All around Puget Sound and the nation, green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) is being touted as a multi-benefit solution to stormwater pollution, sewer overflows, and flooding. In an area like ours that often has enough rainy days to test the resolve of even the most loyal Seattleites, GSI has the power to manage our stormwater in ways that mimic the natural environment, while providing communities with health, social, and economic benefits. Now more than ever, we are seeing a pattern of landowners looking to help protect our Puget Sound and manage stormwater on their property through installations of rain gardens, cisterns, green roofs, and more. While these projects do come with huge benefits, unfortunately they do not come cost free. There are many great incentive programs for installing GSI, such as RainWise Rebates, but cost continues to be one of the biggest barriers landowners face. Stewardship Partners has worked hard to tackle this issue head on, by creating incentive programs that work with the successful RainWise program and also provide assistance to landowners not eligible for RainWise Rebates or other programs. Through our GSI Mini Grants and RainWise Access Grants, we strive to provide a necessary resource when even relatively small out of pocket costs for GSI projects could pose a barrier to landowners otherwise ready and excited to install GSI on their property.
We developed these tools through active discussion with community members and community-based organizations like ECOSS, and after many revisions of Access and GSI Mini Grants, we have delivered two very successful incentive programs to the community. A huge part of what we define as “successful” is having as easy and streamlined a process as possible for the landowner or project contractor to apply for and receive grant funding. We are happy to report that in the last few years we have seen rising demand for Access and GSI Mini Grants, with funding flying out the door! So much so, that after helping to fund 65 GSI projects in the greater Puget Sound, we have fully expended our current funding for these programs. We are actively seeking additional funding to continue these incentive programs and hope to hear good news in the near future. But we must admit, sitting here waiting to hopefully receive more funding to keep this work going is tough! It does, however, give us the chance to take a step back and look at what these programs have accomplished and who they have helped.
Over the course of four years, from 2015 to 2019, our Access and GSI Mini Grants supported a total of 65 projects, stretching from Bothell down to Kent. Green infrastructure is known for being hard working, and these projects are no exception, managing an estimated total of 2.7 million gallons of stormwater per year. That is a big chunk of polluted stormwater runoff which is no longer a direct threat to the health of Puget Sound! Another exciting opportunity that came as we developed these incentives was being able to provide a financial tool specifically to income qualified individuals and nonprofits. In 2018, we revised the GSI Mini Grant guidelines and eligibility to allow for mini grants that were a little less mini. We brought the maximum award up to $4,500, for income-qualified and nonprofit applicants; tripling the previous maximum. This update came as a result of community and partner feedback on how to make these grants more equitable. Our funder (King County)’s flexibility and responsiveness to community input demonstrated commitment to equity and social justice and its integration into all programs, making them a perfectly suited funder of this work. Of the 65 total projects awarded, we are happy to say that 43 grants went to either income qualified individuals or nonprofit applicants! Allowing larger grants for income qualified individuals and nonprofits also created a window of opportunity for contractors. Once a greater portion of the project could be covered through a GSI Mini Grant or RainWise Access Grant, there is less of a barrier to landowners interested in GSI on their property. Eligible landowners may be able to install larger projects with greater stormwater benefits and often turn to a contractor for assistance. One local contractor that has benefited from the increased funding for these projects is Giang Nguyen; read about his experience!
“Tôi luôn muốn có cái gì đó để đựng nước mưa để tôi có thể tiết kiệm lượng nước sử dụng. Tôi vui mừng khi bạn tôi nói với tôi về chương trình gắn bồn chứa nước mưa này. Tôi đã liên lạc với nhà thầu và được cho biết rằng tôi có đủ điều kiện nhận được khoản tài trợ cho người có thu nhập thấp. Tôi rất hài lòng với nhà thầu Giang Nguyễn và công việc gắn bồn chứa nước mưa. Anh ấy đã dạy tôi tại sao phải làm chậm dòng chảy nước mưa và giảm số lượng nước mưa trong cống thoát nước mưa. Tôi luôn nghĩ những cống thoát nước mưa mà chúng ta nhìn thấy trên đường phố được chảy vào trung tâm xử lý nước thải.”
– Qui Nguyen, Mini Grant Recipient
“I have always wanted something to capture the rainwater so I can conserve water usage on my bill. I’m glad my friend told me about this cistern installation program. I have contacted the contractor and learned that I’m qualified for the low income grant funding. I am happy with the contractor Giang Nguyen and his work on the installation. He has taught me why it is important to slow and reduce rainwater in the storm drain. I have always thought those drains we see on the street are going into a water treatment center.”