Protect Our Waters
Protect Our Waters is the City of Seattle’s commitment to take actions and promote partnerships that protect and improve our creeks, lakes, the Duwamish River and Puget Sound.
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Making the invisible visible

beckoning cistern

The “Beckoning Cistern.” Photo courtesy of Buster Simpson and the Office of Art and Culture.

What better way to celebrate the unsung work of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), than to integrate meaningful artwork? The 1% for Art program, administered by the Office of Art and Culture, has contributed to Seattle’s beauty and creative appeal since the program was started in 1973. Through the program, 1% of eligible capital project costs are set aside for art works that relate to the projects themselves or to water, drainage, and waste issues generally. In the past, the art has taken shape as permanent sculptures, films, performance arts, and temporary pieces. One example of a project funded by the program is the “Beckoning Cistern” by Buster Simpson, an element of the “Growing Vine St.” design.“Beckoning Cistern” functions as both art and green stormwater infrastructure as it collects rain water and, when full, overflows into a nearby planter. Installations such as this help Seattleites gain appreciation for water quality projects and infrastructure.

SPU artist and planner Vaughn Bell has been working to carve direction for the 1% for Art program. Bell is creating an Art Master Plan that will supplement SPU’s Plan to Protect Seattle’s Waterways. The Art Master Plan seeks to make the invisible system of infrastructure and maintenance visible through meaningful artistic experiences. The Master Plan will provide these experiences equitably by creating a thoughtful process for commissioning artists, encouraging a variety of artistic mediums, and installing art in diverse settings. From interactions with the artwork as laid out in the Master Plan, Bell aims to “connect people to the flow of water in city and home, and their own place in their local ecology.” The Art Master Plan is expected to be completed and available to the public later this year.

A sewer maintenance success

crews on green lake

System Maintenance Crews work to repair and clean a drainage structure that is normally submersed under Green Lake.

Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) has a sewer overflow goal of fewer than 4 per 100 miles of pipe, calculated as a 2-year calendar average. SPU came into 2016 very concerned about meeting the 2015 – 2016 goal. Fortunately, SPU met the 2016 performance goal due in large part to SPU’s System Maintenance division.

At the start of 2016, the maintenance planning team identified sewer areas that are at a higher risk of blockages from roots, grease, and other debris. SPU’s field crews then targeted the sewer pipes in these areas for cleaning early in the year so that these high-risk areas would not experience a blockage that could lead to an overflow. The crews stepped up their game, cleaning an additional 250 miles of pipe in 2016 compared to 2015. The effort paid off, as SPU had a total of 8 root-caused overflows in 2016 compared to 18 in 2015.

Brian Alabe, an SPU maintenance crew supervisor described both the challenges and satisfaction of leading a team: "Every time we pull together to complete a project, it’s such an overwhelming feeling of relief and pride that we collectively succeeded."

Trees for Seattle’s waterways


Trees for Seattle volunteers work hard and have fun on MLK Day last year.

The City of Seattle recently launched Trees for Seattle, a coalition of 8 city departments dedicated to keeping Seattle’s urban forest “healthy, vital, and growing.” The Seattle Public Utilities program formally known as reLeaf will also adopt the brand Trees for Seattle.

Trees provide environmental benefits for urban ecosystems. They reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff through three processes: interception, transpiration, and infiltration. Interception occurs when rain water falls on tree canopies and slows the falling water. Transpiration is when water evaporates from leaves and needles. Infiltration occurs when the water soaks into the ground, aided by the root systems of trees. Given these benefits, imagine the positive impact the Trees for Seattle program has through its ongoing efforts, which include:

  • Engaging volunteers, or Tree Ambassadors, in urban forestry through Tree Walks and stewardship projects to maintain existing neighborhood trees and landscapes
  • Working with residents to plant and maintain trees around homes through the Trees for Neighborhoods project
  • Providing communications to the public about the city’s Urban Forestry initiatives
  • Building partnerships across departments and with local community groups to strengthen the urban forestry field across Seattle

You can do your part to cultivate Seattle’s emerald icons by signing up to volunteer at one of Trees for Seattle’s upcoming events.

Breaking News

Seattle’s sewers in history

See historical photographs of workers installing some of Seattle’s first sewer systems.

Salmon in trouble

Seven of fifteen salmon species remain threatened or endangered.

Natural stormwater solutions

Swale on Yale offers a natural solution to some of South Lake Union’s stormwater problems.


Don’t drip and drive!

Register to attend a FREE Auto Leaks Workshop at a location near you.

Trees for Seattle on Facebook

Follow Trees for Seattle on Facebook to stay up-to date on Trees for Seattle events and volunteer opportunities.

Report surface water pollution

Did you know you can report surface water pollution and Seattle Public Utilities will send a field inspector to investigate?

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Outreach Coordinator: Susan Harper