A stormwater solution “on the half shell”

By Cari Simson, Stormwater Programs Director

Through the Equinox demonstration site, ECOSS is raising awareness of innovative business solutions that mitigate flooding and stormwater pollution.

On a cold, overcast November morning, staff from the Port of Seattle, King County, ECOSS and local RainWise contractor Stone Soup Gardens met at Equinox Studios to learn how to install cisterns with oyster shells inside as downspout filters. The Port of Seattle has been using oyster shells on their properties for about seven years to improve water quality. Now, they’re sharing their technical expertise with others. The event included all the steps to site, install and maintain cisterns with oyster shells.

Uroosa Fatima, an ECOSS Multicultural Outreach Manager, gets hands-on experience with constructing an oyster barrel. Photo Credit: William Chen / ECOSS.

Areas with a lot of vehicle traffic can produce elevated levels of copper in stormwater, which is harmful to fish and other aquatic species. One way that copper is introduced to stormwater is from vehicle brake pads, which produce brake dust. Oyster shells have shown promising results for removing dissolved copper from water by adsorption inside the barrel — as water flows through the barrel, copper adheres to the oyster shells, which is filtered out of the water.

In the summer of 2019, ECOSS tested for baseline levels of zinc, copper and other contaminants in roof downspouts prior to Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) installations, and will test again in 2020. ECOSS seeks additional businesses to adopt these solutions and can provide technical support. For more information, or to schedule a site visit or tour, contact info@ecoss.org.

Learn more about the Equinox demonstration site

Come check out the Equinox “industrial-strength” GSI demonstration site in person on December 14th at the Equinox Very Open House! 6pm-late!

Gratitude for Grattix boxes

Stormwater runoff is the #1 source of Puget Sound pollution. There are multiple contributing factors and chief among them are the toxicants that are ubiquitous in urban environments, such as metals deposited on roads by vehicles, air pollution deposited on roofs and more. Such toxicants are picked up by the rain on the way to storm drains that flow untreated into our water bodies. And during large storms, the rains can overwhelm sewer systems. Consequently, the polluted stormwater doesn’t reach treatment plants and flow untreated into local water bodies.

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) is an effective solution to mitigating stormwater pollution. Cisterns lower the volume of water entering stormwater systems during storms and lower the risk of overflowing combined sewer systems. Rain gardens slow the flow of rainwater while naturally filtering toxins. Programs such as the RainWise rebate program have increased access to stormwater solutions for residents throughout Seattle.

ECOSS seeks to broaden the acceptance of GSI in our region by providing technical services for businesses to help reduce their stormwater pollution. The Duwamish River manufacturing and industrial area has many businesses that rely on their location to do their work. During large storms, these businesses are not only dealing with operational costs in the case of flooding problems, but also potentially responsible for pollution that their properties contribute to the Duwamish River.

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) for industrial businesses can help with both flooding concerns and reduce pollution from contaminants that land on rooftops and wash into storm drains. But most businesses have space limitations and operational needs, and the solutions need to be affordable and scalable. Businesses may not know about the breadth of GSI solutions that are possible on their properties, which is where ECOSS can be of service!

Multicultural contractors apply their knowledge of residential GSI solutions to Grattix box construction. Photo Credit: William Chen / ECOSS.

In 2018, ECOSS partnered with Equinox Studios to develop a first of-its-kind, large-scale GSI demonstration site in an industrial area. Equinox Studios, located in the industrial heart of Georgetown, attracts over 18,000 visitors per year and is ideally situated to promote GSI to local industrial businesses and communities. The site showcases emerging and cost-effective GSI solutions that can be easily adopted by property owners seeking to control polluted runoff. When finished in 2020, the Equinox installation will collect stormwater from 62,000 square feet of roof space and passively filter 1.3 million gallons of water annually. ECOSS  Equinox Studios represents an immense potential to reduce toxicants from polluting local waters.

Grattix boxes use varying sizes of sediment to filter stormwater. Photo Credit: William Chen / ECOSS.

One of the innovative GSI solutions that are being featured at Equinox is the Grattix box. Essentially a rain garden in a box, the Grattix allows businesses to benefit from the filtration capabilities of rain gardens without having to dig up their property. These nature-based roof downspout filters remove zinc, copper and other pollutants from roof runoff, and can work in small spaces.

And what better way to learn about Grattix boxes than to go through the process of building one! Using Port of Vancouver’s design as a guide, ECOSS staff, multicultural contractors and members of the public convened at Equinox to learn by doing. From constructing PVC-pipe draining systems to planting native shrubs, just one afternoon of teamwork led to the completion of four complete Grattix boxes.

The event was a triple win for Equinox Studios, the contractors who have added Grattix systems to their repertoire, and the public who will be able to learn about new stormwater solutions.

