Boeing funds stormwater education, steps up for healthy salmon habitat

Seattle-area students create regional clean-water solutions

September 04, 2018 in Our Environment

Boeing is sponsoring stormwater STEM education that provides hands-on learning, showing what happens to stormwater if untreated.

Celina Steiger

Better STEM education and healthier water quality in the Pacific Northwest — where Boeing has its largest footprint — create the perfect storm for a Seattle-area nonprofit’s stormwater curriculum development that will reach fourth-graders around Seattle.

The Community Waters Science Unit, created in a partnership with Seattle Public Schools and IslandWood, helps teachers nurture a new generation of clean-water enthusiasts with engineering lessons that examine the causes and remedies to the region’s stormwater issue, which connects to protecting healthy salmon habitat.

Boeing Global Engagement is sponsoring the program as part of the company’s commitment to environmental stewardship and education in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

“Teachers use the schoolyard as a rainy-day lab to understand how impervious surfaces contribute to pollution in area waterways,” said Kate Bedient, director of urban programs at IslandWood.”Students see themselves as problem solvers, who are learning the engineer-design process to address issues of stormwater in their own schoolyards.”

Students go to their playgrounds but not for recess. Instead, they look for problem areas where water collects or runs off without being filtered first. In the classroom, they test stormwater solutions on a small scale. They have the opportunity to design and build more sophisticated filtration systems using plants, fiber, woody debris and other gizmos. They then test to see whether the larger scale filtration systems produce cleaner water.

Students study the benefits of rain gardens, green infrastructure and bioswales, engineered filters that trap pollutants before they reach waterways. This engineering unit incorporates Next Generation Science Standards, and the Ambitious Science Teaching framework – the gold standard of science curriculum development.

Managing stormwater is critical to Boeing’s operations. The company manages stormwater at all of its industrial sites to improve water quality and comply with government permit requirements.

Boeing hosted IslandWood at its booth at the recent Duwamish River Festival, the flagship event of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/Technical Advisory Group. IslandWood educator, Celina Steiger, was on hand to teach community children and their parents how to build a stormwater treatment system using items to represent plants, logs, rocks and wetlands). The children tested the water quality after building mini rain gardens to find their work resulted in crystal-clear water and no erosion.

Stormwater runoff is rain that falls on streets, parking areas, sports fields, gravel lots, rooftops or other developed land. It then flows into nearby gutters and storm drains and into Puget Sound streams, lakes, rivers and bays, which makes it critically important to manage and protect the quality of stormwater. In Washington state, stormwater pollution contributes to 30 percent of the pollution in waters, according to King County, a Boeing partner in the Lower Duwamish Waterway Group.

By Monica Zimmer

Boeing hosted nonprofit IslandWood at the company booth at the recent Duwamish River Festival in South Seattle to showcase support stormwater education. Here, IslandWood educator Celina Steiger demonstrates how to engineer rain gardens.

Monica Zimmer