The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Advancing a new sustainable infrastructure paradigm and practice in the Northwest and beyond

The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Systems Improvement Team Groundwork Moving Along in WA

February 13th, 2018 · No Comments · Energy, Transportation, Waste, Water

By Scott Hutsell – Public Works Board Chair

The Interagency Multijurisdictional System Improvement Team, established under ESHB 1677, has been meeting on a regular schedule to lay out the framework and strategy to obtain developed outcomes from our strategic plan. The core group is led by the Public Works Board along with members from the Departments of Commerce, Health and Ecology. The team has developed a Memo of Understanding signed by all four parties how we are going to work together along with a Broader Group which has the potential of including multiple agencies both state and federal, stakeholder groups and industry experts.

The IMSIT team presented its work progress to the House Capitol Budget Committee and had its kickoff in January inviting members of the Broader Group to lay out some of the framework and strategy steps that have already been accomplished and to start to identify gaps, barriers and challenges to infrastructure financing. We have developed a page on the Public Works Board website to display all of the materials developed to date and an ongoing calendar of upcoming meetings, scheduled work sessions in Olympia and around the state. The IMSIT team is always open to suggestions and our meetings are always open to anyone that has a passion to improve the way infrastructure is financed. Stay tuned to more exciting news as we strive to better coordinate how we deliver better infrastructure projects.

Passionate about infrastructure!? The Interagency Multijurisdictional System Improvement Team (IMSIT) is a joint effort focused on improving the state’s infrastructure systems.

The Public Works Board, in concert with the departments of Health, Ecology, and Commerce are in the early stages of this work and invite you to check out the IMSIT website and come offer your perspective.



Three Reasons Why Renewable Energy Leaders Are Optimistic

December 29th, 2017 · No Comments · Energy

By Sneha Ayyagari
Schneider Sustainable Energy Fellow
Republished with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council

Deep in the heart of Austin, Texas, at the Green Tech Media’s U.S. Power and Renewables Summit, the room was buzzing with optimism and enthusiasm as utility company executives, renewable energy developers, regulators, and financiers shared their research and experiences from different angles of the rapidly evolving renewable energy industry.

Here are 3 key takeaways from the conference :

1. Extensive investment in renewable energy is already underway, and the future is bright with massive advancements and investment into clean energy technology and policy innovation.

Wind and solar prices are historically low and there is optimism about future investments despite some uncertainty. Commonly discussed sources of uncertainty were President Trump’s pending decision on the solar International Trade Commission case, federal tax reform, proposed changes in federal regulations by the Department of Energy (DOE). As my colleague, Miles Farmer, discusses here, the DOE’s proposed rule to bail out nuclear and coal power plants has received little support, and many representatives from companies and regulators alike expressed their discontent with this proposal at the conference.

There is considerable interest from corporations and utilities in powering their businesses using clean energy sources such as wind and solar. Forty-four cities and over 116 corporations have committed to goals to power their communities with 100% clean energy. This sends a clear signal to regulators and renewable energy companies that investing in renewable energy is already a priority across the country and will continue to be important over the next few decades.

Technological innovations and grid planning have helped spur increased investment in large scale wind. Research scientists described how large-scale wind power has become more efficient and cost effective as technology has improved. Proper transmission planning can complement the technological advances in efficiency. Taking inspiration from the Lone Star State, one scientist highlighted how wind comprised 20% of generating capacity in Texas’s electricity market (known as ERCOT) in 2016. Building out transmission lines to connect areas of high wind supply in North and West Texas to areas of high wind demand near Houston in the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones Process project was critical in making sure that the grid could support more wind energy. Scientists and regulators discussed how different electricity markets approach building transmission lines, and commented on how these planning choices may affect how much wind energy will be generated on a national scale for decades to come.

Utility executives and regulators explained that over the next few decades, utility companies will rely more and more on sources of generation such as wind, solar and storage, and natural gas that can be easily turned on and off to meet changes in demand (rather than more inflexible sources of generation like coal or nuclear that have dominated energy generation in the past). Technological innovations in wind and solar energy production have spurred growth in large facilities owned by utilities to provide renewable energy.

While the focus of the conference was on utility-scale power generation, distributed resources like rooftop solar, matter too. According to GTM, residential solar photovoltaic (PV) systems will provide savings to retail customers on their electricity bills in at least 38 states and Washington, D.C., by 2020.

2. Economic factors such as lower power purchase agreements (PPAs) have replaced state requirements as the key drivers of renewables procurement, but Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS’s) are still an important tool in pushing state-level policies.

According to GTM Research, RPS’s (which require a specific percentage of a state’s electricity mix to be generated from renewable resources) drove 85 percent of growth in 2014, but were a factor in only 24 percent of the 22 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale solar that is currently in the pipeline to be built. As was highlighted in a panel discussion about what is driving down solar costs, RPS’s are still a critical tool in pushing state-level policies and informing long-term energy market design questions. Even though they no longer are the key factor in pushing down the cost of renewables, RPS’s are still important because they send positive signals to renewable energy developers and investors, and help drive the regulatory processes needed to plan for a reliable and sustainable grid in the long term.

Procurement by utilities and corporations, retail procurement, and the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) are the leading drivers of the U.S. utility-scale PV pipeline. PURPA, passed by Congress in 1978, broke up energy monopolies and allowed independent power producers to join the market. PURPA has become the largest driver of utility PV, and accounted for 43 percent of new projects in 2017.

Investment bank executives highlighted how lower Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) prices have been a major factor in financing renewable energy projects. Investment bankers expressed optimism about increased interest in investment by corporations in renewable energy and highlighted the Puget Pacific Northwest as a case study in successful cooperation between local utilities, corporations, and financiers. Consultants and analysts highlighted the many ways that corporations can benefit from the expertise of networks of other corporations interested in procuring renewable energy, and they described which contract structures were most appealing. Even without subsidies, solar power is more competitive on average than fossil fuel generation. According to analysis conducted by Lazard Ltd., the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) of unsubsidized solar energy production at $53-$194 per megawatt-hour (MWh) is lower and therefore more competitive than the (LCOE) of several fossil fuel generators.

3. Energy storage, advances in information technology, and electric vehicle technologies are three areas that are ripe for technological and policy innovations.

Energy Storage

As renewable energy generation increases, the need to be able to store and deliver energy becomes even more critical. Regulation at the federal level could change market rules to ensure that energy storage resources (such as batteries and heatpumps) are eligible to participate fully in wholesale electricity markets.