These Grattix boxes are only the beginning of ECOSS’ vision for an industrial-scale demonstration site. Other cutting-edge solutions for stormwater management to look forward to are permeable pavement, vegetated walls, large cisterns and more. Stay tuned!

Learn more about the Equinox demonstration site!

Come to the Equinox Very Open House on December 14th at 6 pm. ECOSS and others will be at the event and can provide tours and information.

Thank you Aspect Consulting, PureBlue and Equinox Studios for supporting this work.

Additional support for the Equinox GSI project was provided by the Boeing Company, King County Flood Control District, and the Puget Sound Stewardship and Mitigation fund, a grant making fund created by the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and administered by the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment. The Port of Seattle provided in-kind contributions of materials.

Build a Grattix in an afternoon!

ECOSS and Equinox Studios invite you to Learn and Do!

Come learn how to make a Grattix box downspout filter to reduce water pollution. Then help construct a Grattix box and install it under a roof downspout. Grattix boxes and other roof downspout filters bring the benefits of rain gardens to paved areas at homes and businesses and can work in small spaces. The design is particularly effective for removing zinc from galvanized roof surfaces.

Tools and refreshments provided.

In 2018, ECOSS partnered with Equinox Studios to develop a first of-its-kind, large-scale industrial GSI demonstration site. The site, now building Phase 1, will showcase new and emerging industrial GSI solutions that can be adopted by any industrial or manufacturing business. When finished, Equinox GSI will collect stormwater from 62,000 square feet of roof space and passively filter 1.3 million gallons of water annually.

For more information, or to schedule a site visit or tour, please contact at info@ecoss.orgor (206) 767-0432, ext. 1001.

Cover photo credited to Aspect Consulting.

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.

Congratulations Green Globe Awardees!

Congratulations to Young’s Restaurant and The Wilderness Society for being two of 2019’s Green Globe Awardees!

Young’s Restaurant family with ECOSS partner.Photo Credit: ECOSS.

Presented by King County, the Green Globe Award recognizes outstanding leadership in environmental stewardship. It is the County’s highest honor for local environmental efforts.

Young’s Restaurant is the first Seattle business to utilize King County’s RainWise rebate program. ECOSS facilitated the installation process by recruiting multicultural contractors, guiding them through the RainWise certification training and helping the Vietnamese and Chinese contractors and restaurant owners through the English-dominated process.

The Wilderness Society and ECOSS partners. Photo Credit: Ned Ahrens / King County.

The Wilderness Society partnered with ECOSS to conduct outreach around the Trailhead Direct public transit service within historically underserved communities of color. This affordable alternative to driving provides greater access to the natural beauty that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. With support form The Wilderness Society and King County Parks, ECOSS extended awareness of the service into the Bhutanese, Latinx, Korean and Khmer communities of the Greater Seattle area.

Dow Constantine. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

“Throughout King County, people, businesses and nonprofits are doing extraordinary work to protect the spectacular natural environment that is central to our identity and our quality of life,” said Executive Constantine. “The Green Globe Award recipients we honor today inspire and challenge us to leave this special place even better for future generations.”

ECOSS received the Green Globe Award in 1999 for leadership in protecting water quality and in 2015 for leadership in environmental equity. Building on experience, ECOSS is proud to share its strengths and elevate others to be environmental and equity leaders.

Congratulations again to Young’s Restaurant and The Wilderness Society. Read more about their work and ECOSS’ role in promoting outdoors access and environmental equity.

Check out this year’s 13 amazing Green Globe Awardees

Equity in stormwater management must start from the Summit

Centering Equity at the Annual Green Stormwater Infrastructure Summit 

The Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map, a recently-published tool, revealed plainly what many already knew from their lived experiences: communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately subjected to environmental health risks. Yet, these same communities receive disproportionately fewer resources and their voices are disproportionately left out of the conversations around environmental solutions. ECOSS pioneers education and outreach programs with these communities to help right these environmental injustices, but we can’t do it alone.

ECOSS recently attended the 4th Annual GSI Summit, a City Habitats event led by Stewardship Partners. The summit focused on green infrastructure – emerging research, applied solutions, community stories and more. This year, ECOSS joined the hosting committee, a central role that allowed ECOSS to advocate for a larger focus on equity in the summit.

Challenge tables centered solutions-driven conversations around a plethora of green infrastructure challenges. ECOSS led a discussion around equity. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

Taking the role to heart, ECOSS led a session on community engagement and captained a discussion table to discuss equity in green stormwater infrastructure. ECOSS brought its experience working with Vietnamese and Chinese communities and businesses. Conversation blossomed around how all sectors can make green stormwater infrastructure more equitable.

