Extending the reach of Green Stormwater Infrastructure

What does it take to center equity in Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) projects? How can others replicate successful community engagement models?

ECOSS’ many years of multicultural education and outreach have broadened the inclusion of communities of color around rain gardens and cisterns, including pioneering installations for community spaces and businesses. These are key examples of Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI), which have provided home improvements and green jobs in some of Seattle’s most vulnerable communities while reducing the amount of polluted stormwater runoff entering the Duwamish River and other local waters. What does it take to center equity in GSI projects? How can others replicate ECOSS’ successful community engagement models?

A recent Green Infrastructure Partnerships (GRIP) Panel featuring ECOSS and partners in King County’s RainWise program tackled these questions with an audience of municipalities and organizations passionate about GSI.

RainWise managers and ECOSS’ multicultural outreach team led the GRIP Panel. Photo Credit: William Chen / ECOSS.

Conversation circled around a central theme: bridging gaps. Economic, cultural, language and more. GSI installations are expensive for both property owners and the contractors that install them. For low-income residents, contractors commonly must front installation costs before being reimbursed for materials months later. For property owners, only certain basins are qualified for the RainWise financial rebate. When these financial hurdles arose, ECOSS helped find solutions, such as leveraging other grant opportunities.

But financials are only part of the journey. Contractors that want to work with RainWise must first get trained, which is only offered in English. ECOSS recruits contractors from the communities that it serves, then joins them in training to act as interpreters and mentors. Similarly, ECOSS walks property owners through the RainWise paperwork and processes. The GRIP panel illuminated the work and dedication that is required to overcome the barriers to making GSI accessible for all.

The audience included municipalities, nonprofits and others working closely with Green Stormwater Infrastructure. Photo Credit: William Chen / ECOSS.

The setting for the panel could not have been more appropriate. Co Lam Temple is a central location for the local Vietnamese community and the site of several cisterns that ECOSS helped establish. It also illustrates the challenges of expanding GSI access. The temple is not located in a RainWise-eligible basin. Many community members were not native English speakers nor familiar with GSI. ECOSS helped bridge these economic and language gaps while building trust within the community. After a productive discussion of how other municipalities could help promote equitable GSI, ECOSS led a tour of Co Lam Temple to show how the cisterns were being integrated into the temple and broader community.

To bridge gaps, ECOSS builds personal connections with communities. The installation at Co Lam was a success in large part because an ECOSS staff member was already a regular attendee of the temple. When he approached the head monks about installing GSI, it wasn’t as an outsider offering a service; it was as a community member suggesting a solution.

Cisterns are now a prominent feature around the Co Lam Temple, accompanied by educational signage in English and Vietnamese. Photo Credit: William Chen / ECOSS.

ECOSS has grand visions for further advancing the equity of GSI installations. A revolving fund would expedite contractor payment by reimbursing installation costs up front and refilling from completed installations. Additionally, an ECOSS-administered fund would build on native language capacities and rapport with multicultural contractors to lower bureaucratic barriers.

The GRIP Panel was a precious opportunity to share insight on ECOSS’ equity lens with other cities, counties and organizations. The buzz of excitement after the events of the day provided hope that the lessons learned will inspire similar programs across Puget Sound.

Check out other GSI stories

PINKAPALOOZA Block Party 2019

Tickets are sold out! Please call 206-767-0432 to be put on the wait list.

 

SLIDING SCALE TICKETS

Because we believe PINKAPALOOZA should be accessible for all, we are offering tickets on a sliding scale. Tickets are valued at $100. However, we invite you to pay what you can, whether that’s $250 or $25. Money is a common barrier to attending events like PINKAPALOOZA. We want to remove that barrier and encourage those who can afford to pay more than $100 to make it possible for more individuals to attend the event.

 

Volunteers

We’re looking for volunteers to help us make PINKAPALOOZA the most amazing celebration possible! Fill out this form to let us know you’re interested in volunteering.

 

Can’t make it this year?

You can still make a tax-deductible gift here to help advance environmental equity for businesses and communities.

 

Thank you to our generous lead sponsors:

  • Port of Seattle
  • Cascadia Law Group
  • Anchor QEA
  • Pacific Groundwater Group
  • Lafarge PNW
  • King County Parks
  • Landau
  • BEA Environmental
  • Restorical Research
  • Jacobs Engineering Group
  • Stewardship Partners
  • The Wilderness Society
  • Windward Environmental
  • Boeing
  • Aspect Consulting
  • Floyd Snider
  • Seattle Public Utilities
  • Parametrix
  • Mr. Pressure Wash
  • Nucor Steel Seattle
  • Paint Away!
  • HDR
  • Kennedy/Jenks Consultants
  • Snohomish Conservation District
  • Washington Liftruck

Interested in being a PINKAPALOOZA sponsor? Let us know at info@ecoss.org.