The price of battery storage has decreased rapidly over the past five years. GTM predicts that lithium-ion battery prices will reach $150/kWh in the next five years. While storage is still relatively expensive currently, there have been examples such as Tuscon Electric Power’s recent solar and storage project that shows how quickly storage is becoming an economically feasible technology. There has been a surge of investment in storage globally. Overall, GTM forecasts that U.S. energy storage annual deployments will reach 2.5 gigawatts , or enough to power 1,875,000 homes by 2022.

Advances in information technology

Technology companies and clean energy advocates say it’s getting easier to control energy consumption and pay for energy electronically with the help of new technologies. For example, we can control how much we use and spend on energy in our homes and businesses with the touch of a button on a smartphone from almost anywhere in the world. Artificial intelligence algorithms also can create “smart devices” which can monitor their own electric load and turn on and off depending on prices of electricity or use. And Blockchain, a technology that would allow devices to share information such as how much energy they are using or the cost of electricity, also generated enthusiasm and interest among utility companies.

Electric Vehicles

As more electric vehicles enter the market, utilities are exploring pricing structures and infrastructure needed to support an increased demand for electricity to run them. Worldwide, there has been a push for electrification of cars, buses, and trains as costs decline. For example,a fleet of buses will be electrified in Shenzhen, China by the end of 2017. Within the U.S., utilities are implementing pilot projects to analyze the impacts of electric vehicles on the electric grid. If designed properly, policies that incentivize electrical vehicles can complement goals to increase renewable energy deployment while still ensuring that the grid is reliable and efficient.

What can we learn from this?

There is an undeniable interest from corporations, utilities, financiers, researchers, and regulators in accelerating large-scale renewable energy deployment and complementary technologies over the next few decades. While the industry is headed in the right direction, more action must be taken to achieve the scale of renewable energy at the pace that is needed to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas pollution and keep us on track to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, as outlined in the NRDC’s Clean Energy Frontiers report.

Sneha Ayyagari aims to create more just and sustainably built and natural environments by advocating for clean energy policies and technologies. She works with the Eastern Energy team to advocate for sustainable energy policies. She also works with the Renewable Energy Policy Initiative team on analysis to promote advancement of renewable energy technologies. Prior to joining NRDC, Ayyagari has held fellowships at the Tomkat Center for Sustainable Energy and at Green Empowerment, where she worked with underserved communities to expand access to renewable energy solutions. Ayyagari holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Systems Engineering from Stanford University. She is based in New York. 



How to Build a City That Doesn’t Flood? Turn it Into a Sponge!

December 18th, 2017 · No Comments · Water


Urban floods make the news with alarming regularity. Just in the past few months, Hurricane Harvey submerged Houston, and the seasonal monsoon crippled cities in South Asia. Dramatic floods from increasingly severe storms come with a steep cost, both human and financial, and the problem will only get worse with climate change. One of the biggest culprits for the deadly toll these floods wreak? Urbanization.

As cities develop, miles of impervious pavement are laid over forest or wetlands, displacing the natural flood management systems like creeks, underground streams, or bogs. In a completely uninhabited landscape, rainfall integrates into the natural water cycle by four different ways: it either soaks all the way to the ground and becomes groundwater; runs down valleys into bodies of water and finds its way to the sea; is taken up by plants; or just evaporates. In urban or suburban sprawls with paved roads, highways, and parking lots, water has nowhere to go, so every heavy rain can turn into a flood.

A “Spongy” Lower Manhattan — Photo by Shubham Pokharel

The number of cities around the world is growing quickly. In her book, Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity, Sandra Postel, the director of the Global Water Policy Project, reports that over the past 35 years, the number of cities in China alone has climbed from 193 to 653. As urban and suburban areas expand, the stormwater runoff problems will grow as well.

But now there’s a movement around the world to build smarter and “spongier” cities that can absorb rainwater instead of letting it flow through miles of pavement and cause damaging floods. From Iowa to Vermont and from San Francisco to Chicago, urban infrastructure is getting a reboot.

Creating better stormwater management systems requires using green infrastructure elements in urban planning and restoring some of the rain-retention capacity that cities have lost to urbanization. These elements can be roughly broken into two categories: the man-made engineered replacements of the natural water pathways and the restorations of the original water routes that existed before a city was developed.

Man-Made Solutions: Rain Gardens, Bioswales, and Porous Pavements

Traditional road construction, made with asphalt, gravel and sand, is a very compacted structure that leaves little space between the particulates, and thus no room for the rainwater to seep through. In the construction industry that gap measure is described by the term “air void,” which is typically set at four percent for the traditional pavement mix, says Richard Willis, Director of Pavement Engineering and Innovation at National Asphalt Pavement Association.

One way to make cities spongier is to use permeable pavements, such as porous asphalt made with a lot of large stones rather than fine aggregates such as sand, and with added cellulose fibers to hold the porous asphalt together. This creates more pores, and increases the air void up to 15 or 20 percent, allowing more rainwater to seep through. Porous pavements are typically laid on top of stabilizing material and a gravel layer, which functions as a reservoir to hold and eventually disperse the water into the soil underneath. Because water trickles through the top layers of porous pavements faster than through the traditional pavement, studies have found that winter de-icing budgets have the potential to be lower.

A diagram of a water retention system. Credit: Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

Another way to make cities hold water is by building rain gardens and bioswales. A rain garden is a depression in the soil seeded with native plants that helps soak up rainwater. With that setup, house spouts can empty into a rain garden instead of a sewer, decreasing sewage overflows in heavy downpours. A bioswale is a rain garden on a larger, more engineered scale. It is constructed by creating deeper and larger depressions where water can temporarily accumulate and drain out slowly. James Stitt, sustainability manager with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, explains that the retention of water is facilitated by a number of solutions. One is the soil medium (clay soils are replaced by more sandy compositions) and gravel. Another is a set of R-tanks—containers akin to plastic milk crates that can be stacked like Legos underground, capable of bearing large water loads and slowly releasing it into the surrounding soil.

To see how sponge cities could effectively work, take the example of Pittsburgh. For years the Steel City struggled with stormwater management. An aging infrastructure that served both storm and sanitary flow would go into overdrive when barely an inch of rain fell, discharging raw waste into local waterways. The solution Pittsburgh initially considered was to build a 12 to 15 mile-long tunnel in the bedrock beneath the rivers and along the riverfronts—to hold sewage overflows until the treatment plant would have the time and capacity to process the water. That solution was “gray”— meaning quite the opposite of green, Stitt says. But in 2013, Pittsburgh revisited the plan and opted for more sponge city elements, mimicking the natural hydrology of an area, and including rain gardens and bioswales in the design, Stitt says.

