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

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 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.

RainWise Contractor Fair

Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) such as cisterns and rain gardens help mitigate Puget Sound’s greatest source of pollution — stormwater runoff — while improving your property.

Join ECOSS and RainWise to learn about affordable pathways to get your own GSI and meet the contractors who can help you install them.

Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese interpretation available.

Let us know you’re coming here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1287082221467845/.

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!

Celebrating Tết with stormwater outreach

By Kevin Duong, Multicultural Outreach Associate

Tết is the Vietnamese celebration of the Lunar New Year. This year, ECOSS and I celebrated Tết with the Hoi Thanh Tin Lanh Hy Vong church. Kids were up and singing and the Pastor and members provided words of wisdom. After the service celebration was Tết dinner, featuring traditional food like bitter melon soup, braised pork and Banh Trung (glutinous rice wrapped with mung beans and banana leaves). True to ECOSS’ spirit, dishes were served with compostable dinnerware, helping the church reduce garbage waste.

After dinner, we offered an education session with members and kids who came up to learn about stormwater pollution, the benefits of cisterns and rain gardens and the RainWise program.

For this event and others, I had the pleasure of working with Cindy Nguyen, who was an awesome intern with a bubbly personality. Cindy is a student at Colby College with an interest in environmental law.

ECOSS intern Cindy Nguyen speaking to a church member about rain gardens and cisterns. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

And over the last month, she helped deliver ECOSS and RainWise messages and resources to the Vietnamese community. Despite the short time frame, her hard work to perfect her Vietnamese and her commitment to community outreach was outstanding. Thank you Cindy for working with us and being part of the ECOSS family.

Check out other multicultural outreach work here

November 27 is #GivingTuesday

Give today to promote environmental solutions in local communities and your gift will be doubled for #GivingTuesday!

Multicultural Outreach Associate digging into his work, helping build a rain garden at Sylvester Middle School. Photo Credit: Leda Costa.

Your donation will fund projects like our RainWise outreach, tackling Puget Sound’s #1 source of pollution: stormwater. 2018 marks the addition of over 200,000 gallons per year in stormwater management from RainWise demonstration site installations.

Promote environmental sustainability

Kevin Duong, Multicultural Outreach Associate, explains how this program is essential:

“This year, the RainWise outreach team completed our first collaboration with a restaurant. Young’s Restaurant joins other important demonstration sites like Co Lam Temple and Pyung An Presbyterian Church to educate diverse communities about stormwater pollution and what they can do at home, like installing rain gardens and cisterns.

At Young’s Restaurant, I had the pleasure to work with Janice, Ella and Mr. Van Young, who are all so happy about their three giant cisterns. The collected rainwater waters their mini vegetable garden while preventing flooding during the rainy season. They really appreciate the RainWise program, which helped install the three cisterns.”

Donate today

Multicultural business outreach the focus of City Habitats story

Young’s family standing in front of their restaurant’s cisterns. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

Equitable access to environmental solutions means reaching out to underserved communities. These are often the people most impacted by water pollution, air pollution and other environmental challenges, yet commonly face language and cultural barriers that hinder their ability to protect the environment.

In partnership with King County’s RainWise program, ECOSS helped Young’s Restaurant become the first Seattle restaurant and business to be part of the stormwater pollution solution. And The Nature Conservancy’s City Habitats program recently featured this accomplishment!

ECOSS recruited multicultural contractors for this project and helped both the contractors and restaurant owners navigate the RainWise program to install and maintain cisterns at Young’s Restaurant.

Learn more about our RainWise work

Young’s Restaurant featured in NW Asian Weekly

The Young family cutting the ribbon to commemorate the first restaurant-owned cisterns in Seattle. Photo credit: Sam Le.

Read the NW Asian Weekly article!

Young’s Restaurant recently commemorated their cisterns with ECOSS and King County RainWise. They are the first Seattle restaurant and business to install green stormwater infrastructure — sustainable solutions that help mitigate stormwater pollution. This success story was possible due to multicultural support from ECOSS and an effective partnership with King County. Young’s is protecting Puget Sound waters by decreasing the risk of combined sewer overflows while storing water for tending their gardens. Read more about them in this Northwest Asian Weekly article.

Check out more RainWise stories!