A day of sparkling waters and shared reflection

Cedar River waterfall

A waterfall stills hikers with its magical light show. Photo Credit: Zacke Feller.

Written by Uroosa Fatima, Multicultural Outreach Manager

Living in Seattle, I find it hard not to think about water. Whether it’s twinkling at me from across the bridge or attacking me from the sky, water finds a way to get noticed every day. Surrounded by all these glamorous bodies, I sometimes overlook the city’s best water feature: tap water. A fresh, cool stream that flows reliably whenever we need it.

But why does the tap water here taste so good? The greater Seattle area gets its water supply from two systems, the South Fork Tolt River watershed and the much bigger Cedar River Municipal Watershed. Both of these regions are heavily protected areas and allow minimal access to humans. The watersheds are kept as pristine as possible, so the water requires minimal treatment. Additionally, Seattle is unique among urban American cities for not repeatedly recycling its tap water, which elsewhere leads to flat-tasting water.

Watershed model

Rangers teach the group about the watershed using a model of the region. Photo Credit: Zacke Feller.

Recently, I got the chance to go see the Cedar River Municipal Watershed on a hike organized by ECOSS in partnership with Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). The aim of this hike was to introduce some of Seattle’s newer communities to the watershed that feeds their drinking supply. The diverse group included members from the Vietnamese, Chinese, East African and Pakistani communities.

After meeting with the park rangers at Cedar River Educational Center and learning the rules of conduct, the hikers were driven up to the restricted municipal watershed. The watershed is divided into two basins, the larger Chester Morse Lake and the smaller Masonry Pool, which was created as a result of the Masonry Dam. Following the guides the group walked along parts of the dam and saw how the structure is used to generate electricity and regulate water flow.

We stopped over the dam to see how it was used to regulate water, and to take lots of pictures! Photo Credit: Zacke Feller.

During their trip, hikers learned more about the function, history and ecology of the watershed from the rangers guiding the excursion. 1.4 million people in the region, and countless iconic species like the Northern spotted owl, Chinook salmon and Grizzly bear depend on this basin for a constant and pristine supply of water. This led to lively discussions among the group and the guides facilitated by multilingual ECOSS coordinators on topics like long term regional season patterns, drought conditions, and the historic importance of the watershed to native tribes.

A lively discussion about the history, cultural importance and value of the watershed. Photo Credit: Zacke Feller.

At the end of the hike, the hungry group returned to the Educational Center for some Banh Mi sandwiches and rest. Many felt that the experience gave them a deeper understanding of where their drinking water comes from and what it takes to keep it clean.

 

Read about other work with New Arrivals!

Thank you Seattle Public Utilities for working with ECOSS to make this insightful trip possible!

An equitable approach to accessible clean energy

With new climate records being broken seemingly on a weekly basis, it is more important than ever to address the causes of our increasingly extreme climate. Transitioning to clean energy is a concrete solution for reducing our carbon footprint. But that transition needs to be just and equitable. Everyone must be included to ensure sustainable solutions.

Buying solar panels can be a daunting consideration for new homeowners in Puget Sound. First, the Greater Seattle Area is known for being cloudy and overcast most times of the year. This has led to the misconception that the region is not suitable for solar panels. While it’s true that Seattle will never see the levels of sunlight normal in southern United States, Seattle does receive more sunlight than most of Germany – a world leader in solar energy.

Moreover, Seattle’s climate offers some advantages. For example, frequent rain cleans off pollen and dirt from panels, thus reducing the need for maintenance. Furthermore, some solar cells become less efficient when temperatures get too hot.

Spark Northwest and Homestead Community Land Trust connected with ECOSS to engage communities of color and create equitable access to clean energy. Photo Credit: Solarize Northwest.

The real challenges for solar panels are lack of awareness, finances and bureaucracy. Installing solar panels demands a significant upfront investment. Although there are financial grants and incentives, navigating the processes to access them can be a barrier. Combined with the misconception that the Pacific Northwest is not suitable for solar, people give up on the hope of having solar panels, non-English speakers especially.

