Summer may still be in full effect for a few more weeks, but at Stewardship Partners we are already thinking about rain. ‘Why??’ you ask. Because we know that all the dry days we’ve had mean that tire dust, car drips, and anything else that lands on our impervious urban surfaces (roads, parking lots, roofs… even lawns) will soon be washed into salmon streams across the region. That ‘first flush’ of polluted runoff (aka stormwater) often comes as coho salmon swim around at the mouths of their birth-streams waiting for rain to swell the streams and allow them to swim up and complete their incredible life cycles and start the next generation. If too much pollution is in the streams when they enter, instead of spawning, those fish will die with bellies full of eggs and milt, and future generations never get their chance.
As a friend of ours, we know you’ve probably heard this before. Protecting and restoring salmon and their streams is the reason we started planting riparian habitat buffers in 1999, and building rain gardens in 2008. Then we created the 12,000 Rain Garden Campaign for Puget Sound back in 2011, and now we are further sharpening our focus to address runoff from our shared highways and roadways, focusing on the worst first by placing rain garden boxes under elevated highways in the densest urban areas. The concept is called ‘Adopt-a-Downspout’ but in the SP office we affectionately refer to it as ‘box of rain.’ The pilot project has been in the works behind the scenes for more than 3 years as we built a partnership with Washington State Department of Transportation. And now we are launching the pilot phase of adopt-a-downspout under the I-5 Ship Canal Bridge in Seattle, one of the most heavily trafficked roads in the state, passing over a major salmon migration corridor. We will be refining the design of our boxes of rain and testing their overall effectiveness over the coming ‘rain year’ (starting October 1), and if the concept works as well as it is expected to, we will expand as quickly as possible to protect and restore the health of our urban streams for salmon, other wildlife and communities. Stay tuned over the coming months for updates as we kick the tires so-to-speak on this approach.
As with everything we do, this project is moving forward because of amazing partners including but not limited to Julia Ebert, the Boeing Company, Snohomish Conservation District, UW Center for Urban Horticulture, WSDOT, Herrera Environmental, TNC, Site Story, Salmon-Safe and many others have all played or continue to play vital roles in this project.