Getting an Up Close Look at Innovative Solutions in Seattle

By Nancy Stoner

Earlier this month, I spent several days in Seattle meeting with EPA’s staff that work on water policies and programs in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to our meetings, they took me to visit the High Point housing development in West Seattle. High Point is a mixed income Seattle Housing Authority community that has lovely views of the city center, is highly walkable and features natural stormwater drainage designs that give the development a beautiful visual appearance and virtually no polluted runoff. Working with municipalities to address stormwater issues, which can vary greatly across the country, is a priority for EPA.

The natural drainage at High Point is not only filled with blooming flowers and greenery that make it a desirable neighborhood for home buyers, but it has performed much better than anticipated to limit pollution flowing into downstream waters that empty into Puget Sound.

My visit to Seattle also included a tour of Puget Sound, one of the most ecologically diverse ecosystems in North America. EPA works closely with state, local, federal and tribal partners to protect and restore the sound through the Puget Sound Partnership. We traveled out to Commencement Bay to see former Superfund sites that are now being developed for mixed uses. Nearby beaches are trash-free thanks to frequent community cleanups.  It was great to see that area come back to life, not just economically, but also for the bald eagles, sea lions, seals and ducks that were also enjoying the cool spring day.

My trip to Seattle ended with a visit to the stormwater research lab at Washington State University.  They have some exciting research underway on how to clean highway runoff to protect salmon. The Pacific Northwest is, of course, known worldwide for its salmon fisheries. Salmon are quite sensitive to water pollution, and the Pacific Northwest has made great strides in protecting water quality and habitat using natural drainage systems, transfer of development rights programs and many other efforts.

We talk a lot about finding innovative solutions here at EPA—we recently released a blueprint for integrating technology innovation into EPA’s national water program—so it was especially heartening to see all of the progressive work happening in Seattle to address key environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.