Puget Sound Starts at My School

 Henry M. Jackson High School Students pose in front of the planted rain garden.

Henry M. Jackson High School Students pose in front of the planted rain garden.

Four rainwater harvesting systems, two rain gardens, one Depave project, and one sustainable landscape —that’s how many school projects we installed during the 2016–2017 school year working with K–12 students in our Puget Sound Starts at My School program. Needless to say, we’ve been busy at Snohomish Conservation District!

Working alongside our engineer, Derek Hann, students helped plan, design, install and maintain Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) projects to address stormwater pollution at their school. School Districts are very interested in career connectedness—getting students connected to local professionals so that they have direct exposure to STEM career pathways. 

The newly installed stormwater projects at these schools will help divert and filter an estimated 435,767 gallons of stormwater every year. 

The Impact of Hands-on Lessons

Students also received numerous hands-on classroom lessons about the impacts of impervious surfaces on the water cycle from our Outreach and Education staff. Grant funding provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) largely paid for this program, in addition to local funding. In total, 658 students participated in the program. 

The newly installed GSI projects at these schools will help divert and filter an estimated 436,700 gallons of stormwater every year! It’s pretty powerful to think that a project seniors put in this year will continue to protect Puget Sound, even as those students head out into the world to new cities, careers, and colleges. Same goes for fifth-graders who will be moving on to middle school. That’s the power of hands-on projects such as these. Students have the opportunity to go beyond textbooks to make a real and lasting impact in their community. Jackson High School science teacher Gail Walters commented on the process, “these programs really help the next generation become aware of problems and solutions that are present in our community.”

“These programs really help the next generation become aware of problems and solutions that are present in our community.” -Gail Walters

For some graduating seniors at Jackson High School and Cascade High School in Everett, participating in the program meant planting their first plant ever. Students were also surprised at how long a project takes to be completed from start to finish, and how vital it is to engage stakeholders such as the School District’s Head of Maintenance and the Superintendent early on to ensure the project is approved by District Facilities. A Jackson High student commented on the process, “I learned how hard it is to get stuff approved, how easy it is to help reduce our stormwater, and how fun it can be.”

Local Connections

For Utsalady Elementary Garden Club members on Camano Island, the cistern project at their school means they’ll have most of their edible garden summer watering needs covered. This is especially important because they’re minimizing withdrawal pressure on their local aquifer, helping to reduce the risk of seawater intrusion, a threat many wells on the islands in our region face. 

If Camano residents followed suite and installed rain barrels or cisterns at their own homes or businesses, it would help reduce aquifer withdrawals substantially, especially during dry summer months when an estimated one-third of all residential water usage is for landscaping or lawn irrigation.

We hope that adults will be inspired by these youth-driven stormwater projects and take similar actions at their own homes. Residential rain gardens, rain barrels, cisterns, and sustainable landscapes are effective ways to reduce stormwater pollution while also conserving water.  

Often, funding is available to landowners who want to install a stormwater project—either through special grant funding in target areas, or residential cost-share money allocated through our annual assessment. Cost-share funding is available to eligible homeowners throughout Snohomish County and Camano Island, with priority given to projects that show the greatest benefit to water quality. To learn more, check out our Sound Homes page.

Is your school interested in participating? Now Recruiting Schools!

Snohomish Conservation District will continue Puget Sound Starts at My School school program with recently acquired DOE National Estuary Program grant funds over the next two years. If your school is located in the Snohomish or Stillaguamish watershed, your students could have the opportunity to be the next cohort of 'stormwater engineers-in-training' - becoming experts on local water quality issues, hydrology and stormwater solutions while working alongside an engineer to design an exciting project that will make a huge impact in your community. 

School Projects at-a-Glance

Cascade High School Parking Lot Depave and Rain Garden Project

  • Approximately 322,538.6 Gallons/year of parking lot runoff will be diverted and filtered 

Jackson High School Rain Garden & Sustainable Landscaping Projects

  • Approximately 90,000 Gallons/year of roof and pavement runoff will be filtered 

Arlington High School Rainwater Harvesting System

  • Approximately 880 gallons of stormwater coming off of the school's greenhouse will be stored and utilized for growing plants year round. Because the barrels will be filled and emptied multiple times (approximately 10) over the course of the year, the system will divert an estimated 8,800 gallons every year from flowing into storm drains untreated.

Utsalady Elementary School Cisterns

  • Two 'upcycled' shipping totes have been transformed into a 550-gallon cistern system that will collect and store an estimated 5,550 gallons of stormwater coming off of the school's portable classroom, adjacent to the school's edible gardening beds. The harvested rainwater will cover almost all of the watering needs for these gardens.

Weston High School Cisterns

  • Two 'upcycled' shipping totes have been transformed into a 550-gallon cistern system that will collect and store an estimated 5,550 gallons of stormwater coming off of the school's greenhouse. The harvested rainwater will used to grow edible plants in the greenhouse year round.

Seattle Hill Elementary Rain Barrel System

  • A 8-barrel, 440-gallon rain harvesting system was installed at the school portable by SCD's WCC crew. Water will be used for the school's new garden beds and an estimated 4,400 gallons will be collected and used annually. This was paid for with SCD Lawns to Lettuce grant funding and education was provided through NFWF grant funding.

By Laura Goff, Education & Outreach Coordinator | From Volume 28: Issue 2 of The Nexus