Shifting from Gray to Green: Curbing Polluted Stormwater and Creating Communities in the Pacific Northwest



Reinventing rainwater management - pollution


Primer on Stormwater Pollution

Released by the Sightline Institute in March 2011, Curbing Polluted Stormwater and Creating Communities is a new version of a popular primer on stormwater pollution:

  • What communities are up against:Ten bathtubs full of water pour off one average-size house during a storm. Cities like Seattle and Portland have hundreds of miles of storm-drain pipes and thousands of storm drains and catch basins. Sometimes the stormwater system simply backs up, flooding streets and basements.
  • Stormwater’s costly and toxic cocktail:In all, a typical year in Portland or Seattle, approximately 26,600 gallons of stormwater rush into gutters and streams from a single home–bringing a host of chemicals and pollutants with it. The toxic cocktail is a threat to drinking water and marine wildlife alike.
  • Smart, local solutions for polluted runoff: Cities throughout the Pacific Northwest are taking on the stormwater pollution problem by creating natural drainage systems–part of a movement called “low-impact development,” or LID, in the United States; and Green Infrastructure in British Columbia. By replicating nature’s way of managing rainfall, cleaning up stormwater is both less expensive and more efficient than conventional sewer systems.

Lisa stiffler (120p) - sightline institute“Ailing Northwest rivers and lakes face death not so much by a thousand cuts as by a thousand rainstorms, each flushing filthy runoff into our region’s environmentally and economically important waterways. But work is underway to change this,” writes Sightline journalism fellow Lisa Stiffler, author of the primer.

“…there’s a solution for Cascadia’s flood waves of runoff. It’s an affordable fix that curbs the damage to our waterways while making our neighborhoods and communities more walkable, sustainable and inviting. It’s called low-impact development, or LID. The approach uses a suite of conservation and engineering tools to make developed areas behave more like natural ecosystems. Low-impact development is starting to catch on across the Northwest.”

“Low-impact development treats larger volumes of water, is cheaper to maintain, boosts propety values, creates wildlife habitat, and reduces greenhouse gases.”


To Learn More:

The primer is a 9-page document written in a reader-friendly style. It catalogues smart, effective solutions in use by Pacific Northwest communities for “shifting from gray to green” – for example:

  • Pringle Creek Community: Called “the nation’s first full-scale porous pavement project” by the Asphalt Pavement Association of Oregon, the 32-acre sustainable community near Salem boasts 7000 feet of porous asphalt roadways and 2000 feet of porous alleys.

The report includes references to British Columbia experience. To download a copy of the primer, click on  Curbing Polluted Stormwater and Creating Communities


The Value of Green Infrastructure

Quantifying the economic value of green infrastructure’s benefits is the key to helping municipalities adopt this innovative and cost-effective rainwater management approach, according to a new report by the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) and American Rivers.

“When you do the math, the benefits of green infrastructure really add up,” said Betsy Otto, Vice President for Conservation and Strategic Partnerships at American Rivers. “This guide will help communities decide where, when, and to what extent green infrastructure practices should be incorporated into their planning, development and redevelopment activities.”

To learn more and download a copy, click on  “The Value of Green Infrastructure: A Guide to Recognizing Its Economic, Social and Environmental Benefits”.


Re-Inventing Rainwater Management

Released in February 2010 by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, “Re-Inventing Rainwater Management” documents how ‘green’ rainwater management has now been adopted by engineers, developers, planners and governments across North America.

Re-Inventing rainwater management - cover (180p)The report also demonstrates that ‘Design with Nature’ approaches and Low Impact Development techniques are environmentally superior, and often are cheaper. In addition, they can provide incalculable benefits.

To download a copy and learn much more, click on Re-Inventing Rainwater Management: A Strategy to Protect Health and Restore Nature in British Columbia’s Capital Region.

To access additional stories posted on the website about this important guidance document, click here


About the Sightline Institute

Sightline Institute is an independent, nonprofit research and communications center—a think tank—founded by Alan Durning in 1993. Sightline’s mission is to make the Northwest a global model of sustainability—strong communities, a green economy, and a healthy environment.

Sightline’s goal is to equip the Northwest’s citizens and decision-makers with the policy research and practical tools they need to advance long-term solutions to the region’s most significant challenges. The work of Sightline includes in-depth research, commentary, and analysis, delivered online, by email, and in-person to Northwest policy champions.


About Lisa Stiffler:

Before joining Sightline, Lisa Stiffler was a reporter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 10 years, most of them spent covering environmental issues. She did investigations on the health of Puget Sound, the national failure to protect endangered species and the multi-billion dollar Hanford cleanup.


Posted April 2011