The casino..? The tribe.

Millennials are quick to hop on the twitter/facebook/instagram bandwagon of social justice topics. This reality is important in two main ways 1) social media can be a powerful tool for spurring large scale social activism, yet 2) as a result of this, local issues not in popular media can easily get swept under the rug at a time when these issues need just as much local support.

Recently I attended an event at the UW Intellectual House, hosted by the Jackson School of International Studies. A group of bachelor students presented their quarter long research project, which aimed to educate non-tribal millennials on the Tulalip Tribe and the larger topic of Native American treaty rights. They found that 81 percent of millennials in Puget Sound first associate the word “Tulalip” with the casino, and an additional 18 percent were unfamiliar altogether with the Tulalip Tribe. I myself was guilty of being part of the 81 percent.

What struck me the most about that evening was when a tribe leader stood up and made a commanding speech. She described the visceral relationship the Tulalip Tribe has with the environment; a stewardship of resources that is deeply ingrained in to their daily life. To the Tulalip, salmon is not just food, it is celebration, it is family, and it is tradition. Since she was a child, on a specific date each year her family would catch a salmon in celebration of harvest. 2016 was the first year her family did not catch a salmon that day.

Today the tribe counts about 4,000 members, and are one of dozens of tribes along the Puget Sound coasts. The Treaty of Point Elliot of 1855 was the first legal distinction made between the rights and ownership of a handful of Puget Sound tribes. Forced to give up large swaths of land, the Tulalip Tribe told treaty negotiators they wanted the reservation to be at Tulalip Bay because it had plenty of timber, creeks and fish. It was full of healthy salmon populations. Today, in the Snoqualmie and Skokomish rivers, which converge to form the Snohomish River just south of the Tulalip reservation, wild spawning chinook are down 53 percent compared to 1990 numbers. More than just food is at stake for the Tulalip Tribe; cultural heritage, education, and identity are at risk.

In 1974, during the Pacific Northwest fish wars, a landmark court decision called the Boldt Decision asserted the rights of Washington tribes to co-manage fish with the state and continue traditional harvesting. The Boldt Decision not only protected fishing rights but mandated the tribes get their fair share of 50 percent of the harvestable fish. Today that fair share is threatened. As the Standing Rock Sioux continue to fight the battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, similar battles of different complexion and scale are being fought across the country.

Fortunately, Washington State government and a large number of private organizations put treaty rights and salmon population health as a top priority. For every estimated $1 million spent on watershed restoration, $2.2–$2.5 million is generated in total economic activity. The efforts and research are being to manage this issue in an attempt to restore and improve the quality of life for all. Millennials are poised to boost these efforts as we join the work force with strong environmental and social justice principles. Urban, agricultural, and industrial pollution and development are the greatest threats to further deterioration of salmon habitat and disregard of treaty rights. And before we read the next social media post on our phones, we should take an extra effort to read the local paper or join a local event that we might not otherwise consider, because the outcome of doing so can enlighten us in ways we had not imagined.





1: State of Salmon in Washington project:       http://stateofsalmon.wa.gov/

2: WA Government Involvement:  http://www.rco.wa.gov/salmon_recovery/index.shtml

3: Jackson School Project Link :            https://sway.com/wluV0qRyoGiK3J80

4: Billy Frank Jr and the Fish Wars:  https://www.sos.wa.gov/legacy/stories/billy-frank-jr/

5: Salmon Cycle Info:  http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/pugetsound/species/salmon_cyc.html




What’s Happening Down Under?

After digging a little further in to Seattle’s sewage and stormwater systems, I will never see a stream of water running down the street in the same way. I have always wondered, where does that go? We have an old set of pipes beneath the city that carry stormwater from our streets and roofs, and sewage from our homes and businesses. About two thirds of the pipes in the city of Seattle combine both sewage and stormwater for an efficient flow to the West Point Treatment Plant. At this point, I am sure anyone reading this is already bored, but stormwater and even sewage can be an interesting design topic! Just as the Yosemite Falls can inspire and delight, urban design concerning water can also incite delight, and a sense of responsibility.



What better way to disconnect people from natural systems then to hide them underground. Our wastewater infrastructure is a system of the past, a pragmatic approach to dealing  with waste and runoff instead of envisioning opportunity. The image above is Sydney Park in Australia. This design has the capacity to collect 200 million gallons of stormwater, filter it, and recirculate it during dry months to maintain an active water feature in a beautiful park/bike-ped transit corridor. 200 million gallons is a lot of water.

