A Story of Salmon, Stormwater, and Sustainability

The Green-Duwamish River faces many threats, including polluted stormwater runoff. Communities who invest in green infrastructure will help improve water quality in the Green-Duwamish River system.

This guest post by Mindy Roberts and Danielle Shaw from Washington Environmental Council is a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series spotlighting the Green-Duwamish River.

Imagine you are a salmon looking upstream in the Duwamish Waterway.

You hatched from the gravels of the Green River several years ago, grew to several inches, and swam downstream through Elliott Bay and on to the Pacific Ocean. Now you’re back to complete your life cycle. Your ancestors thrived in the cold, clean water, and many sustained the people who lived in the region. Today, your waterscape is far different, and fewer of you survive.

The Green-Duwamish faces a range of threats as it runs from the Cascades through the developed lands around Puget Sound. Generations of people harvested forests, grew food on agricultural lands, built homes and roads, and industrialized lands to serve our needs. We did not understand the negative impacts our actions had until things we value, like clean water and salmon, declined. Fortunately, millions of dollars and decades of work have been invested to clean up our legacy of industrial pollution, and we are slowly seeing improvements. Now we face modern threats that could undermine this tremendous investment.

Today, polluted runoff is our biggest source of toxic pollution in Puget Sound. Car fluids, pesticides, dog poop, cigarette butts – all those remnants of our day to day activities – are left on the pavement and swept up by the rains heading straight for rivers, lakes and streams.

Highway runoff kills Coho salmon. Salmon are not only a cultural icon of the Pacific Northwest, but a major food source around here, especially for tribes and immigrant communities living along the Green-Duwamish. Polluted runoff threatens our iconic salmon runs, our vibrant economy, and the health of our communities. The more we build out and pave over the natural landscape, the more pollution we’re sending straight to the Green-Duwamish River.

Rain gardens adjacent to South Park Bridge crossing the lower Duwamish help treat all the road runoff for the west side of the bridge. | Natalie Jamerson, Washington Environmental Council
Rain gardens adjacent to South Park Bridge crossing the lower Duwamish help treat all the road runoff for the west side of the bridge. | Natalie Jamerson, Washington Environmental Council

The Puget Sound region largely developed without stormwater controls because we did not understand the threat of polluted runoff. In the Green-Duwamish, uncontrolled runoff from our developed lands can also cause flooding and erosion, along with the toxic contamination.

Here at Washington Environmental Council, we think a lot about clean water, polluted runoff, and better solutions. Study after study has shown that low-impact development approaches and green infrastructure are far better than pipes and drains at managing polluted runoff and protecting our waters.

To save the Green-Duwamish, we must tackle our stormwater problem. This requires a coordinated effort to avoid the mistakes of the past as new development serves a growing population. We must also figure out how to address the biggest source of the problem: our already built out areas currently receiving no stormwater treatment.

While we work on addressing these stormwater challenges, you can help salmon today. Please join us in urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a downstream fish passage migration system to protect and restore the Green-Duwamish River and its salmon!


Washington Environmental CouncilMindy Roberts and Danielle Shaw from Washington Environmental Council

Mindy Roberts and Danielle Shaw both work for the People of Puget Sound Program at Washington Environmental Council. Washington Environmental Council is a nonprofit, statewide advocacy organization that has been driving positive change to solve Washington’s most critical environmental challenges since 1967.

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