A rain garden can help reduce sewage system overflows. Credit: Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

Mother Nature’s Solutions: Restoring Forests

Green infrastructure for sponge cities can also include non-engineered solutions—such as restoring urban forests and increasing their ability to absorb stormwater runoff. In Seattle, urban planners got rid of invasive species such as English Ivy and Himalayan blackberries and restored native evergreens that do a better job of stormwater retention.

A water retention system in action. Credit: Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

“These evergreens stay green year-round and when it rains, as it does so often in Seattle, the trees intercept the downpour,” says Joanna Nelson de Flores, Green Cities Director for Forterra, the region’s land conservation society. “If that vegetation didn’t exist, all of that water would just slide off into our streams and rivers so the trees also act as a natural filtration sponge.” Restoring urban forest tracts proved so successful in Seattle that the Green Seattle Partnership made up of Forterra, city staff, volunteers, non-profit organizations, businesses, and community groups has expanded to eight additional cities in Washington State to improve their stormwater management.

Seattle’s approach might have another factor working in its favor: cost. Engineered solutions, even green ones, cost far more money than planting trees, and require a continuous commitment from the city’s successive city administrations. Pittsburgh has seen a change in city government since the launch of the green infrastructure plan, but has taken care to get some early wins. For example, rain gardens and bioswales did not just help with stormwater management, they also won brownie points among town residents because of their aesthetically pleasing looks.

Rethinking Cities

For countries in the developing world, which are on the frontlines of climate change, the problem is more urgent and monetary resources are a problem. In these countries, solutions that follow the Seattle model are increasingly being embraced, says Sarah Colenbrander, Senior Researcher at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development. From Kampala, Uganda to Bangalore, India urban wetlands and woodlands are being restored in many cities. The biggest stumbling block, according to Postel, is scalability: can one-off examples work on a larger country-wide scale? That can only happen with a significant boost from policy implementation and top-down legislation, she says.

Reducing the amount of impervious cover helps battle floods. Credit: Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

Studies found that local building codes often create needless impervious cover while giving developers little or no incentive to conserve the natural areas that are so important for the natural water flow. The world needs to rethink its cultural expectations of what a prosperous and successful city looks like, Colenbrander says: “Is it a city like Sydney or Los Angeles where everyone has a white picket fence and a nice garden? Or is it a city more like Hong Kong or even central London where people live much more densely and have a communal green space together so you have less of an ecological footprint?”

Population and development pressures can sway sponge cities’ development. But a holistic approach ensures that zoning boards (which decide allocation of residential and business spaces), the parks department, and the transportation board take part in the same planning discussion. A cohesive implementation will go a long way in creating sponge cities. So despite difficulties, sponge cities are becoming more prevalent across the world. Chicago, for example, has instituted green roofs and bioswales as part of its green infrastructure modifications as has Philadelphia. Countries in Europe are following this concept too.

“If the twentieth century was the age of dams, diversions, and depletion,” Postel writes in her book, “the twenty-first century can be the age of replenishment, the time when we apply our ingenuity to living in balance with nature.”

Poornima Apte is an award-winning freelance writer who is happiest when her bedside stash of books resembles a Jenga pile. Find her at


Stormwater Strategies: Community Responses to Urban Runoff Pollution By: George Aponte Clarke; Water Resources IMPACT, Vol. 3, No. 1, Stormwater Regulation & Nonpoint Source Policy (January 2001), pp. 10-15, American Water Resources Association
AFTER THE DELUGE By: John A. Carey; Scientific American, Vol. 305, No. 6 (December 2011), pp. 72-75, Scientific American, a division of Nature America, Inc.
Adapting to Climate Change in Urban Areas: The possibilities and constraints in low- and middle-income nations By: David Satterthwaite, Saleemul Huq, Mark Pelling, Hannah Reid and Patricia Romero Lankao; International Institute for Environment and Development
‘Smart Growth’ Designed to Solve Urban Sprawl-related Problems By: Mary DeSena; Water Environment & Technology, Vol. 11, No. 4 (APRIL 1999), pp. 28, 30, 32-33, Water Environment Federation
Green Infrastructure and Urban Revitalisation in Central Europe: Meeting Environmental and Spatial Challenges in the Inner City of Ljubljana, Slovenia By: Nataša Pichler-Milanovič and Mojca Foški; Urbani Izziv, Vol. 26, supplement: GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE IN CENTRAL, EASTERN AND SOUTH EASTERN EUROPE (2015), pp. S50-S64, Urbanistični inštitut Republike Slovenije


Solar Energy Boosts Affordable Housing in Seattle

November 27th, 2017 · No Comments · Energy

By Spark Northwest (formerly Northwest SEED)

Spark Northwest accelerates the shift to clean energy one community at a time. Since 2001, their on-the-ground projects and progressive advocacy have led the charge toward a renewable energy future. Whether working with rural farmers to deliver energy efficiency workshops, designing a community solar program for a municipal utility, or helping a local neighborhood chart a clean energy plan, Spark Northwest activates communities to work collectively towards a cleaner, healthier environment for generations to come.

SEATTLE, WA (October 5, 2017)– Affordable housing in Seattle just got a boost from the sun: Three Capitol Hill Housing properties, home to 147 low-income residents, will get rooftop solar power to generate their own electricity and reduce operating costs. With critical support from Seattle City Light’s Green Up Grant Program, the installations cap years of planning with Capitol Hill Housing by non-profit Spark Northwest (formerly Northwest SEED) and partner Emerald Cities Seattle.

Despite boasting some of the lowest electricity prices in the country, a recent American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy study reported that 55% of low income households face an energy burden (energy costs as percentage of income) that is more than double the typical Seattle household. “It’s been a great team effort to bridge the green divide and bring solar energy to communities who struggle to cover basic needs such as electricity,” noted Spark Northwest’s Executive Director Jennifer Grove.

In 2014, Spark Northwest launched Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) for All, convening stakeholders from theWashington State Housing Finance Commission, theHousing Development Consortium,Interstate Renewable Energy Council and others, to investigate ways to bring solar energy to multifamily affordable housing in Seattle. Emerald Cities Seattle offered a tested model, combining low-interest loans with energy efficiency retrofits, to create a positive cash flow from day one. Spark Northwest brought solar energy expertise to the mix for a winning recipe. “It just makes sense to bundle solar energy with efficiency, so housing providers can save even more,” said Steve Gelb, Director of Emerald Cities Seattle.

