Seattle – Involved City Departments

Neighborhoods are also receiving trees through the Department of Transportation’s Bridging the Gap initiative. While Bridging the Gap, funded by a nine-year, $365 million levy, is primarily designed to address transportation maintenance and improvements,[1] the initiative’s Community Tree Program works with neighborhoods to plant more than 800 new street trees per year that will be maintained by the Department of Transportation.[2]

The city’s publicly owned utility, Seattle City Light, has also played a significant role in expanding and maintaining Seattle’s urban forest. Through its urban tree replacement program, Seattle City Light has planted 7,860 trees along its power lines in the metro Seattle area since 2000 and more than 40,000 native shrubs and bushes along rights of way to help restore vegetation cleared for utility line work and maintenance. Seattle City Light also offers urban landscape tree certificates to residents to offset its tree removals and partners with the Department of Transportation on its neighborhood tree planting work.

Seattle City Light has been invested in the urban forest for a long time. The utility adopted its first conservation program, Kill-a-Watt, back in 1973 and has been working with nonprofit The Nature Conservancy since the early 1980s to protect wildlife habitats. To date, Seattle City Light has purchased more than 10,000 acres to protect wildlife habitat, especially that of the various salmon and trout species in the Skagit and Tolt watersheds. As Lorraine Loomis with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community’s Fisheries Department related in 2009, “Whether it has been through the purchase of strategic parcels for protection of important habitats, its water management strategies or its funding of research or restoration projects vital to the ongoing protection of anadromous salmonids, City Light has demonstrated that a public utility can provide a reliable source of energy while at the same time conserving and enhancing natural resources.”[3]

Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), which encompasses the city’s water and engineering activities, is another essential Green Seattle partner and is working towards greener solutions for utility demands. Each year, Seattle’s stormwater carries more than 8,200 tons of toxic metals and volatile chemicals into the city’s waterways. In addition, in 2010, 190 million gallons of combined raw sewage and stormwater spilled into Seattle’s waterways. To address the problem, Seattle worked with federal and state regulators to develop a costeffective and environmentally beneficial plan to solve its dual problems of stormwater and sewage, instead of just addressing one of the issues. This 2012 agreement is expected to save the city $375 million over the next 13 years.[4]

Montlake Cut in Lake Washington. Credit: LarryUCS57

The new agreement builds on many plans already underway by SPU, such as its Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Reduction Plan. As part of a 2010 amendment to the CSO plan, SPU began a pilot project in the city’s Ballard Basin to study the effectiveness of green infrastructure — rain gardens, green roofs, cisterns and more — as a stormwater control.[5] Recently, the city began monitoring the performance of Ballard’s new roadside rain gardens[6] and plans to use the lessons learned from this pilot project to implement full-scale green projects in other drainage basins in the city.

To engage residents in mitigating the city’s CSO problems, SPU created Residential RainWise to encourage Seattleites to install green infrastructure on their property. Through the program, residents in select CSO drainage basins can receive rebates from the city for installing rain gardens and cisterns. RainWise also encourages residents to plant trees, reduce paved area and use compost and mulch to help with stormwater retention.[7]


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[1] City of Seattle. Department of Transportation. Bridging the Gap. (accessed Oct. 1, 2012).

[2] City of Seattle. Department of Transportation. Community Tree Program. (accessed Oct. 1, 2012).

[3] City of Seattle. Seattle City Light. Environment Report 2009. (accessed Oct. 1, 2012).

[4] City of Seattle. News Releases. City, State, Fed Plan Would Protect Local Waters From Pollutants. (accessed Oct. 2, 2012).

[5] City of Seattle. Seattle Public Utilities. Services. Sewage Overflow Prevention. Combined Sewer Overflow Program 2010 CSO Reduction Plan Amendment. (accessed Oct. 2, 2012).

[6] City of Seattle. Seattle Public Utilities. Services. Ballard Roadside Raingardens. (accessed Oct. 2, 2012).

[7] City of Seattle. Seattle Public Utilities. About SPU. Drainage & Sewer System. Residential RainWise Program. (accessed Oct. 2, 2012).