshop sessions. There will be several choices each hour. The day will conclude with an all school assembly where we will announce which grade raised the most money and conclude with a performance by a local band.

This festival is being organized by Chief Sealth senior Molly Freed, her teacher Noah Zeichner and a group of 50 Chief Sealth students and teachers, in collaboration with several local organizations. Last summer, the Bezos Family Foundation selected Freed and Zeichner as Bezos Scholars — two of only 24 across the nation — to attend the Aspen Ideas Festival. At the festival, scholars were directed to create their own local Ideas Festival, and Freed and Zeicher developed the idea of World Water Week.

For more information contact Noah Zeichner, Social Studies Teacher, Chief Sealth International High School, 2600 SW Thistle Street Seattle, WA 98126, or by phone at 206-252-8626  or check out the Chief Sealth International High School website.

NOAA Funding Watershed Education Teacher Training

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA – is funding Watershed Education Workshops for local teachers and community leaders and interested parties.

NOAA will host the Washington Watershed Education Teacher Training (a NOAA B-WET program) in Seattle, March 26  through 27, aboard the Indigo & at Duwamish Longhouse.  The training is aimed at K-12 teachers, community organizations, and government agencies.

It’s all free and there are  free credit/clock hours for teachers.  To register go to for more information contact Amy Johnson at 425-640-1882.

The two day programming is aimed at teachers, pre-service teachers, community based organizations, and government agencies interested in issues surrounding the Puget Sound Waterways. SEA (Service, Education, Adventure) and the LEAF School (Learn and serve Environmental Anthropology Field School at Edmonds CC) are hosting a series of free marine based professional workshops funded by NOAA.

Using Bottled Water? Scorecard Gives Clues to 170 Brands

The Environmental Working Group has published its 2011 Bottled Water Scorecard.

EWG’s 2011 Bottled Water Scorecard grades more than 170 bottled waters on the fullness of their disclosures on their labels and websites. Nine out of ten of the best-selling brands didn’t answer EWG’s basic questions:

  • Where does the water come from?
  • Is it purified? How?
  • Have tests found contaminants?

For more information check out the Environmental Working Group’s website –

Public Meeting Set on New Seattle Shoreline Rules

Join the City of Seattle for a discussion about what the new rules mean for you.

Will the new shoreline rules affect you? They could if you’re a waterfront homeowner or business owner, live on a boat, or play along Seattle’s shorelines. The Seattle Department of Planning and Development is hosting a public meeting to discuss the changes and answer your questions.

The meeting is Tuesday, March 8, from 5:30 pm to  7:30 pm in the Bertha Knight Landes Room at Seattle City Hall.  The presentation starts at 6:00 pm.

The proposed new regulations will cause these changes which might affect folks:

  • Increasing shoreline setbacks for new residential development
  • Changing requirements for new and replaced bulkheads, unless water threatens to undermine buildings
  • Clarifying the use of shorelines to support businesses
  • Improving public access to shorelines
  • Prohibiting additional, new floating homes
  • Continuing current regulations that maintain existing floating homes
  • Regulating the number of liveaboards at marinas

Detailed information about proposed regulation changes is available at: The draft regulations, director’s report, and supporting material are posted at:

Public comments on the proposed Shoreline Master Program update, which regulates Seattle’s shorelines, are accepted through May 16, 2011. Please send your written comments to Margaret Glowacki at Written comments may also be submitted at the public meeting.

Seattle To Preserve “Salmon in Schools” Education

The Salmon in Schools program, cut by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife last fall as part of the State’s 2010-2011 fiscal year budget reductions, will likely continue in Seattle schools.

Upon learning that Fish & Wildlife may no longer fund the statewide program, Seattle Council President Richard Conlin requested that Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) find a way to support the program for Seattle school children. SPU is offering additional support for the program at a cost of $10,000 per year through the Restore Our Waters program.

“Environmental stewardship starts young,” said Council President Richard Conlin. “Kids learn best by seeing and interacting with nature and wildlife. The Salmon in Schools program is a successful example of hands-on education. I had to do something to preserve this valuable resource, and I hope that other municipalities and organizations around the state will do the same.”