The failure of West Point Treatment Plant on February 9th resulted in 300 million gallons of untreated wastewater being dumped in to the Puget Sound. Typically, the plant does a great job in cleaning our wastewater up to 95% cleanliness before discharging in to the Puget Sound. However, in some years depending on the consistency in rainfall, Seattle’s underground pipes can discharge tens to hundreds of millions of gallons per year of combined wastewater due to overflow. This wastewater never makes it to the treatment plant, and instead carries toxic chemicals, fossil fuels, bacteria, metals, and pesticides straight in to where our families swim and boat in the summer time, and where our salmon struggle to re-spawn and contribute to the wonderful biodiversity of the Pacific Northwest which we all care about.

Seattle can do better. Seattle needs to do better. The city and county have released a plan to protect our water ways, yet their approaches are couched in the antiquated thinking that disconnected us from natural processes in the first place. Underground storage tanks and street sweepers that pick up debris are about the most uninspiring solution a city’s leaders could think of. Dealing with blackwater is different than dealing just with stormwater, but performative wetlands and ecological science technologies are financially and socially feasible and arguably more efficient and inexpensive!

Those folks down under understand that taking something as mundane as stormwater and blending it with social and environmental positive impacts, can foster respect and appreciation for the natural world in which we live.

Smart Home Devices


There is potential for smart home devices to provide us with valuable information for how we live. There are technologies hitting the market at a reasonable price point that are sophisticated and consistent enough to make these smart home devices investments worthwhile. Right now, smart thermostats seem to be the most common product – and competitive – with brands such as Nest (https://nest.com/), and Ecobee (https://www.ecobee.com/), leading the pack.

See comparisons at: http://www.toptenreviews.com/home/smart-home/best-programmable-thermostats/

Nest inc. claims “Since 2011, the Nest Thermostat has saved over 8 billion kWh of energy in millions of homes worldwide. And independent studies showed that it saved people an average of 10-12% on heating bills and 15% on cooling bills. So in under two years, it can pay for itself.” It is a little optimistic to think this device will save middle-class individuals and families an impactful amount of money, but low-income families can benefit from potential cost savings.

There are up and coming water monitoring devices as well. Fluid(http://www.fluidwatermeter.com/) is a startup that looks to have promising technology and easy implementation to start tracking your water usage effectively. The interface has users create “signatures” for the various operations in their home (shower, washer, dishwasher, etc.) in which the device can pick up on the water flow patterns associated with these operations, and track them for each use.

Where these smart home devices can make a considerable difference is at scale, when implemented in millions of homes across the US. Puget Sound Energy is offering a $75 credit with the purchase of Nest. These devices can be part of a considerable feedback loop in tracking our energy and water usages at the individual home, neighborhood, and city scale. They give homeowners control over their decisions; the products they buy and the activities they engage in. They translate those decisions in to a measurable understanding of how we consume water and electricity.

Utility companies can benefit from this as well. Consumers continue to want to track their consumption as it relates to price, and there is potential for utility companies to piggy-back on these company’s technology and data collection networks. Privacy is always a concern, and consumers should be given the choice to hand over their usage history to utility and smart device companies, or keep it private. Overall, I think the coming years will show that these smart devices are saving energy and water at large scales, and are providing utility companies and cities with the knowledge to be more responsible and responsive in how we consume our electricity and water.

Articles and Sources:

1: “Homes Try to Teach Smart Switch” Steve Lohr, NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/23/business/energy-environment/homes-try-to-reach-smart-switch.html?ref=businessspecial2

2: “Switching on intelligent energy tracking at the CNET Smart Home” Bryan Bennett, CNET: https://www.cnet.com/news/switching-on-intelligent-energy-tracking-at-the-cnet-smart-home/

3: “FLUID Is A Smart Water Meter For Your Home” Christine Magee, TechCrunch:






Should there be a LEED equivalent for food companies in the U.S.?

As I walk down the aisles of a grocery store, the labels that catch my eye are the Non-Gmo Project, the USDA organic, and the Fair Trade labels. These labels allow consumers to assume that what they are buying is good for their health, responsibly sourced, and responsibly traded. The labels operate as enabling frameworks that measure the success of a product in terms of health or trade standards, but they measure only the product, and fall short in determining the how the food company performs overall in the context of the increasing environmental and social standards of the U.S. consumer.  I think it is time to develop a standard label that takes a holistic approach to determining where food companies stand in relation to others.

