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Rainwater gardens preventing toxic runoff into Puget Sound

The forecast is for sunny skies this weekend and some of the warmest temps we've seen all year. 

But when it rains a lot – as it has been lately – the runoff from city streets and houses pours toxins straight into Puget Sound. 

How homeowners can address that kind of water pollution is the subject of a series of neighborhood tours put on throughout the region this summer.  The first one is this weekend in Seattle.


It's a rainy spring afternoon on Ballard avenue. You can hear cars and buses racing through the wet streets - just the kind of scene that creates the problem we're about to address.

"And what's happening is the rain picks up everything that's on the ground: oil and gasoline and fertilizers and pet waste," and carries that straight into a delicate ecosystem, says Anne Butler.  She directs community education programs at the non-profit People for Puget Sound. 

This summer, Butler is leading tours of exemplary efforts to fix that problem. First on the agenda is Ballard, a Seattle neighborhood that's on combined sewer overflow system, meaning when it rains a lot, not just runoff, but also sewage goes straight into the sound. 

The city is reimbursing home owners who keep that from happening, by putting in special landscaping. 

She shows me a lawn that's been dug up and replaced with undulating mounds of soil, native plants and a muddy pond designed to fill up with runoff from the homeowner's roof. 

It gets filtered naturally and never reaches the sound. 

"This is a beautiful rain garden. And it's a great example of how the downspout is incorporated into the garden itself, so you can see the water running off right into the garden itself. It's fantastic."

She says the same effect can be achieved on a larger scale with rain barrels and cisterns, some of which filter hundreds of gallons of water underground. 

Her group will be showing people examples of those not just here in Seattle, but also in Tacoma and other small towns along the sound, all summer long. 

Rain wise and Rainwater garden tours are coming up in:

  • Ballard (June 4th)
  • Tacoma (June 18th)
  • Kirkland (June 25th)
  • Burien
  • Bellingham
  • Olympia
  • Kitsap Pennisula
  • Port Townsend
  • "all over the sound"

More information at People for Puget Sound's website.

12,000 Rain Gardens site: a campaign to install 12,000 rain gardens in the Puget Sound region in 5 years.

Rebates for homeowners  in some neighborhoods available through the City of Seattle's Rain Wise program.

Kitsap County and Puyallup also have incentive/cost-share programs for rain gardens

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