Surveying the rest of the summit, numerous presentations concluded with the revelation that organizations should work with communities rather than for communities. It was encouraging to see more people adopt this approach, but it also came with a sense of disappointment that was perfectly captured by the summit’s Youth Voices Panel.

The Youth Voices Panel, from left to right: Risa Suho, Hannah Price, Shelina Lal. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

“We need you to need us.” – Shelina Lal

A simple statement, but one that spoke volumes. Lal went on to lament that youth shouldn’t even be speaking at the summit – that if green infrastructure leaders were actively working with communities to advance solutions, the summit wouldn’t need youth to make impassioned speeches about the suffering of low-income communities and communities of color. The entire Youth Voices panel echoed similar sentiments throughout their hour on stage.

ECOSS works with RainWise to provide green infrastructure rebates and career pathways within communities disproportionately impacted by climate change and environmental injustices. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

This is the pulse that organizations must track to advance the equity of green infrastructure. ECOSS has been a trusted partner of businesses, diverse communities and government to provide co-created, practical solutions for 25 years. ECOSS works with communities; the majority of staff are from those communities. Yet, these and other connections are underutilized by environmental organizations wanting to reach historically underserved communities. The best time to work with low-income communities and communities of color on environmentally just programs was at the programs’ inceptions. The next best time is now.

An undercurrent of urgency pervaded the summit. We must mobilize. We must go beyond naming problems and act. There is still much room for progress in equitable green stormwater infrastructure. However, that the words from the youth of our most-impacted communities were met with standing ovation rather than only uncomfortable stares raises hope for the future of equitable environmental solutions.

Read other green stormwater infrastructure stories

Thank you to RainWise partners for promoting ECOSS as a leader in equitable green stormwater solutions!

City Habitats features our stormwater solutions outreach!

 

Ruben Chi Bertoni oversees outreach efforts on RainWise cisterns and rain gardens. Photo Credit: Marcela Gara, Resource Media.

“Being true to myself and being true to the community that I serve is so important for programs to be an actual benefit to the community.” – Ruben Chi Bertoni

The Nature Conservancy’s City Habitats program recently featured Ruben Chi Bertoni! Ruben talks about doing multicultural outreach for the RainWise program, which offers up to 100 percent rebates for installing rain gardens and cisterns at home. We can all help reduce stormwater pollution and ECOSS works to make sure underserved communities such as immigrants, refugees and other diverse communities are included.

Learn more about our RainWise work

South Park Rain Garden

Environmental Equity—One Rain Garden at a Time

Polluted runoff (aka stormwater) is the #1 source of pollution in Puget Sound. Rain gardens and cisterns help collect, absorb and filter polluted runoff before it reaches storm drains and ultimately our waterways.

To help diverse communities access the RainWise rebate program, (which helps homeowners build rain gardens and cisterns), ECOSS recruited multicultural contractors and worked with them every step of the way in becoming RainWise certified. This program invests in our communities by creating local jobs, supports our economy and reduces pollution in our waterways.

We invited Hop Tran, a contractor recruited by ECOSS to share his experience with us.    

RainWise certified contractor, Hop waving

How did you get involved with RainWise?                                                                    We were first approached by ECOSS outreach staff and they provided me with all the information I needed to become a RainWise-certified contractor. ECOSS helped me fulfill the requirements, materials were even translated into my language and ECOSS attended the training with me to translate complex terms.

After the training, ECOSS helped me navigate and complete the RainWise process by helping me to understand and use the website and forms for the program.

What would you tell other landscaping companies about RainWise?                    RainWise has been a great benefit to me and my company. At first, I was a little intimidated, but ECOSS offered a lot of help to overcome any barriers. The city inspectors are very nice and knowledgeable. They are always willing to help and answer questions. Also, ECOSS staff worked closely with me and made me feel comfortable and confident to move forward with RainWise.

How has RainWise helped your business?
RainWise has helped my business grow by about 20-30%. Once you get the basics down, the work is pretty straight forward. It’s just a matter of working closely with the homeowner to keep them happy and closely with the inspectors to make sure all guidelines are followed. Through RainWise, I have learned better communication skills, how to fill out forms and interacted with City/County staff for the first time.

“Hop was very professional and I’m very happy with
the results of his work.”

RainWise homeowner & Hop Gardening customer

The contractor training has helped bring rain gardens and cisterns to more communities and provided economic and professional development for local garden and landscaping businesses.To date, we’ve added nine multicultural RainWise contractors and collectively they’ve completed 18 RainWise projects in five languages.

If you’re interested in our next round of training beginning in the fall, contact ruben@ecoss.org

Hop’s Gardening is available for rain gardens, cisterns and other landscaping needs. He can be reached at 425-306-1380.