Spring in the Pacific Northwest can only mean one thing: rain. As rain falls on our roofs and streets, it is piped into stormwater drains which eventually empty out into our local waterways.  The toxic runoff that washes into Puget Sound and our lakes and rivers causes rapid stream rise during storms, threatens wildlife, and the health of our communities.

In fact, toxic stormwater runoff is the number one source of pollution to Puget Sound. Compounding the problem, climate change is projected to bring more intense rainstorms and even more floods to the region, increasing the risk to residents.

So how is Seattle handling the problem? Green Infrastructure.

Streetside swale
A street-side swale and adjacent pervious concrete sidewalk in Seattle, WA helps decrease stormwater runoff. Photo: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Green infrastructure is a loose term that can refer to wide range of landscape sizes and settings. Essentially, it encourages restoring natural areas to cleanse stormwater, improve water quality, and control floodwaters. In doing this, communities are also creating wildlife habitat and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

For the home gardener, green infrastructure could mean simple things such as planting trees and tree boxes; or getting a little more complex with methods such as:

  • Permeable paving
  • Roof gardens
  • Rain water collection systems
  • Rain gardens
  • Green walls

In Seattle, green infrastructure is popping up everywhere; in part, because there are many programs to support the local green gardener.

Seattle Public Utilities has created RainWise, a program for managing rainwater at home. The website offers solutions and step-by-step processes for controlling stormwater, links to other local projects, a vendor directory of certified RainWise contractors, and information on receiving rebates if you live in a targeted sewer overflow basin.

Washington State University and Stewardship Partners have teamed up to create the 12,000 Rain Gardens campaign.  The goal of this program is to filter 160 million gallons of polluted runoff by helping install 12,000 rain gardens in Puget Sound by 2016. You can find everything you need on their website — including a rain garden handbook, YouTube videos, and local workshops.

Incorporating these green infrastructure techniques in your garden is a great first step in certifying your yard as a wildlife habitat. As a small incentive, May is Garden for Wildlife Month and as a special offer, when you certify your yard any time this month, NWF will plant a tree on your behalf.

So get out there. You have nothing to lose — beautify your garden, improve the environment, and create habitat for wildlife simultaneously!