The label could be based off of a rating system similar to LEED, where bronze, silver, gold, and platinum ratings differentiate the efficacy of their efforts, based on point totals. The standard should take in to account all aspects of the company’s operations. So the product is organic and responsibly sourced, but what impact do they have beyond their food product. Does the corporate office operate in a LEED certified building? Do they go beyond corporate social responsibility and make significant contributions to their communities? I love Newman’s Own products, because they taste great and they donate 100% of their after tax profits to charity; but does their manufacturing process also operate at a high standard. I assume that companies that make an effort to acquire Fair Trade, USDA Organic, and Non-Gmo labels, also make efforts to maintain high environmental and ethical standards within their operations and management, but I only speculate. Food companies should have the right to apply for and be rewarded for their full spectrum efforts in running their business, and not just for the quality of their product; health standards are only one part of the equation. Equally, consumers have the right to full transparency and trust in food companies that operate at high environmental and ethical standards, in addition to providing healthy food products for us, our friends, family, and kids.

The labels mentioned above should be not be overshadowed by this rating, but should be leveraged and used in the rating process. Other measurement systems should be leveraged as well, such as the Green Accounting system in the works, LEED ratings for building operations, and even CEO pay compared to employee pay should be taken in to account; as well as many other factors not mentioned. There should be differentiation between small, medium, large, and public companies. The operational nature of a small, local food company is a lot different than the complex operational network of a large conglomerate food company; the rating system should take this in to account and adjust the standards and calculations accordingly. In some ways, a holistic rating system may even be favorable to smaller companies, because a less complex supply chain and single office location, may allow for the necessary adjustments (for rating) to be made, simple and straightforward.

I think the food industry is poised to accommodate a universal rating system like this, plus it isn’t over regulation. Even in the beginning, I think new companies will have incentive and should be rewarded for their ability to address and adjust every facet of their business to function successfully in a culture that holds a high standard for not only the health and source of our food, but also the social and environmental impact we have as consumers and companies.



1: “Newman’s Own as Alternative Economics”, Engler, Mark  : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-engler/newmans-own-as-alternativ_b_754063.html

2: “There are three potential problems with a social enterprise label for Europe”, Addarii, Filippo : https://www.theguardian.com/social-enterprise-network/2012/oct/26/social-enterprise-label-europe

3: Fair Trade USA : http://fairtradeusa.org/

4: USDA Organic : https://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=organic-agriculture

5: Non-GMO Project: https://www.nongmoproject.org/


Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) -Seattle

Stormwater and green infrastructure:

Public utility companies, cities, and neighborhoods continue to deal with stormwater and wastewater management. The goal is to eliminate pollutant discharge in to our protected water ways. “About two-thirds of Seattle is served by a combined or partially-separated sewer system. Completely separated systems serve the other one-third.”[1] This means during a heavy rain, the water you see running in to the drains, is likely combining with sewage at some point, and overflows directly in to the puget sound or ship canal.  Even if stormwater systems are not combined with sewer, the stormwater carries pollutants such as petroleum, tiny metals, cigarette butts, trash, and bacteria and viruses. Here is a pdf addressing the issue in Ballard, where most sewage/stormwater overflow dumps in to salmon bay.


Seattle Public Utilities and the City of Seattle have created plans and programs to mitigate overflow, and effectively manage stormwater. One main solution is to build additional underground temporary storage and/or retrofit and update existing drainage pipe infrastructure. The second main solution is green infrastructure, which has lower upfront construction costs, and by far adds more social and economic value to the communities in which the projects are installed. Green infrastructure (in terms of stormwater management) includes rain gardens for water detention, bio-swales, green roofs, cisterns, porous pavement, de-paving, and planting trees.

Programs and Plans:

700 Million Gallons


This site is in coordination with RainWise Rebates, a program that provides up to $3.50 per square foot of an approved rain garden project at your house or neighborhood. Here is a map of rebate eligible neighborhoods, based on their proximity to combined sewer overflow (CSO) systems.


Here is a map showing data on projects installed in coordination with 700 million gallons.


Things I noted:

1: Most projects are happening in single family neighborhoods

2: Not much action in SODO, industry along the Duwamish, and downtown.

Neighborhood Matching Fund


Through the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, community groups and non-profits can apply for a matching grant of up to $100,000 for a project that increases civic engagement and benefits the community or neighborhood in clear ways.