Over the past three years, ACE for All stakeholders created financial models, researched policy options for customer bill credits, and took a crash course in project finance to develop viable options for housing providers. In 2016, Spark Northwest published “Affordable Clean Energy for All: A Guide to Installing Solar PV on Multifamily Housing in Washington,” which offers housing providers a step-by-step guide to going solar. However, Spark Northwest wanted to find a model that would also deliver benefits to multifamily residents. This month, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council published “Access for All: Pathways to Expand Solar Access to Renters and Multifamily Households in the City of Seattle.” Developed in collaboration with Spark Northwest, this document illuminates the potential for sharing solar benefits with residents through on-site and off-site installations. Mikhaila Gonzales, Project Manager at Spark Northwest, is excited to see solar energy at work for renters. “When you own your own home, you can choose to go solar, but when you rent, you don’t control your roof. The goal of ACE for All is to find ways for more people to participate in the clean energy economy.”

That goal became a reality when Spark Northwest and Emerald Cities Seattle led Capitol Hill Housing through the process of going solar on three sites and securing the funds to make it happen.GRID Alternatives, a nationally recognized non-profit solar installer, supported site evaluations with a remote computer-based assessment tool. Seattle City Light’s Green Up Grants program awarded a total of $225,000 to the three projects, paving the way for Capitol Hill Housing to move forward on an investment of over $518,000 that will yield energy savings for the next 30 years. The solar projects establish a building improvement fund and will involve residents in deciding how to spend it. Joel Sisolak of Capitol Hill Housing said, “This demonstrates a pathway for affordable housing providers and tenants to participate in the clean energy economy, where they have been historically excluded.”

Spark Northwest and Emerald Cities Seattle are in ongoing discussions with housing providers to scale up the demonstration projects to install a megawatt of solar on multifamily rooftops by the end of June 2019. The installations will not only provide energy savings for the housing providers, but also will sustain family wage solar installation jobs.



All Systems Can Go: Do You Risk Losing Critical Information When Staff Retire?

November 21st, 2017 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--

By Tyler Vick, Principal at FLO Analytics
A version of this article was originally featured in CityVision Magazine

Take a minute to think about the staff at your organization with the most experience and expertise. Do you rely on them to provide context for projects and historic knowledge about key assets? Are they your go-to resource for records and data? Do they understand how your internal systems and workflows work—and are they some of the few that do?

If the answer to any of the questions above is yes, you might want to take a look at the organizational sustainability at your workplace. One of the most common issues I hear about (whether we’re working with city planners, public works directors, or CEOs) is how institutional knowledge is stored and shared between staff. Without seamless systems in place to collect, store, and share information, organizations risk reliance on a few key people. A deep and crucial knowledge base is often lost when staff retire—or worse, it becomes inaccessible when unexpected medical emergencies or natural disasters occur.

Here’s an example I often see: a public works department manages infrastructure for a medium-size city. They keep track of their assets using paper maps and notes, and if digital data is available, it is siloed and available to only a few people. Most staff rely heavily on a couple of tenured staff members—often with decades of experience working for the city—for historic knowledge of asset locations, condition, and connectivity.

What happens when the staff member in the example retires? It will be hard for other staff to understand the systems and changes that have occurred over time, find resources, and efficiently manage the system in the immediate future, which can potentially impact service delivery to citizens.

The example above reflects an issue occurring all over the United States. According to a 2015 survey of 433 U.S. electricity executives, the second most challenging issue facing their industry (right after aging infrastructure) is an aging workforce. We know that this challenge exists across many infrastructure sectors, and many utilities and cities are struggling with an incredible loss of institutional knowledge as people simply age out of the workforce. As more and more baby boomers retire, this issue will only continue to be a stumbling block for infrastructure managers.

If your organization faces similar issues and has the capacity to get ahead of staff retirement and begin planning for the future of your agency, consider taking these first steps:

  • Clearly identify what information should and can be captured and maintained (e.g., asset locations and their associated attributes).
  • Identify all your current data sources and their accuracy.
  • Establish a process for resolving conflicting data.
  • Identify your most experienced staff, and implement a plan that transitions their institutional knowledge from inside their brain to a shared space.
  • Create a single source of asset information, and set up workflows that allow you to update it from the field or office as needed.

click to enlarge!

The bottom line: organizational sustainability is about the endurance of a system and the processes that run that system. Good maintenance, systematic inspections and reviews, and access to information and knowledge about the system for all staff will make your organization stronger, more efficient, and more resilient.

Tyler Vick manages operations at FLO Analytics and specializes in asset management implementation strategies for infrastructure organizations of all kinds. For more information about FLO, visit



CSI Leads Bipartisan Delegation on Tour of Scandinavia’s Sustainable Infrastructure Innovation

November 14th, 2017 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--, Energy, Transportation, Waste, Water

More than a dozen Washington State elected officials joined a bipartisan Delegation in September touring Sweden and Denmark to learn about sustainable infrastructure innovation. Co-led by CSI, participating legislators came from the East and West sides of the state, from both rural and urban areas, and were almost perfectly divided along party lines.

“We wanted so much to get a diverse group… and we did,” said Patricia Chase, director of i-SUSTAIN, CSI’s core partner in organizing the delegation. “In fact, I rarely knew who was a D and who was an R, which confirmed my belief that our area of focus for this series of delegations is absolutely bipartisan”.

Bipartisan laughter: From left to right, Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-41st), Rep. Gael Tarleton (D-36th), Sen. Ann Rivers (R-18th), Rep. Gina McCabe (R-14th).

Later today, CSI is reconvening the Delegation to begin developing the most promising ideas from the trip for bipartisan collaboration here back at home. Promising themes include: industrial symbiosis, local resources for local prosperity, safe bicycle infrastructure, cross-laminated timber (CLT), and waste-to-resources/circular economy.

“It just makes sense” was a theme that came up again and again during the tour, reflecting the pragmatism of our Scandinavian hosts. Rhys Roth, CSI’s director, said, “The facilities we visited were invariably clean, efficient, cost-effective, smart, locally-beneficial, and well-integrated with local and national goals and aspirations.”

