When people think of Boeing, thoughts often rise towards the sky, where many of Boeing’s best-known products soar high above the earth. However, Boeing is also deeply interested in the ground and the water that flows on and beneath it. That’s why Boeing invested $1.4 million last year in environmental organizations that support stormwater and green infrastructure projects in Washington state that will reach nearly 136,000 students and manage over 402 billion gallons of runoff.
Stormwater runoff is rain that falls on paved surfaces such as streets, parking areas, rooftops or other developed land. The water picks up pollutants and then flows into nearby gutters and storm drains, and from there into local waterways including streams, lakes, rivers and bays. Over the years, the importance of managing and protecting the quality of stormwater has become clear.
Boeing manages stormwater at all of its industrial sites to improve water quality and comply with government permit requirements. However, the company’s commitment to the issue extends far beyond its own properties. Boeing is also a key community partner to numerous nonprofits and educational entities seeking solutions to improve water quality. Those partnerships include research projects at both Washington State University and the University of Washington.
At Washington State University (WSU) the Washington Stormwater Center was created, in part, to assist businesses with stormwater management permit requirements issued by the Washington State Department of Ecology. The Center works to curtail polluted water runoff that is a major contributor to the declining health of Puget Sound and its tributaries.
During Boeing’s many years of partnership with WSU’s Washington Stormwater Center, hundreds of businesses throughout Washington have received assistance to help them comply with their Industrial Stormwater General Permit and reduce the pollution load to surface waters.
"Without Boeing's support, the Center would not be in a position to assist these businesses,” said Lisa Rozmyn, Assistant Director at the Washington Stormwater Center. “We rely on grants for all of our work, and Boeing has been there for us, and Washington's business community, since 2012; funding various projects aimed at protecting water quality from harmful pollutants."
The University of Washington’s (UW) EarthLab stormwater project is working with the The Nature Conservancy and the Puget Sound Partnership on the Water 100 Project – also supported by Boeing – to identify and prioritize solutions to stormwater problems in Puget Sound.
Phil Levin, a professor at UW School of Environmental & Forest Sciences and lead scientist at The Nature Conservancy in Washington, is tasked with developing solutions that address not only stormwater, but also the interconnected human health and equity issues that come from air and water pollution.
“As an environmental scientist, I’m often asked to research problems, identify problems or map problems,” says Levin. “This project is different because it is focused on solutions. We’re identifying solutions that are based on feasible opportunities in the region and can break down silos between complex environmental problems. I’m grateful for Boeing’s investment because we have a real chance at making progress, not just to improve the health of water and the environment, but also to improve the health of our communities.”
Other Boeing partners looking to find stormwater solutions in Puget Sound include The Nature Conservancy, which advances green stormwater infrastructure and nature-based solutions through innovations in science, policy, finance and collaborations, including the Water 100 Project, and Long Live the Kings, which advances research and conservation efforts to restore wild salmon and steelhead from the brink of extinction.
In partnership with Boeing, Long Live the Kings is developing an educational toolkit for Survive the Sound, a free web-based fish tracking game that will engage approximately 135,000 students and the public to learn about Puget Sound salmon and steelhead recovery this year. Students analyze and interpret data, develop and test scientific concepts, and learn about the importance of salmon and water quality in their communities, all while becoming the next generation of clean water stewards.
By Deborah Feldman