Meaningful Data for Our Communities: Nature’s Scorecard 2022

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 stormwater retrofits, and progress toward regional implementation.  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 Card focuses on our region’s most populous communities.

Is your city or county committed to these important investments?

Review our Storymap to find out, then check out our Factsheet, or more detailed Report to the Department of Ecology, for detailed findings, conclusions, and suggestions for future improvements. You can Take Action to stop pollution in your community today!

Stormwater outfall on the Duwamish

A SUSTAINABLE vision for Puget Sound

Stormwater is the number one source of toxic pollution to Puget Sound, but we can stop it. Years of research prove that a combination of strategies, including stopping pollution at the source, filtering and controlling polluted stormwater, and cleaning up legacy pollution, can restore Puget Sound. 

A SCORECARD to track our progress

Nature’s Scorecard is a project of Puget Soundkeeper and Washington Environmental Council that tracks implementation of one of these proven strategies: how well the Puget Sound region treats and controls polluted stormwater runoff. Since 2016, Soundkeeper and WEC focused attention on city and county municipal general stormwater permittees (“Permittees”). The Clean Water Act requires permitted municipalities to treat (aka filter out pollutants) and control (aka slow the flow of to allow for filtration and prevent flooding) polluted stormwater runoff to the Sound.

PLANNING for the future

The first iteration of this project, Nature’s Scorecard: Low Impact Development Code Update, was published in 2017. We looked at how well Permittees complied with regulations that required them to update their code (local laws). These municipalities needed to require Low Impact Development (LID) for new development, redevelopment, and new construction by December 2016. We created a scoring rubric with five LID categories and awarded check-marks to those who performed well. We found that 15% of Permittees failed to meet requirements, and another 38% made minimal code updates. 47%, or fewer than half of all Permittees, made meaningful code updates. 

Using the Scorecard and our findings, we engaged in community outreach, advocacy with local elected officials, and had one-on-one meetings with municipal staff. Our goals were to encourage—and pressure—Permittees to step up their game and require that developers protect clean water in our region. Our hard work paid off. When we updated the Scorecard in 2019, we found that 72% of Permittees had made meaningful code updates (achieving 4 or 5 check-marks). This 20% increase in high scoring municipalities, including 28 Permittees that stepped up their game, was a big improvement and showed that our engagement efforts are worthwhile. 

Click here to learn more, and view the 2017 and 2019 Reports.

FIXING mistakes of the past

LID is the best tool to mitigate stormwater pollution from new development, but much of our region was built before LID was legally required. We must fix our past mistakes by installing stormwater retrofits: LID and 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. That is why we pivoted our focus in 2021 to examine what Permittees have done to control stormwater pollution from areas built without LID.

Some of our most populous municipalities have legal requirements to install stormwater retrofits. Seattle, King County, Snohomish County, Pierce County, Tacoma, and Clark County are the six “Phase I” Permittees that the Department of Ecology has required to install stormwater retrofits since 1995. While other large cities and counties have also installed stormwater retrofits, they have no specific Permit requirements to do so. 

There was no public assessment or report on municipal stormwater Permittee retrofit performance in Puget Sound until Soundkeeper and WEC embarked on this project. We researched, mapped, and assessed all the reported or budgeted stormwater retrofit projects that our most populous municipalities have implemented since 2007 in order to fill this knowledge gap.

Nature’s Scorecard: Local Stormwater Pollution Controls includes a Storymap and written Report for the Department of Ecology documenting our findings. We compared the performance of Permittees that are legally required to do retrofits against Permittees that have similar population sizes but have no legal requirements to do retrofits. The Storymap provides context for where and how many projects were done while the Report contains conclusions and recommendations for municipal staff and the Department of Ecology regarding pathways for the future. Learn more about these great projects and find out how your city or county is doing, here.