CSI’s recent 2nd annual Fundraiser Reception in Olympia reflected the spirit of bipartisan collaboration. Republican Rep. Drew MacEwen (35th), Democratic Rep. Beth Doglio (22nd), and Ted Sturdevant, Chief of Staff for the WA State Lands Commissioner, each told great stories about the trip. And they each spoke compellingly – from their unique perspectives — on important insights they gained from the experience. The crowd found the bipartisan spirit surprising, but really exciting.

Every elected official on the Delegation received a travel scholarship from our generous partners at the ScanDesign Foundation. Each scholarship recipient pledged to make a presentation on their experience. First up: Senator Reuven Carlyle, incoming Chair of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee. Accepting his “Legislator of the Year” Award from the Washington Conservation Voters, he spoke specifically about the importance of this Delegation: ”On a deeper level, the take-away… is that we can govern with a sense of conviction and intentionality about building a 21st century clean energy future. It was a powerful experience, and I hope that in the weeks and months ahead that we will see those dividends.”

For more details about the people and places the delegation visited, you can access background information and presentation slides from the trip here! Specific topics covered on the tour included:

  • Integrated solutions across the sectors of energy, water, climate, natural resources and the environment.
  • Waste-to-energy and biomass plants, including Sweden to learn about the use of forest residue for bioenergy (the nation’s leading energy source)
  • Community wind and solar power
  • Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) wood-frame tall buildings
  • Role of utilities in managing distributed energy
  • Denmark’s energy history and policies, and economic instruments to incentivize behavior
  • Economic impacts in both countries of energy policies
  • Sustainable transport plans and implementation of Denmark’s electric vehicle strategy
  • New neighborhood development using smart grids
  • Built environment energy policies
  • Utility partnerships in developing electric vehicle industry
  • Energy-independent communities, including Samsø Island, Denmark, which is 100% self-sufficient with renewable energy
  • Sustainability across policies, including Växjö, Sweden, self-proclaimed “Greenest City in Europe”



New Health Equity Tools Can Aid Public Sector Decision Makers

October 23rd, 2017 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--

By Ángel Ross, Research Associate at PolicyLink

The following article article is excerpted from Powering Health Equity Action with Online Data Tools: 10 Design Principles. This report was produced by Ecotrust and PolicyLink. It aims to strengthen community-driven efforts to achieve health equity by improving the online data tools that make health equity data readily available to them. ▪Ecotrust is powered by the vision of a world where people and nature thrive together.▪PolicyLink is a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by Lifting Up What Works®. PolicyLink runs the Center or Infrastructure Equity which advocates for fair and inclusive policies and provides advocates, public officials, and other stakeholders with the tools, training, and consultation needed to ensure that public investments in infrastructure create economic opportunity and health in all communities.

Achieving health equity—when everyone has a just and fair opportunity to be as healthy as possible regardless of race, income, or other socially defined characteristics—is essential to building resilient communities, a prosperous economy, and a just society. Without optimal health, it is impossible for people to reach their full potential. Yet today in the United States, health disparities are persistent and growing. These inequities are not natural or inevitable, but stem from structural racism and discrimination, as well as the inequitable policies, practices, and resource allocations that create the vastly unequal conditions in which people live.

Community-based organizations play a crucial role in advancing health equity. These institutions help put in place new policies, plans, and programs that improve neighborhood environments and opportunities for low-income communities, communities of color, and others unjustly and unfairly burdened by poor health. And community-level data that is disaggregated by race, income, neighborhood, and other demographics is an essential tool to increase the effectiveness and impact of these organizations.

This report (pdf) aims to strengthen community-driven efforts to achieve health equity by improving the online data tools that make health equity data readily available to them.

Robust local data can help community groups at every stage of the policy process, from understanding local conditions and inequities, to framing and building support for issues and policy solutions, to monitoring progress toward equity results. Neighborhood-level data that can be mapped and layered is also valuable for revealing the relationships between different issues such as fnancial security and displacement, community assets and potential development and market opportunities, as well as the cumulative effects of varied risks, harms, or barriers. Disaggregated data and community mapping can also illuminate the experiences of marginalized people and communities to decision makers, and shed light on issues made purposefully invisible.

But while we live in the age of data, the right data and the tools for analyzing, displaying, and sharing it are often elusive for under resourced community groups.

Over the past decade, community leaders and a growing array of institutions have begun building new data tools with the explicit purpose of addressing this mismatch and advancing equity. In 2007, Portland, Oregon’s Coalition for a Livable Future launched the nation’s frst “regional equity atlas,” a printed volume of maps documenting the vast disparities in access to resources and opportunities across the region and supporting successful advocacy to target investments to communities of color and low-income communities. Other communities—Atlanta, Denver, and Los Angeles—followed suit and created their own atlases, mapping a multitude of indicators across the various domains that influence health, from employment to transportation to housing to community safety and more.

At the national level, more data tools for equity have emerged. Some comprehensively depict equity conditions for multiple communities, such as the National Equity Atlas and Others provide disaggregated community data for specific issues and policy areas, such as Mapping Police Violence (community safety and justice) or Clocking-In (wages and workers’ rights).

These equity data tools are supporting policy development, organizing, and investment for heath equity in myriad ways:

  • Housing advocates used the Portland Regional Equity Atlas maps to successfully advocate for a 30 percent funding setaside for the development and preservation of affordable housing in disinvested areas. During the fve years that followed, this policy raised about $125 million for affordable housing.
  • Mapping Police Violence estimates that 90,000 users have contacted their local, state, or federal elected officials about their positions on police reform through a widget on the website titled “Demand Action from Your Representatives.”
  • The Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago recently incorporated’s Child Opportunity Index, a measure of relative opportunity across a metropolitan area calculated based on 19 indicators of educational, health, environmental, social, and economic opportunity, into its criteria for allocating $875,000 in Healthy Chicago 2.0 Seed Grants devoted to promoting health equity.

We believe that the equity data field is on the verge of rapid growth and, with it, the vast potential to strengthen community-driven advocacy and organizing—if these tools are designed with equity in mind.

In the spirit of nurturing this nascent field and contributing to its evolution, this report offers up a set of 10 design principles for online data tools intended to advance health equity. It was developed for researchers, advocates, community members, planners, funders, and others interested in building, improving, or investing in such data tools. The principles were developed by PolicyLink and Ecotrust and vetted with community advocates and practitioners, equity data tool creators, and funders at a convening held in Portland, Oregon, in July 2017. The principles draw upon our knowledge and experience as equity data tool creators, eager observers, and scholars of the data democratization and community indicators movement over the past two decades.