The Beacon Food Forest Phase 2 project was recently awarded $99,960, nearly matching their fundraised amount of $110,450.  The Beacon Food Forest is located in Jefferson Park, and provides a large community P-patch with equipment, an outdoor kitchen, and other amenities. This match has been significant for the Beacon Food Forest, and there is potential for neighborhood green infrastructure projects to be matched as well.

Neighborhood Park and Street Funds


Also through the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, SDOT provided nearly 2 million dollars for street improvement projects. Here is a link to a pdf showing the project descriptions.


The cost of these projects are a little mind boggling to me ($90,000 for Curb bulbs at McGilvra Blvd E & E Madison St & E Garfield St), but they state that Seattle residents democratically decide where to spend the funds. There is potential here for budgets to increase, and GSI projects to be installed.


For individual homeowners and community/neighborhood organizers, there are subsidy and rebate programs available. For builders and developers, there are no programs I could find endorsed by the City of Seattle, only encouragement. Slowly the smaller residential and neighborhood projects will add up and achieve scale. But I think city governments need to invest substantially more dollars to allow for developers to plan these projects in our downtown and industrial zones. For one, these areas combined contribute more pollutants and two, can achieve the scale to transform a city’s effectiveness in managing wastewater and stormwater, by investing and saving significant dollars in the long run.

This is a pdf prepared by the city of Seattle in which they are working with the firm CMG landscape architecture, to develop and build a comprehensive street scape plan for an area of South Lake Union.


CMG Landscape Architects operate out of San Francisco. There portfolio includes the Treasure Island Master Plan project which is the largest plan ever to achieve LEED-ND platinum certification. Globally it is 1 of 17 LEED-ND platinum projects.



Here is a list of websites that show the City of Philadelphia as a precedent for GSI investment:







  1. http://www.seattle.gov/util/Documents/Plans/StormwaterManagementPlan/index.htm
  2. http://www.700milliongallons.org/
  3. https://www.seattle.gov/util/cs/groups/public/@spu/@drainsew/documents/webcontent/01_025404.pdf
  4. http://www.seattle.gov/util/cs/groups/public/@spu/@drainsew/documents/webcontent/1_050326.pdf
  5. http://www.seattle.gov/util/EnvironmentConservation/Projects/GreenStormwaterInfrastructure/index.htm


Systems Education for Children

Whether it was the volcano project, or the “dropping the watermelon off the roof” example of gravity, these are examples of educating students about systems. For me, in elementary school, we had a program called “salmon in the classroom” where in our hallways there was a fish tank for salmon hatching. Each year, we would watch as salmon eggs hatched and grew in to tiny fish, then we would collect the fish, take them to the UW salmon pond, and they would be released into portage bay. This learning activity was so fundamental to my understanding and appreciation of the life-cycle of salmon, as well as to the historic and cultural relevance of salmon to the pacific northwest. The point being, is that when kids are educated about living systems, that knowledge and appreciation can become so fundamentally ingrained into one’s habits and attitudes during adulthood. So why not use school buildings and school grounds as an example and platform to teach students how energy, water, and humans operate as interdependent systems.


The Bertschi School in Capitol Hill, Seattle, is a great example of this. The Bertschi School and its’ building/design partners attempted the Living Building Challenge (for the west science-wing of their building), which is essentially a measurement system that sets the goal of creating a building that generates more energy than it uses, captures and treats all water on site (rain, gray, black) and uses healthy building materials. The building is fully equipped to meet this challenge, but due to regulatory barriers and lengthy permitting processes (concerning potable water, utilities jurisdictions, etc), the building does not operate completely as a closed system, yet.

Importantly though, the education programs within the school are tightly connected to these building innovations. A pebble-lined stream runs through a classroom and is a looking glass in to the flow of rainwater being collected from the roof; a teaching lesson for watersheds, rivers and streams. Gardening beds are used every spring and summer, educating students about growing food, all while reusing either treated graywater or collected rain. A vegetated green wall is on large display and showcases the process of phytoremediation. Maximized natural light and clean air are the norm, by using building materials clear of anything toxic. The project involved multiple third parties; architecture firm, construction, landscape firm, etc. and costs were almost completely fundraised. Jerry Seinfeld said that innovation happens when you start by saying: “you know what I’m sick of?”. Well, i’m sick of not seeing more schools like the Bertschi school.