The Salmon in Schools program, established in 1991, is an educational project that encourages respect for our aquatic resources and promotes responsible behavior toward the environment. Large tanks and salmon eggs are provided to both public and private schools and students learn about the salmon lifecycle and the interrelationships between water quality and habitat issues by watching the salmon hatch and grow into fry. Eggs are provided by state and tribal hatcheries. The salmon are released into local streams after about 12 weeks. Statewide, an average of 495 schools participated each year, reaching 40,000 students. Approximately 50 of those schools are in Seattle.

In addition to supplying the eggs and providing and maintaining the tanks, Fish & Wildlife funding has supported administering the permits necessary to release the salmon into the streams. All schools raising salmon require permits and staffing the administration of these permits will need to be resolved for the program to continue.

Fish & Wildlife is exploring ways to continue the program with private or non-profit funding if the cuts become permanent, and in the meantime SPU has offered to assume the cost of maintaining the tanks used in Seattle schools. SPU will also continue partnering with local watershed groups, Seattle school district staff, and teachers to implement and maintain the educational component of the program.

“This program is an engaging way for youth to garner an understanding of the important connections between salmon and healthy waters,” said Ray Hoffman, Director of Seattle Public Utilities. For this year, salmon eggs have already been delivered to schools across the City and kids and grown-ups alike are excited to watch them hatch, grow and swim away down one of Seattle’s streams.

Hands-on Low Impact Development Workshop Scheduled

Sustainable Seattle and EOS Alliance are partnering to provide a hands-on low impact development workshop.

The rain running off our roofs, roads and yards is the biggest source of pollution entering Puget Sound’s water. We all contribute to this pollution, and we can all help solve this problem by applying Low Impact Development techniques that slow the runoff down and treat the water. To help you learn about and apply LID on your own property, Sustainable Seattle, in partnership with EOS Alliance, is offering a workshop that combines a class about the benefits and types of LID with a hands-on experience building a rain garden or bioswale so you can exactly what is involved.

Saturday, February 26th will be the theory and background day. We will cover what sustainable design is, what it means to you and its context in the neighborhood, city, region, nation and planet, and its nexus with Low Impact Development, before going into more detail about site assessment and design.

Sunday, February 27th will be the hands-on day. Participants will have a chance to enter their own property into a drawing, the winner of which will be the work site for the rest of the day. We will visit the winning site to do an initial survey, design what to build there to improve its stormwater handling, and spend the rest of the day building what we have designed.

Thank you to EOS Alliance for partnering with us on this workshop.

To read more and register online, visit

The schedule for the two days is below:

Saturday February 26

  • 10:30 am – noon: The first session will cover what sustainable design is, what it means to you and its context in the neighborhood, city, region, nation and planet, and its nexus with Low Impact Development.
  • 12 – 1:00 pm: Lunch and socialising. Bring a sack lunch and we’ll eat together.
  • 1:00 – 5:00 pm: Detailed discussion of Low Impact Design. Topics covered will include:
    • Site assessment
    • Soil analysis
    • Site hydrology
    • Site mapping & analysis
    • Site planning & layout
    • Site design

Sunday February 27

  • 9:00 am – noon: Optional site assessment field trip. We will have a drawing to pick a students house for the installation of a rain garden or other LID design solution. It is understood from the class syllabus that all those participating in the drawing will need to share in the cost and labor of building a rain garden. Participation in this is voluntary and is not part of the basic course syllabus. We will then arrange a field trip to that location for in field practice of site analysis and site planning based on the analysis principles learned.
  • 12 – 1:00 pm: Lunch indoors.
  • 1:00 – 5:00 pm: Construction. We will retrofit a class member’s house with a rain garden and/or bioswale. This is a hands-on physical exercise.


Vance Building, room 530

1402 Third Avenue

Seattle, WA 98101

Closest transit station: University Street.

What to bring

Please dress comfortably, and bring paper, something to write with and a sack lunch for each day. Most of Sunday will be spent outdoors, so please bring rain gear, boots and work gloves if you have them.  We will provide tea, coffee and light snacks.

SWS Stormwater Group Meets Wednesday @ Uptown

Our next stormwater meeting will be held Wednesday, February 9th, 7:30 to 9:00 pm at the Uptown Espresso in the Alaska Junction, corner of SW Edmunds St and California Ave. S

There is a letter of intent due February 14th for The Russell Family Foundation. A draft letter of intent has been prepared. The draft will be used to focus our discussion around our project execution strategy.