We are hopeful that the democratization of data and technology leads to new opportunities and examples of community-driven and community-owned tools. We are excited about the potential of emerging and existing data tools and hope others will join us in building upon these principles and examples in service of health equity.

Follow this link to continue and read the full report!



Clean Water Services: A Public Water Utility Serving the Land

October 6th, 2017 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--, Water

By Mike Schut — Program Officer at the Laird Norton Family Foundation

Language matters; ideas matter—matter so much that they become embodied and show up in the landscape.

Visit with the staff of Clean Water Services (CWS), tour a few of their watershed restoration projects, or simply read closely some of their brochures and case studies, and you’ll see what I mean. As a public utility managing wastewater they serve nearly 600,000 residents in cities and towns immediately west of Portland, Oregon.

Bruce Roll of CWS leads a watershed restoration tour.

Now it’s not unusual for a utility to serve its residents. But, CWS also explicitly state that they “serve” the land within their water district.

Yes, CWS also employs the words “manage” or “management” when describing their work, but their leadership chose to use the word “serve” to describe their interactions and relationship with the land in their care.

What!? Serve the land!?

Humanity (at least those with the power over the last few hundred years) has more often used words like use, control, subdue, even dominate, to describe their relationship with the land. If we even recognized that we had a relationship with the land, it was supposed to serve us!

The tour continues– walking the land.

Serving the land suggests a potentially significant shift, especially because CWS seems to embody that service in the landscape:

  • Former wastewater treatment ponds at Fernhill have been transformed from rip-rapped ponds into a beautiful natural treatment system filtering water through 90 acres of native wetland plants. The site includes meandering walking paths through a “Water Garden” designed by a world-renowned creator of healing gardens.
  • CWS’s Durham wastewater treatment facility features a cogeneration system; powered by methane generated by the “digestion” of wastewater along with food grease collected from local restaurants, the system generates 60% of the facility’s energy needs.
  • In just one year CWS planted over 2 million trees. They annually restore more than 10 miles of riparian area along the Tualatin River and its tributaries. The program, called Tree for All, has brought together over 35 organizational partners.
  • Space restrictions preclude highlighting more of their projects, but CWS is among 61 public and private utilities internationally recognized in the inaugural Utility of the Future program for pioneering innovation in resource recovery, energy generation, and natural treatment wetlands.

Natural treatment system at Fern Hill.

What also struck me as I spent the afternoon with CWS leaders Bruce Roll, Mark Poling, and Rich Hunter is that Clean Water Services seems to understand that doing things right for their community not only means attending to the human community; it also means attending to the needs of the watershed, the creatures, the land.

That seems deeply right. Deep down we all know that our community includes more than our human neighbors, and that our own health is inextricably linked to ecosystem health.

In getting their language (serve) and ideas (a holistic view of community) right, CWS is able to scale its work to what some call “landscape” conservation or restoration. Rather than only ensuring that wastewater is safe once discharged/treated (a crucial function for any water utility, of course) or only restoring a site, or a series of disconnected sites, CWS seeks to restore an entire landscape, an entire watershed. As CWS looks at it, scaling restoration projects is our only option now: the pressures of (among other things) climate change and increased urbanization demand that we protect our watersheds, which means collaborating for the well-being of all the watershed’s communities, human and other-than-human.

A beautiful restored and functional landscape

Finally, to make this picture more complete, I should point out that while getting our language and ideas right is necessary, and crucial, it is not sufficient to address the scale of the challenges facing our society. In addition, we need to find levers which, when activated, impact entire landscapes.

CWS is such a lever. They are a prime example of a public utility working for the common good. They are a prime example of “sustainable infrastructure.” On the surface of things their infrastructure is pipes, pump stations, and water and sewage treatment plants. Below the surface their infrastructure is schools taking students to Fernhill to watch birds; is a complex network of community partners; is a set of relationships with others who understand that words matter, that ideas matter.


Mike Schut is a program officer at the Laird Norton Family Foundation (LNFF). He, along with LNFF staff and family members, toured Clean Water Services in late September of 2017. They especially thank CWS leaders Bruce Roll, Rich Hunter, and Mark Poling for their time and generosity and Rhys Roth of the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure for connecting all of us.



Depave Builds Rain Garden, Solves Flooding Problem at Portland Church

October 3rd, 2017 · No Comments · Water

Written by members of Depave Portland
Originally produced October, 2016

Depave promotes the transformation of over-paved places to overcome the social and environmental impacts of pavement. They aim to engage communities and reconnect urban landscapes to nature through action-oriented projects, education, advocacy and stewardship. The Portland-based nonprofit has returned more than 50 sites to thriving landscapes, creating community green space and significantly improving storm water runoff problems. For example, Depave helped solve long-term flooding problems at Saint Mary Ethiopian Church in Portland by leveraging public funding to help transform a portion of their parking lot into a thriving rain garden.

Despite the weather, over 50 brave rain-warriors pitched in to pry it up at the Saint Mary Ethiopian Church on a balmy September Saturday. Depaving here makes way for a central rain garden to prevent flooding of the church and lots of nice native landscaping elsewhere around the parking lot. Special thanks to the church members for providing a delicious authentic Ethiopian meal. We had a blast!

Tadele Gelagay no longer worries about his church flooding every winter. Thanks to a parking lot depaving project coordinated by Depave and the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Church now has a 2,500 square foot rain garden that soaks up the water and keeps the church dry.

Gelagay is executive director of the small, immigrant church on the east side of Portland, Oregon. The church is next to Johnson Creek in a floodplain, and sits on the lowest area of the property. Whenever even moderate rains hit, the parking lot would fill with storm water and the church would flood. A drywell system in the parking lot didn’t solve the problem and only added more headaches when it needed repairs. Church members would pile sandbags around the church and use pumps to try to remove the water, but none of these fixes worked.

The church didn’t have much money to spend on a solution. ”We had two choices. Either dig under the drywell or add a system to [connect to] 92nd Street,” said Gelagay. Both options were costly. So when Danny Kapsch, an employee with the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, suggested replacing a portion of the parking lot with a rain garden, Gelagay was quick to agree. This option was a perfect alternative for the church and for the community.

As a bonus, public funding was available for stormwater remediation projects. The Johnson Creek Watershed Council partnered with Depave to get a grant from Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services’ Community WatershedStewardship Program. The Council also helped the church raise additional funds and recruit volunteers to remove thepavement and replace it with the rain garden.

