“We all live upstream,” says Fran Wilshusen of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, so we all can fight storm-water runoff. The Nation spoke with activists from the NWIFC, the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, the Washington Environmental Council, the West Central Local Integrating Organization and the Suquamish Tribe about what you can do to keep pollution out of rivers and lakes.
1. Limit your use of pesticides and fertilizers.
2. Wash your car in a commercial car wash, not your driveway. If you wash it at home, do so on your lawn, preventing soap from entering storm drains. And fix any fluid leaks in your car promptly, or, as Chris Wilke from Puget Soundkeeper puts it, “Don’t drip and drive!”
3. Scoop your pet’s poop and don’t litter. Not only is it gross to not pick up after your pet or yourself, it’s bad for rivers, streams, and coastal areas.
4. Plant rain gardens or use rain barrels to absorb rainwater where it falls. Rain gardens are built into depressions so that water from impervious surfaces (such as driveways and roofs) will be absorbed into the ground and won’t flow into local waterways, picking up dirt and pollution along the way. (You can find directions for building a rain garden here and a rain barrel here). Some cities, such as Seattle, even offer rebates for residents who build a rain garden on their property.
5. Make sure new developments in your community use green building technologies. The Washington Environmental Council and Resource Media collect stories of local businesses that have cut down on storm-water pollution in this way. For instance, in Seattle, a development called Piper Village uses pervious pavement so that rainwater is filtered on-site. The city of Mukilteo, also in Washington State, built a green City Hall using a combination of pervious pavement, bioswales (gently sloping troughs similar to rain gardens) and a grass-covered roof, which both insulates the building and collects water runoff.
6. Speak out. The Puget Soundkeeper Alliance organized its members to push state regulations that require cities and counties to incorporate green technologies in all new developments, and continues to force companies to comply through citizen lawsuits. Thanks to the organization’s work, Washington State has some of the strongest regulations in the country.
7. Fight for funding to combat storm-water pollution. As Leonard Forsman, Chairman of the West Central Local Integrating Organization and member of the Suquamish Tribe, points out, infrastructure projects can be expensive and hard to fund, so it’s important to support those efforts. Citizens can advocate for state and federal grant programs, or ask their city to implement a storm-water utility fee, a small tax used to fund local infrastructure improvements.
8. Have your state’s water regulations kept up with science? States are responsible for implementing elements of the Clean Water Act and many of their standards are dangerously out of date.
9. Educate yourself and your community. In Seattle and some surrounding cities, storm-water drains are decorated with stencils that tell the community where runoff (and pollution) are going. If you see pollution flowing into or out of storm-water drains, be sure to report it. (You can find out more about Puget Soundkeeper’s monitoring program here).
10. Support the hardworking folks fighting to protect local waterways. There are organizations similar to those we spoke to from Washington state all over the country. Find the people combating storm-water pollution in your community and get involved.
For even more information, read Madeline Ostrander’s piece on storm-water pollution in Puget Sound and check out The Nation’s joint action with the Natural Resources Defense Council to defend the Clean Water Act.