ECOSS strives to shift the narrative towards equity by empowering low-income immigrant homeowner families to access green energy. Partnering with Spark Northwest, Homestead Community Land Trust and Puget Sound Energy, ECOSS is educating low-income homeowners, raising awareness about solar panel programs (e.g. Solarize the Land Trust) and helping community members navigate grants and incentives for installing solar panels on their property. For ECOSS, underserved communities are primary audiences, which include immigrants and refugees and non-English speakers.

ECOSS provides food at workshops and info sessions to lower the barriers of attending. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

Engagement is not successful with only one interaction. ECOSS hosts workshops where homeowners are invited to learn more about solar energy. These workshops include interpretation, childcare services and food, recognizing that these are all common needs for families to attend. If an attendee is interested, ECOSS connects them with a solar panel contractor and helps homeowners assess whether solar panels are the right choice given their electricity use, roof suitability and more.

ECOSS works with businesses and community members throughout the process of creating sustainable solutions. Photo Credit: Ned Ahrens.

If this all sounds familiar, it is because ECOSS has pioneered this type of community engagement before. ECOSS advances equity throughout the cycle of installing Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI), from engaging immigrant and refugee homeowners to recruiting and guiding multicultural contractors. This outreach simultaneously provides stormwater solutions and creates green career pathways within marginalized communities. And ECOSS is working to provide the same model for solar panel outreach.

ECOSS is excited to leverage decades of experience to bring an equity lens to solar panel outreach with communities throughout Puget Sound. As the program grows, ECOSS will consider how previous experience with GSI can inform solar panel demonstration sites and contractor training.

Learn more about ECOSS clean energy projects

Combined sewer overflow: how stormwater became Puget Sound’s #1 source of pollution

Stormwater runoff is the #1 source of pollution in Puget Sound, threatening human, fish and aquatic life. But how does rain result in pollution? One contributor is in how cities manage their sewage.

Seattle implemented its first centralized sewer system in the early 1900s ahead of a premier world fair. Rather than having separate pipes for sewage and stormwater, Seattle’s chosen system collected both sewage and stormwater through the same pipe. Generally, there was no issue as the combined sewage was treated at water treatment plants.

Graphic detailing the route of sewage under dry conditions.

Sewage is directed to a water treatment plant during dry weather.

However, heavy rain overloaded this system, dumping an overflow of untreated sewage and stormwater into Puget Sound, the Duwamish River and other local waters. The combined sewage included human waste, heavy metals from roads and pollutants accumulated on roofs. The polluted water is highly toxic to salmon, orcas and other aquatic wildlife. Moreover, it is detrimental to people swimming in the waters or fishing in urban rivers.

Graphic detailing the route of combined sewage during heavy storms.

During large storms, stormwater is combined with sewage in the same pipe, and the increased volume overflows straight into nearby waters.

The archaic combined sewer systems still exist today. Construction of new combined sewer systems stopped in the 1950s, but older systems have yet to be completely replaced. And with population growth and urbanization in Puget Sound, combined sewer overflow has only become more polluted.

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) such as rain gardens and cisterns reduce the amount of stormwater entering the combined sewers. More combined sewage is captured by the sewer system and treated properly, rather than going into Puget Sound waters.

Graphic detailing the route of combined sewage during heavy storms controlled by Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI).

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) manages stormwater so that sewer systems are less likely to overflow.

ECOSS engages multicultural communities to raise awareness about GSI opportunities for property owners so that communities of color can be included in the solutions for clean water and healthier communities. Furthermore, ECOSS recruits and guides multicultural contractors through training to install cisterns and rain gardens. These green career pathways promote small businesses of color and ensure that the benefits of GSI solutions are reaching Puget Sound’s most vulnerable communities.

Read more about stormwater solutions

Thank you King County for source material inspiration of the first two graphics.

ECOSS featured in WIRED article on outdoors access!

WIRED magazine interviewed Multicultural Outreach Manager Allan Kafley about his experience leading community members on outdoors adventures.

Last summer, Allan and other ECOSS staff used Trailhead Direct to increase outdoors access within immigrant and refugee communities. Thanks to the feedback collected from these trips, the service expanded to starting points in Tukwila and Renton. Read about Allan’s experiences and other transit to trails services around the country in the WIRED article:

Check out the article!

Hiking at Cougar Mountain. Photo Credit: Eli Brownell / King County.

ECOSS will again be leading trips with multicultural communities via Trailhead Direct. Look out for more stories!

Expanding accessibility and inclusiveness of outdoors opportunities is a key pillar of ECOSS’ New Arrivals program. The program works from within immigrant and refugee communities to understand their interests and concerns, provide in-language education and lead outdoors experiences that are culturally relevant.