Depave, a nonprofit group that encourages removing pavement to reduce stormwater runoff and create urban green spaces, did a lot of the heavy lifting to implement the project — overseeing project elements from permitting, pavement cutting, excavation, and coordinating the volunteer depaving and planting events. “The uniqueness was primarily in the collaboration,” said Eric Rosewall, Depave’s executive director, of the four groups involved in making this project happen. Gelagay also said it was a great partnership.

The site was cut into small squares that volunteers could remove by hand. After more than 80 volunteers removed 2,500 square feet of asphalt, the site was excavated and soil added to get it ready for planting. Volunteers again showed up in force to get the site planted and landscaped, with help from the local nonprofit Green Lents who designed the new green space.

St Mary hasn’t flooded since and the community enjoys the new garden. The church’s sewer bill is 78 percent lower through the Clean River Rewards program due to the reduced runoff. “All the rain just comes and sinks into the rain garden. No problems since the garden was completed,” said Gelagay. The money saved was used to put a new roof on the church and to add additional landscaping to the site.

Depave promotes the transformation of over-paved places; engaging and inspiring communities to reconnect urban landscapes to nature. Depave is a nonprofit based in Portland, Oregon. To suggest a site for regreening in Portland, visit To learn about opportunities to develop a depaving program elsewhere, visit Find additional information on this and other depave projects online:  .org/saint-mary.



The Tree For All Journey: Rethinking Urban Growth at the Landscape Scale

September 21st, 2017 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--, Water

By Bruce Roll, Director of Watershed Management for Clean Water Services & Clean Water Institute
Re-posted with permission from The Nature of Cities. Facing the ecological dilemma created by urban growth and climate events means moving from pilot projects to landscape-scale conservation.

It’s a beautiful spring day as I sit on the bank of Fanno Creek watching a family of wood ducks motor across the glassy surface of a three-acre beaver pond. A Blue Heron stands in the backwater finding nourishment from the juvenile fish hiding among the willows while a pond turtle suns itself on a log felled by one of Mother Nature’s keystone engineers. Songbirds bring their voices as they find their breakfast within the abundant native vegetation surrounding this oasis in the middle of a thriving urban community. Behind me are hundreds of residential homes, and across the pond I see the reflection of a bustling industrial complex with warehouses and businesses. It’s not long before I hear a family of human inhabitants strolling along a footpath with children in tow. Just like the birds, I hear happy voices as they talk about the array of interesting wildlife they see along this human highway.

Great Blue Heron at Fern Hill Wetlands (2015). Photo: Michael Nipper. To catch a glimpse of the wildlife that is returning to Greenway Park at Fanno Creek, take a peek at our “critter cam” video.

This is a very special place for me. A dozen years ago, this same location was a deep ditch with little vegetation, no shade, and only a trickle of water. Back then, there were certainly no ducks to be seen or song birds to be heard. There were also no children playing in the shade or cyclists enjoying their fresh-air commute. It was a dry, barren place that was hot in the summer and a floodway in the winter. However, this story is not about one singular project. Fanno Creek is only one example of more than 400 projects completed in the Tualatin Watershed of northwestern Oregon by Tree for All.

Riparian enhancement at Englewood Park at Fanno Creek, 2008-2012.

Tree for All is one of the USA’s largest and most successful landscape conservation programs. In the past 12 years, Tree for All has successfully restored over 120 river miles (10 plus river miles annually) across more than 25,000 acres in the rural and urban communities of Washington County, Oregon.

Creating a conservation program capable of acting on a watershed scale has been an interesting journey, and it becomes particularly inspiring when you consider the stressors of interesting weather events and rapid urbanization as well as the scale of action needed to create a resilient and healthy watershed. Looking back on this journey, we have identified 11 keys to landscape conservation that have guided Tree for All’s success, with the hope that they may help guide similar efforts. This essay will address three of the key elements for creating a landscape conservation program that is capable of acting on a scale that ensures watershed health now and for future generations: common community vision, partnerships, speaking a common language.

Common community vision: what’s good for Mother Nature is good for humans too

If others want to replicate the program, they need to understand that you have to get community buy-in to be successful. Tree For All is a collaborative effort that takes many jurisdictions. Folks from the public sectors, schools and others, they all have to buy into it.
— Andy Duyck, Washington County Commission Chair

Our natural resources provide many benefits to humans, such as clean drinking water, healthy air, and nourishing foods. In addition, we require efficient transportation networks and cultural diversity to create resilient, thriving human communities. As we play witness to hundreds of restoration projects, it becomes clear that local wildlife has many similar needs. A grey squirrel needs a network of natural vegetation to provide food and transportation, allowing it to cross the watershed without ever touching the ground. Lacking such highways, that squirrel experiences the same dilemma as humans when we see a “road closed” sign with no detour.

These wildlife highways cross urban, rural, and forested landscapes where humans also reap great benefits from natural resources. Floodplains are an example of an ecosystem that provides a water highway for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife. The restoration of these “water highways” also benefit human communities by providing flood mitigation, carbon sequestration, water filtration, and recreational areas for activities such as fishing or boating.

In agricultural areas, clean air and water, healthy soil and pollinators propagate our human foods. Native plant buffers on agricultural land are an example of a way that communities can help wildlife and humans thrive. When we plant strips of native plants along water margins, they provide shade, slow runoff, and absorb nutrients from agricultural land. Just as humans need clean water, so do the fish and wildlife that greatly benefit from the water cleansing benefits of native plant buffers. Indeed, the benefits of native vegetation buffers—cleaner air and water, shade from the urban heat island effect—also extend to the children who walk along Fanno Creek observing egrets and Pacific tree frogs.

Time and time again we have found that if we help to restore native vegetation, Mother Nature is capable of doing the rest. When Mother Nature is given the opportunity to succeed, wildlife and human communities thrive together.

All smiles at a Watershed Health Walk at Fernhill Wetlands (2017). Photo: Sheepscot Creative.

Partnerships: Working together, we each gain strength while enhancing community benefits

Tree for All is possible because of the partnerships that were established over the last ten years. That’s how you get a million plants into the ground. It took people reaching out and asking others to help—and by doing that, we now have this whole social system that revolves around getting this kind of work done.
— Carla Staedter, Environmental Coordinator, City of Tigard

A beaver pond creates an interesting partnership between the wildlife and native vegetation of Fanno Creek. Waterfowl find a welcoming home to raise their families when water is available and native vegetation helps create the habitat needed for turtles, songbirds and fish. Each of these creatures rely on each other to provide food, habitat and water, which puts in motion the makings of a healthy and vibrant watershed. However, this setting meets an interesting challenge when we consider the role humans can play in this story. This role can either be a controlling dictatorship, or, preferably, that of another watershed partner that finds nourishment in their association with local wildlife.

