Report: Puget Sound Stormwater

Nisqually Delta

Toward a sum greater than its parts.

Let's face it: Dealing with polluted runoff, commonly called stormwater, isn't the most exciting of topics. It's a problem that is often left to policymakers, but it's become increasingly clear that they need the community's help to address this too-invisible problem.

Cities everywhere are turning their attention to stormwater, especially as old buildings and pipes reach the 100-year mark. When rain rushes over streets, buildings, and parking lots, the runoff carries dirt, oil and other pollutants to rivers and streams and can cause erosion. Changing out gray infrastructure for green infrastructure (e.g. trading out pavement in favor of green space like rain gardens) welcomes nature into our cities, which in turn improves both mental and physical health, increases property value, conserves energy, enhances wildlife habitat and saves money on more costly pipe infrastructure.

A recent report funded by The Russell Foundation Foundation and delivered by The Sightline Institute shows that there are dozens of strategies in our region that one could fund in service of reducing polluted runoff. However, the sheer number of options is arguably one of the barriers to making more progress. In a perfect world, these myriad efforts to address polluted runoff should add up to a sum that is greater than its parts. Yet, it is clear this is not happening. One interviewee summed up the dilemma this way:

"Stormwater solutions need to be diffuse because of the nature of the problem. But spending time on small projects here and there is not going to get us there. We need at the very least to create a shared sense of how we're talking about the problem, what we are requesting, what are we requesting it for, what is the outcome, and what are we going to show. We need a more coordinated approach."

The Russell Family Foundation is exploring a fresh approach to addressing polluted runoff with its funds. The foundation is choosing to broadly share this report, which includes some of the foundation's past funding decisions, in order to inspire a broader conversation on effective stormwater strategies. The Russell Family Foundation board is using the results of this report to review its polluted runoff / green infrastructure program funding guidelines; strategic refinements to this portfolio will be announced in Winter 2015.

We welcome your feedback on this report, your examples of focused regional initiatives or partnerships, and your ideas on how to make the greatest impact on polluted runoff and the Puget Sound.