Learn more about New Arrivals

Thank you King County Parks, The Wilderness Society and Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust for the opportunity to conduct multicultural outreach on Trailhead Direct!

Featured photo by Eli Brownell.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Over 70 Nepali-speaking community members joined ECOSS on snowshoeing trips this year!

Snowshoeing is an iconic winter-time activity in the Pacific Northwest. But immigrants, refugees and other new arrivals to the region may be unaware of the recreation opportunity. Likely fewer still have the requisite equipment and knowledge to undertake this activity. ECOSS’ New Arrivals program helps communities overcome these barriers.

Sunny skies reflect off the snow during an extended snowshoeing hike. Photo Credit: Allan Kafley / ECOSS.

“It was my first time and I had a blast.” – Bhim Taamang

In partnership with the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Washington Trails Association, community leader Allan Kafley organized four snowshoeing trips to Snoqualmie Pass. The trips served over 50 youth, none of whom had been snowshoeing before. Two smaller groups of adults embarked on extended hikes deeper into the wilderness. During each trip, volunteer rangers guided groups through the snow-blanketed landscape while drawing attention to different vegetation. Youth and adults alike reveled in the winter nature wonderland that the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

“As I thumped my feet on the slushy snow for miles, breathing the cold fresh air of Snoqualmie and being surrounded by giant mountains made me feel at home.” – Ambika Kafle

The trips also provided insight into an important cultural difference. In the United States, popular outdoors destinations are in such high demand that the environment would irreversibly degrade without intervention. Regulations protect designated wilderness areas so that the public land can be appreciated by future visitors. For example, regulations prohibit the use of certain motorized and mechanized equipment, including off-road vehicles, bikes and chainsaws. For the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, it also means limiting group sizes to 12 or fewer.

Typically, when Nepali-speaking communities gather, they gather in force. The group-size regulations do not exist in their home wilderness. But on the snowshoeing trips, hikers learned about how regulations are preserving nature. Although it is unfortunate for the community members who could not join, the regulations ensure that they will be able to enjoy the wilderness in the future. Thus, the anticipation builds for the next snowshoeing season.

Read about other New Arrivals adventures

Thank you Bhutanese Community Resource Center and South Nepali Class for helping recruit community members. And thank you Washington Trails Association and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Services for supporting these trips.

ECOSS named a leader in environmental excellence

The Port of Seattle honored ECOSS as an Environmental Excellence Awardee!

Video by Port of Seattle with footage and photos contributed by ECOSS and Sam Le.

ECOSS’ programs are as diverse as the communities and businesses it serves. From clean energy to waste management, outdoor recreation to stormwater education, ECOSS provides access to environmental solutions to small businesses and marginalized communities. By working from within the communities that are most-impacted by climate injustices, ECOSS bridges gaps among industry, government and communities in ways that respect people’s cultures and lifestyles.

The Port of Seattle’s Environmental Excellence Award celebrates “the dedication of local partners to engage in healthier communities for cleaner air and cleaner water and to invest in enhanced energy efficiency.”

The Port of Seattle recently honored ECOSS with an Environmental Excellence Award for achievements in environmental equity! ECOSS envisions sustainable businesses and thriving communities supported by equitable environmental solutions. The award symbolizes that ECOSS is on the right track in addressing environmental injustices.

Learn more about ECOSS’ programs.

ECOSS receiving the Environmental Excellence Award with Port commissioners and staff.

ECOSS joined other environmental leaders, including small businesses recognized for their transition to clean energy and transportation heavyweight Lyft that is greening their rideshare service.

Check out the award and other awardees!

Thank you Port of Seattle for honoring ECOSS with this honor. And thank you SVP for nominating ECOSS for the award.

How do we achieve zero food waste?

There’s a Chinese saying, 治標不治本 ; simply treating the symptoms to a problem does not solve the root cause. And right now, businesses are stuck addressing food waste symptoms.

Seattle is no stranger to environmentally sustainable policies. The city enacted a plastic bag ban in 2012. And in 2018, Seattle was the first major U.S. city to ban plastic straws and utensils in food service businesses. These policies are steps forward to a cleaner, healthier environment. But how effective are they in practice? And how equitable is the burden to comply?

ECOSS partners with Seattle Public Utilities to conduct outreach with small, minority-owned food service businesses about recycling and composting. Over the course of several visits, ECOSS works with each business in their native language to understand Seattle’s recycling and composting policies, implement operations that meet the city’s regulations and adapt to new initiatives.

