New regulations under the Clean Water Act mean 81 cities and counties around Puget Sound have to update their development codes to reduce storm water runoff. A scorecard from two environmental groups shows fewer than half are in compliance.
Stormwater runoff happens when rain or snowmelt travels over pavement and carries oil and other toxics into the water with it. It is now acknowledged as the largest source of pollution to Puget Sound.
But it can be prevented through on-site treatment that mimics nature, says Chris Wilke with the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.
“Essentially, when rain falls on a forest or in a meadow, less than ten percent of that becomes runoff. And when it falls on a city or an urbanized environment, ninety percent of it becomes runoff. And we need to engineer our cities so that they mimic what happens in nature more.” Wilke said.
He says the technology exists and huge improvements can be accomplished through things like permeable pavement and rain gardens.
The Puget Soundkeeper Alliance teamed up with the Washington Environmental Council to contact all 81 cities and counties affected by the new requirements and rate them on five key indicators, such as improving filtration and growing the right trees. Their compilation is called Nature’s Scorecard. The results were mixed.
“Surprisingly, we found that over half of the municipalities were behind the ball on implementing these,” Wilke said.
But the groups also found that simply contacting the cities and counties led many of them to come into compliance. Some needed a bit of help.
“I think some simply didn’t understand the nature of what was being asked. And we were able to help them on that,” said Mindy Roberts, Puget Sound Director at Washington Environmental Council.
“Others just had many pulls on their time and simply had not prioritized it. So that little bit of outreach was enough really to galvanize some action. And communities got work done, which was terrific.”
The scorecard also highlights success stories of eight so-called “green star” communities that stand out for going above and beyond in their efforts to reduce stormwater runoff. The report details the variety of approaches they used to implement low-impact development techniques that comply with the law.
The "green star" communities are Kitsap County, Lacey, Oak Harbor, Olympia, Port Orchard, Renton, Seattle, and Tacoma.