Strategy: Improve Water Quality

Pierce County gets over 40 inches of rain every year and in places where we have functioning ecosystems, much of the rain naturally infiltrates back into the ground. In our cities, towns, and even our own backyards, the rain hits the hard surfaces of our homes, businesses, and roads and runs directly into our local streams, rivers, lakes and Puget Sound, carrying millions of tons of pollution with it. As a result, many of our local water bodies do not meet state standards for water quality, impacting all the life within them and our own ability to safely enjoy recreation. However, we can all act to reduce these impacts and improve local water quality to create a healthier ecosystem and a healthier community. 

Like all of our work, improving water quality requires a holistic approach that strives to address problems across the whole system. Pierce CD alone is not capable of dealing with the complexity of issues that have led to poor water quality, but we work with partners across the county to implement solutions to these challenges. The niche within this greater system that we fill is working with residential landowners and farmers to implement practices at individual homes and farms that help reduce stormwater pollution and improve local water quality in a measurable way. This strategy reflects key actions that our Water Quality Improvement Program and our Farm Assistance Program will be taking to deepen our impact in the next 5-years in the urban and rural spaces respectively.

To focus and prioritize our work in the urban setting, our Water Quality team conducted a science and community engagement-driven prioritization process in 2019 that identified four key subbasins to target our work. Beginning in 2021, we will “design & deploy a Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) program with a community organizing model” that will “establish a GSI program within these prioritized basins.” This programming will center the design of stormwater projects on community needs, develop a Natural Yard Care program, and establish financial assistance programs to support landowners implementing practices. This program will lead to 5 million gallons of stormwater infiltrated back into the ground annually within 5-years, dramatically reducing stormwater pollution while also significantly increasing urban tree canopy, a key climate resiliency action. This program will also align with our goals around food access, emphasizing opportunities such as Lawns to Lettuce, and Depave to Community Gardens and/or Urban Farms. 

In our more traditional work with farms and farmers, we’ll continue to implement practices that reduce stormwater pollution from things like livestock manure or soil runoff. To deepen the impact of this work however, we will adapt our outreach methods and deploy some new initiatives with partners that can lead to better overall management of these non-point sources of pollution. In particular, our work on the Key Peninsula targets actions that can improve Shellfish beds, and here we will “increase the conversion rate of adult attendees through outreach efforts, workshops and educational events to implement practices that will lead to recovery of Shellfish areas.” While we’ve long worked with landowners to better manage livestock manure, many of these farms produce too much compost to redistribute on their own pastures. Meanwhile, urban gardeners or row crop farms don’t have enough compost to help fertilize their gardens or fields. To address this issue and reduce pollution, we will “work with partners to incubate a manure and compost distribution business.”

Finally, to know how we’re doing and to maintain the improvements we implement, we need to continue to expand the reach, diversity, and engagement of our monitoring and stewardship programs: Stream Team and Habitat Stewards. To this end, and to also meet our equity goals, we will “focus the development of Stream Team and Habitat Stewards programs to engage with broader and more diverse community members.” This focused development will help us increase volunteer capacity to deliver these programs at larger scale, resulting in broader understanding of our water quality improvement efforts and better long-term care of our restoration investments.

Together, these key actions and the work we’ll be doing with the community and partner organizations, will help us achieve multiple long-term goals, including our 2040 goals on Communities of Action, Balanced Ecosystems, and Sustainable Agriculture. Clean water is vital for all of us and for maintaining the biological diversity and health of Pierce County. It will take all of us working together to clean up impaired streams, rivers, lakes, and Puget Sound, but by combining meaningful community engagement with science-based solutions, our local water quality will improve. 

Key Measures:

  • Community sense of ownership in process of developing local Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) program
  • Vitality of local waters, indicated by health of shellfish populations, pollution levels, etc.
  • Effectiveness of depave, tree planting, rain garden installation, and animal waste management projects


Key Action

Five-Year Target(s)



Design & deploy Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) program with a community organizing model

  • GSI program is designed and deployed with community needs fully integrated

Q1 2021 - Q4 2021


Hire and onboard GSI Program Manager




Receive community feedback on prioritization of subbasins




Develop and launch a Natural Yard Care (NYC) program to bundle GSI Best Management Practice (BMP) offerings to the public, including a potential Lawns to Lettuce initiative




Incorporate edible landscaping into GSI programming for greater food access and awareness




Establish GSI program within prioritized basins

  • 5,000,000 gallons of stormwater infiltrated
  • 100 GSI projects implemented
  • 14-acre increase in Urban Tree Canopy

Q1 2022 - Q4 2022


Center design of GSI projects in the community's needs




Establish GSI financial assistance program




Establish a workshop series focused on the developed community (commercial, faith communities, institutional) on integrating GSI into redevelopment




Increase amount of urban tree canopy

  • 14 acre increase in urban tree canopy



Depave to Urban Farm




Increase conversion rate of adult attendees through outreach efforts, workshops and educational events to implement practices that will lead to recovery of Shellfish areas

  • 90% of all education programming participants display knowledge gain
  • 50% of workshop attendees begin implementing conservation practice within 6 months
  • Increase conversion rate (# of attendees/BMPs installed) by .5%

Q1 2021 - Q1 2023


Focus of workshops and implementation recommendations will focus on: manure management and bacteria reductions, and interception of rain, infiltration of rainwater/stormwater

  • 200 of acres of Shellfish areas opened for commercial and/or recreational harvest
  • 400,000 gallons per year diverted.



Work with partners to incubate a manure and compost distribution business.


Q3 2021 - Q4 2025


Collection and management of animal waste




Focus development of Stream Team and Habitat Stewards programs to engage with broader and more diverse community members




Increase volunteer capacity to deliver Habitat Stewardship program at larger scale




Fine tune development of the community peer mentorship approach for Stream Team Chinook Program




Stream cleanup event(s)