Signage in multiple languages guide customers in sorting recyclables, compostables and durables away from the waste bin.

By visiting businesses repeatedly, ECOSS builds relationships with the owners. These relationships in turn build trust as owners become familiar with ECOSS staff. Businesses become more eager to work with ECOSS and change behavior.

Repeat visits also enable business owners to discuss the challenges they face with ECOSS. Large businesses more often have the capacity to anticipate and adapt to changing policies and trends. But small businesses face numerous barriers to advancing recycling and composting capacity. Crucially, food service businesses are constrained by distributors’ supplies. Not all businesses are located near a distributor that supply compostable utensils or reusable straws. The compostable options can be two to three times more expensive than their plastic counterparts even when the distributor does supply. And yes, the city can do little to stop distributors from carrying plastic straws and utensils. Ultimately, small businesses feel like they are simply being punished for their good environmental deeds.

ECOSS promotes waste reduction by providing compostable utensils for multicultural events. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

These barriers create a gap between understanding zero food waste versus implementing and operating the processes necessary to realize zero food waste. Since 2014, ECOSS has helped businesses establish and increase their recycling and composting capacity. Businesses fully understand the importance of zero food waste and how to comply with regulations, but there’s a limit to their recycling and composting capacity. In addition to the above challenges, recycling and composting pickup is not continuous and businesses only have so much space to store their waste. ECOSS has shifted to education around waste reduction, compostable, recyclable or otherwise, rather than simply sorting waste properly.

Education is now more important than ever. ECOSS is a leader in bridging the gaps among government, industry, and small and minority-owned businesses to reduce waste. We as a society must take responsibility for the waste we create, especially as countries such as China no longer wish to be the world’s dump sites. That means first reducing how much we consume, secondly reusing what we can, before finally recycling products. ECOSS is working with businesses and communities to spread this “Reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra.

Without systemic changes in the policies that govern waste creation and management – such as incentivizing compostable utensils throughout the entire supply chain – Seattle’s growth as an environmentally sustainable hub will be stunted. Until local, regional and state policies engender more accessible and equitable waste management solutions, ECOSS is helping relieve symptoms of urban waste management.

Check out other waste management stories

Mindful of waste, mindful of self

What does meditation and recycling have in common? Perhaps surprisingly, quite a lot.

ECOSS recently partnered with community leaders Stephanie Ung and Venerable Sok Theavy to host an environmental health workshop at a local Cambodian Temple for community members and temple monks.

The workshop began by asking attendees to envision a healthy neighborhood and illustrate their visions through drawing and talking to each other. This exercise formed the foundation for discussing waste streams. Where does our trash go? How do we minimize the impact of our waste on the healthy neighborhoods we envision?

Community members gather round at the Cambodian temple to discuss recycling and composting. Photo Credit: Venerable Sok Theavy.

Although Seattle has developed a culture of recycling and composting, residents still have difficulty in navigating the processes. For example, as much as 20% of what residents throw in recycling bins is actually trash. Soiled pizza boxes, uncleaned bottles, loose plastic bags and more all disrupt recycling. And recycling has gotten much more complicated in the last year, with large processing entities like China heavily restricting to outright banning recycling imports due to contamination. While big businesses can have a large impact on waste streams through their decisions, individuals can play a role in reducing waste too.

Sorting games show where different items should be disposed. Photo Credit: Joycelyn Chui / ECOSS.

But immigrants and refugees who did not grow up in a recycling and composting-centric culture face greater barriers in participating. ECOSS goes to where communities already congregate to engage them in their native languages around sustainability issues. Through sorting games, community members interactively learned about recycling and composting. The environmental health workshop posed the challenge of waste reduction as a community undertaking rather than an individual one. The environment impacts every aspect of our lives – it’s literally what society is built on and in. By connecting outreach to a community’s culture, ECOSS bridges the gap between environmental stewardship and people’s values and traditions.

A meditative walk through the Cambodian temple. Photo Credit: Venerable Sok Theavy.

During a meditative walk through the temple, Venerable Sok Theavy encouraged people to be mindful of every step, paying attention to when they lift the foot and when they place the foot back down on the earth. Analogously, the workshop asked attendees to be mindful of what they were consuming, what waste they were creating and how that waste impacts the environment.

Just as every step we take leaves a mark on the ground, every action we make leaves a mark on the environment.

Learn more about our waste reduction outreach

Thank you Seattle Public Utilities for helping ECOSS bridge the gap on recycling and composting.