Does it rain where you live in unincorporated King County?

We are working on a program to help you to create a feature on your property that helps clean and store rainwater

Raingardens and cisterns, have been successfully built in places like Seattle through the Rainwise program, but how feasible are these Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) projects and an incentive program in King County’s unincorporated areas? King County Water & Land Resources Division is creating a program to create green stormwater features in partnership with property owners. Jessica Engel, a King County Water Quality Planner, is trying to answer this question. Engel and her team have been developing an incentive program for unincorporated King County property owners.

Aaron Clark shares the basic features of his RainWise landscape at his Seattle home. A rain garden and two cisterns work together to manage all the roof runoff and prevent combined sewer overflows into Lake Washington. Learn more about the Seattle/King County RainWise Rebate Program, and more info on rain gardens and green infrastructure at: and Note: this program serves properties within in an eligible combined sewer overflow basin and does not extend to unincorporated King County residents – the program Engel is working to design.

What is Green Stormwater Infrastructure or GSI?

Rainfall travels over solid surfaces into our storm drains and is called stormwater runoff. The runoff can collect pollutants from leaky vehicles, cleaning products, pet waste, and more as it works its way into our local waterbodies. Green stormwater structures are cost-effective ways to slow and filter the stormwater runoff. The features allow rainwater to soak in and infiltrate where it falls, as it would in nature. Some examples of GSIs are cisterns, raingardens, and permeable pavements.

How rainfall picks up toxics and carries them to local streams and Puget Sound.

What does it take to create a program like a Green Stormwater Incentive program?

The first step was to investigate the different barriers unincorporated areas may have with GSI projects. This approach helps Engel’s GSI team understand what might work. She was assisted in her research and outreach efforts by Heidi Keller, Heidi Keller Consulting and Tere Carral, Bridge Latino to reach both English and Spanish speaking residents and landowners. Through phone interviews and research of similar program models, the team gained an understanding of what unincorporated communities may want from a Green Stormwater Incentive program. Here is what they discovered:

  • Paying upfront costs can affect community participation – the delay in payment and potential paperwork from rebate style models like Rainwise, will likely not work in unincorporated King County. Participants prefer a cost-share approach to reduce barriers.
  • Maintenance is a barrier – participants would like help with the costs of long-term maintenance.
  • Some folks prefer a Do-It-Yourself model – residents and owners like a hands-on approach when it comes to managing what is on their property.
  • Trust –Building relationships and trust needs to be an ongoing effort between communities and the county.
A rain garden in a low area of the yard.

The GSI team came up with different incentives to resolve these barriers.

A cost-share method, where King County would cover most of the costs (if not all), would make this program more accessible for residents and landowners. With that investment, there would be regular maintenance checks for a full year after installing a GSI feature and instruction for the owner on long-term maintenance. To meet that requirement, the team will create green job training opportunities for community groups and veterans crews to help property owners with maintenance needs. This invests in community and green jobs. The team wants to get the community involved, keep them informed about the programs in their areas, promoting the good things neighbors are doing, and celebrating with the community. Each of these approaches helps address costs, maintenance and build relationships with community residents.

What are the next steps?

The GSI team currently has two pilot projects: Fairwood United Methodist Community Church and the Vashon Market IGA. Due to COVID-19, construction is on hold, but Engel plans to launch the project by the end of the year, starting with the Fairwood Church. The pilots are in commercial locations and she hopes to get a residential pilots started by next year.

Through this program’s open engagement and learning approach, Engel hopes to build project with community and property owners that improve water quality and build lasting relationships between King County staff and the program and neighborhoods.

We are looking forward to watching this program grow! Look for more on green stormwater programs by cities and counties around the sound.

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