Like many words in the English language, the term “partnership” has many definitions. Tree For All has created its own definition that can best be told by a story about a stranded traveler with a flat tire on a hot dusty road in central Oregon.

A stranded traveler stands beside his car with tire iron in hand, a sweaty brow, and the dejected look of person missing a jack to change his flat tire. It’s not long, however, before a fellow traveler sees this situation and stops to help. With pen and paper in hand, he jumps out of his car to lend this troubled traveler a helping hand. He asks about the make, model, and gross weight of his car and quickly jots the information down. Turning to the troubled traveler, he quickly assures him that he will order a jack in the next town and have it sent back to him. Smiling, this Good Samaritan jumps back in his car and speeds away. He is happy knowing he helped a struggling traveler.

It’s not long before another helper stops to lend aid to the flat-stricken traveler by handing him a bottle of cold water. He smiles as he drives away, watching in his rearview mirror as the struggling traveler thirstily downs the bottle of water. He feels good that he was able to help.

The next traveler is a different character. He is the owner of the local drive-in a few miles back, and every weekend he makes a strawberry milkshake and takes a leisurely drive in the country with the top down on his convertible. Seeing the same situation as the previous travelers, he also stops to lend aid. He hands the weary traveler his milkshake and tells him to drink and sit in the shade while he gathers the jack from his convertible and changes the tire.

When I think about creating great partnerships, they begin with a kind gesture and an offer to meet and exceed expectations. In this story, both travelers reaped value from this interaction. After the incident, the flat-stricken traveler made it a point to bring his family to the drive-in and tell his friends about the thoughtful drive-in owner. Both parties saw great value in this relationship knowing each benefited from this opportunity. It can be easy to stumble at times when we forget to meet partners where they stand.

Through such partnerships, the people of Tualatin Watershed are transforming the landscape, averaging more than 10 river miles of restoration annually (195 km in the past 12 years) across more than 25,000 acres. Here are some examples of Tree for All partnerships and how they are working together to further their individual goals while enhancing the benefits that natural resources provide to the community:

MetroMetro is a regional government and planning agency in the Portland metropolitan area. Metro’s mission to connect high quality stream corridor and wetland habitats across the Tualatin River Watershed has resulted in the protection of almost 5,000 acres of natural areas. Its collaboration with Clean Water Services and other partners on more than a dozen natural areas including Wapato View, Maroon Ponds, and Gales Creek Forest Grove Natural Areas has been instrumental in achieving Tree for All goals. These projects leverage multiple funding sources and create a bigger impact than each organization could complete on its own. By allowing access and combined planning efforts, Metro helps Tree for All achieve a core goal of improving water quality, while enabling Metro to complete enhancement across entire properties where other priorities would have meant leaving them incomplete.

Friends of Trees: Friends of Trees is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering communities to improve the natural world by planting trees. By gathering an army of volunteers every weekend during planting season, Friends of Trees plays a pivotal role in the success of Tree for All. In 2015 alone, Friends of Trees mustered more than 17,000 volunteer hours with a value of $375,000. A decade of partnership translates into millions of dollars leveraged, and thousands of urban Washington County residents connected to water resources.

Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District: Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District (THPRD) is a pivotal partner with more than 1,300 acres of natural areas in Beaverton and adjacent areas. One example is a 35-acre complex on Bronson Creek, owned by THPRD since the early 1990s. The complex improves habitat diversity and water quality in the area while complementing and connecting with nearby restoration projects. By forging this partnership and harnessing multiple interests, the benefits are tangible and growing, all at lower cost than if we each did it alone. Through this partnership, THPRD is making a big contribution to sustaining and enhancing the Tualatin Watershed where residents may live and work in harmony with the environment.

Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District: Twelve years ago, we saw the first farmer sign up for a new riparian restoration program developed jointly by the local farming community, foresters, environmental groups, and Clean Water Services. By year three, this program caught its stride, leveraging millions of additional Federal Money from the U.S. Congress’ “Farm Bill” dollars allows the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District to offer a voluntary and truly integrated agricultural incentive program. Today, this transformative partnership simultaneously delivers irrigation efficiency, wetlands enhancement, integrated pest management, cooling shade, wildlife habitat and farm conservation plans that address nutrient/pest management and soil erosion. This partnership has restored more than 35 agricultural river miles to date, involving more than 10,000 acres on 80+ farms, while bringing many additional benefits to the farmers and Mother Nature.

Click to enlarge.

Speaking a common language: using a voice that engages and inspires

What’s happening in Washington County is not an accident. We’ve got an incredible effort of all different organizations working together towards one thing, and that is to work with Mother Nature. But we’re all doing that with the understanding that those benefits to each and everyone of us are far, far greater—and it’s not just to us. It’s to the future generations.
– Carolyn McCormick, President and CEO, Washington County Visitors Association

The slap of a beaver’s tail on the surface of the pond sends ducks scurrying, the turtle diving and the songbirds chirping. A red tailed hawk decides to stop and say hello. Isn’t it fascinating how that one voice/tail engaged and inspired such a diverse audience?

How many times do we humans shoot ourselves in the foot when we forget to communicate with a voice that engages and inspires? When I think about my conversations with school children, farmers, and government representatives, it can be challenge to communicate the importance of watershed health using a single message that resonates with all of these groups. It requires accounting for their concerns, speaking to the common values we all share, and conveying the benefits we all experience when we invest in our natural resources. The truth is, we all need clean air, water and healthy soil to be resilient and happy. There are many ways of telling the story about the interconnection between humans and our environment. Tree for All has found great success in telling that story through the many different voices of our partners while speaking a common language through engaging stories and inspiring conversations. This voice becomes very important as partners from diverse backgrounds come to the table to share resources and their experiences across broad landscapes.

As we witness the many stressors associated with interesting weather events and the human desire to grow and prosper, Tree for All partners have clearly demonstrated that it is possible work locally and create the actions needed for watershed resiliency. The next essay in this series will elaborate on how Tree for All catalyzes this community impact through business innovation and co-investment, targeting efforts that provide the best return on investment, and planning for the interests of future generations.

–Bruce Roll, Portland

Bruce is the Director of Watershed Management for Clean Water Services ( and the nonprofit Clean Water Institute (CWI) in Hillsboro, Oregon.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out this video about Tree for All partners and the tree planting challenge that started it all.