Students and Sentinels Plant Rain Garden in Seattle
Three years ago, Seattle Sierra Club volunteer Rebecca Phelps revived the Cascade Chapter's dormant Water and Salmon Committee, building it to around 20 members. She and others on the committee were soon representing the Sierra Club in various local and state venues around the Puget Sound region.
Through her work with the Water and Salmon Committee, Phelps, above, learned about the Club's Water Sentinels Program, set about creating a local affiliate, and applied for a $5,000 Water Sentinels grant—which she secured—to build a rain garden at a public school in Seattle.
Rain gardens are landscaped areas, typically in urban or suburban settings, planted with wildflowers and other native vegetation that soak up rainwater. During a storm, the garden fills with water that slowly filters into the ground rather than running off to a storm drain.
The rain garden project quickly evolved into a collaborative effort between the newly-created Washington Water Sentinels, the Seattle Public School District, and the Community Day School Association, a non-profit after-school program. Phelps' vision was realized at the end of the school year with the installation of the first Seattle public school rain garden at Montlake Elementary School.
"The event was incredibly successful," Phelps says. "There were around 100 children who planted in 15-minute shifts, with help and supervision from about half that many adults, including ten Water and Salmon Committee volunteers and Montlake Principal Claudia Allan."
Whole Foods employees handed out healthy snacks and drinks, Café Darwin donated coffee, and the Water Sentinels Program provided t-shirts and Sierra Club backpacks for all the children and t-shirts for the adults.
"The children happily planted the garden in a soft drizzle just before a big storm hit," Phelps says. "We also made an educational sign with a letter from a salmon fry (baby salmon) thanking the kids for planting the rain garden."
"The students created an awesome rain garden," says Water Sentinels National Director Scott Dye. "It not only helps protect the waters of Puget Sound, but it will serve as a great learning tool for all future Montlake students. They've made the world a better place, and made the orcas and salmon glad."
In attendance at the planting were representatives from Senator Patty Murray’s office, the Washington Department of Ecology, the Seattle School Board, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels' office, and Washington State University professor Curtis Hinman, author of the Western Washington Rain Garden Handbook.
"Many hundreds of children and their families have now learned about storm water pollution and the value of rain gardens," Phelps says. "The garden is right next to the kindergarten classrooms, so every new child and their family who enters the school will learn the same lesson because of the educational sign."
Mayor Nickels, Senator Murray, the state Department of Ecology, and the School Board are also more knowledgeable about rain gardens because of the project, as are City Council members, Senator (Maria) Cantwell, Governor (Christine) Gregoire, and President and Michelle Obama, who all received an invitation to visit the school along with educational materials about rain gardens.
"I hope to pass the same educational lesson on to the nearly 50,000 Seattle public school families and the 32,000 Puget Sound-area Sierra Club members, Phelps says. "We hope that this one garden will set off a domino effect, and we'll be able to convince businesses to put in their own rain gardens like the one at Montlake and sponsor a rain garden at other schools."