Nature’s Scorecard 2022: Local Stormwater Pollution Controls

What Is Nature’s Scorecard?

For decades, communities have been legally required to stop stormwater pollution from entering Puget Sound. Our newest Nature’s Scorecard Report assesses local stormwater pollution controls, called Structural Stormwater Controls (SSCs), and progress toward regional implementation.

Stormwater retrofits are a critical type of Structural Stormwater Control. Stormwater retrofits treat (filter out pollutants) or control (slow the flow to ensure treatment or prevent flooding) polluted stormwater runoff from existing development, so the Report focuses on our region’s most populous communities. 

Is your city or county committed to these important investments?

Visit our Local Pollution Controls Storymap and find out.

Check the Nature’s Scorecard 2022 Local Pollution Controls Factsheet and our Progress Report for the Washington Department of Ecology for detailed findings, conclusions, and suggestions for future regulatory improvements. You can also Take Action to stop pollution in your community today!

Securing Our Resilient, Healthy Future

Over a century of land development has interrupted our watershed’s natural water cycle. Paved surfaces and hard rooftops prevent rain from soaking into the soil. Instead, rainwater rushes through our streets, carrying pollution directly to local waterways. Our communities and wildlife bear the burden of a polluted Sound.

Communities invest in green stormwater infrastructure for both new and existing development to restore our waters. Green stormwater infrastructure mimics the natural water cycle, protecting local water quality and salmon, reducing toxic pollution and urban flooding, and making our neighborhoods more livable, walkable, and resilient.

Threats to Our Communities

Paving over our communities causes stormwater to rush directly into lakes, streams, and creeks, rather than slowly filtering through soil. This uncontrolled flow of pollution harms wildlife. The chemical 6PPD-quinone, from tires, can kill coho salmon in just a few hours. Stormwater carries this and many more toxic contaminants through our neighborhoods, increasing public health risks and jeopardizing people’s access to water recreation. 

The Pacific Northwest is grappling with population growth, development, and climate change: We need more green stormwater infrastructure to ensure a future for our homes, our communities, and our ecosystems. Read more about the threats from polluted stormwater runoff.

Reducing Our Impact When We Build

Low-impact development (LID)—including green stormwater infrastructure—helps slow the path of stormwater and treats dangerous contaminants by filtering them out. Doing so protects our waterways, salmon, and communities from pollution and urban flooding. LID can lower health- and disaster-related costs to the community while helping create greener, cleaner, and more vibrant neighborhoods. That’s why we launched the Nature’s Scorecard project in 2016, with the release of a Low Impact Development Code Update Report in 2017

Puget Soundkeeper (PSK) and Washington Environmental Council (WEC) produced a Low Impact Development Code Update Report again in 2019. We reported on how well Puget Sound municipalities adopted LID and green stormwater infrastructure techniques as their preferred and commonly used approach for new development, redevelopment, and new construction projects. Cities and counties were graded on whether they incorporated each of Five Key LID Indicators in their development codes: 

In developing these Five Key LID Indicators, WEC and PSK chose five specific LID code updates directly from the LID Code Update and Integration Toolkit provided to cities and counties to help update their codes. We selected these five fundamental updates because they are straightforward, easy to accomplish, and vital to achieving the goals of the permit. Each of these five code updates is explained in our Grading Rubric, along with examples of successful updates that merited check marks.

Learn more about these Five Key LID Indicators here.

Twenty-eight municipalities, or 20% of the cities and counties we reviewed, improved their scores as a result of the original Nature’s Scorecard LID Code Update Report. This means they now require more LID techniques to be implemented for new development, redevelopment, and new construction projects.

Fixing Mistakes of The Past

LID techniques help us plan for the future, but many Puget Sound neighborhoods were built prior to modern LID requirements and implemented outdated practices. Municipalities are taking steps to fix these development mistakes by implementing stormwater retrofits: tearing up hard surfaces and incorporating green stormwater infrastructure to treat (filter out pollutants) or control (slow the flow to ensure treatment or prevent flooding) polluted stormwater runoff from existing development.

Puget Sound municipalities have been taking steps to update their stormwater infrastructure since at least the 1980s. Our most populous cities and counties have been required to implement stormwater retrofits to control pollution from existing development since 1995. Until now, however, there was no single public-facing source compiling data about these projects across jurisdictions. 

In this 2022 Nature’s Scorecard Report, we assessed how many, and where, the most populous Puget Sound municipalities have invested in stormwater retrofits for existing development. 

We found that Puget Sound municipalities have been investing in stormwater infrastructure for decades, and that individual Structural Stormwater Control projects are very valuable. However, we found no evidence that current regulatory requirements or approaches are making a dent on overall Puget Sound water quality.