photo of catch basin in a parking lot

The Port of Tacoma is committed to making strategic investments that support economic prosperity in our region, while protecting and enhancing our environment. Through collaborative partnership with various agencies and groups, our Water Quality team is dedicated to improving the quality of stormwater runoff from Port properties on the Tacoma Tideflats by implementing best practices and empowering our tenants to comply with complex permits.

Why managing stormwater matters

Runoff from these sources can:

  • Carry toxic chemicals, nutrients, and bacteria into lakes, rivers, and marine waters.
  • Contribute to shellfish closures and harm salmon habitat.
  • Contaminate drinking water and contribute to toxic chemicals in the food chain.

Stormwater runoff is the leading threat to Washington's urban waters, streambeds, banks, and habitats.

Stormwater is also the leading contributor to water quality pollution in our waterways because it picks up pollutants on roadways, sidewalks, parking lots, industrial and municipal properties.

What is stormwater runoff?

photo of water on a roof

Stormwater is rain and snow melt that runs off rooftops, paved streets, highways, and parking lots. As it runs off, it picks up pollution like oil, fertilizers, pesticides, soil, trash, and even animal waste.

While most runoff that goes into a street drain in our neighborhood flows downstream directly into streams, lakes, and marine waters without being treated (more on that later), the Port and our tenants are responsible for managing stormwater as soon as it hits the ground.

In addition to ports, the Washington State Department of Ecology regulates stormwater across various industries, including confined animal feeding operations, wastewater treatment plants, boat yards, and even wineries.

What’s in the runoff?

Heavy metals like copper and zinc are two pollutants we must manage.

  • Copper could come from vehicle braking, brake pads, asphalt roofing.
  • Zinc could be traced to tires and galvanized metal roofing and fencing.

The Water Quality team works year-round with customers and stakeholders to provide preventative maintenance, spill prevention, employee training, monthly site inspections, and record keeping.


Tapping into creativity and chicken feed

photo of soil in a person's hand

When it comes to development and redevelopment, Port of Tacoma’s waterfront properties face complex challenges brought on by a tidally influenced landscapes and remediated land.

The Water Quality team selects treatment systems that are as flexible as possible in the event a permit requirement changes or a retrofit is needed to increase performance. Over the years, the Port has completed several retrofit projects that have resulted in millions of dollars in savings!

These innovative systems could involve concrete vaults or using untraditional materials like oyster shells, compost and even chicken feed and dog screen to treat stormwater. This mechanism mimics how rain filters through many layers of organic materials like grass, dirt, and rocks in the natural environment.

The Port of Tacoma’s Water Quality team has developed a stormwater treatment system that mimics the way water is filtered and cleaned in the natural environment. After rain falls on a roof, it’s collected in a gutter and discharged into the grass. The water is then filtered through layers of soil, organic matter, and gravel to remove sediment and pollutants before the water eventually enters the water table. The same process is produced using catch basins. Once the water hits a paved surface, it enters a vault to slow the water down and settle out large dirt and debris. It then flows over a wall where it filters through a layer of soil, organic matter, and gravel to remove pollutants before it’s discharged to a conveyance and into a surface water body.

Award-winning programs

The Port's stormwater improvement projects have earned several awards over the years.

West Hylebos Stormwater Infrastructure Project

  • 2014 American Association Port Authorities Award for Comprehensive Environmental Management
  • 2017 California Stormwater Quality Association Outstanding Industrial Best Management Practices Implementation Project

Port of Tacoma Stormwater Management Guidance Manual

  • 2016 American Association Port Authorities Award for Comprehensive Environmental Management

General Central Peninsula Stormwater Improvement Project (OCT-SIM-NIM project)

  • 2015 American Association Port Authorities Award for Comprehensive Environmental Management
  • 2015 Northwest Construction Consumer Council Green Project of the Year

So, what can I do to make a difference?

To help protect the health of our waterways, you can reduce stormwater pollution at the source! It starts with paying attention to stormwater at home, work and in our communities. Here are some tips:

photo of carwash

In your yard:

  • Reduce the amount of paved or hard surface areas around your home. Consider permeable paving for that new patio or driveway.
  • Plant rain gardens, use rain barrels, and filter roof runoff through barrels filled with compost .
  • Wash your car on the lawn or at commercial car wash that recycles water. (This helps prevent runoff pollution, too!)
  • Reduce fertilizers, turf builders and pesticides on your lawn and garden. Instead, use small amounts of slow-release fertilizer and environment-friendly products for problem areas.
  • Use alternative moss removal products on the roof that don’t contain zinc, such as a bleach solution (1 part bleach to 4 parts water). On the lawn, use lime to make the lawn basic because moss prefers acidic soils. Learn more on Natural Yard Care Neighborhoods and Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department websites.
  • Reduce bacterial pollution from animal waste. Scoop pet waste and put it in your garbage. Cover and control animal manure on small farms. Maintain your septic system. This will keep it from failing and causing pollution.

On the road:

  • Reduce pollution from roads, driveways, and parking lots by adopting stormwater catch basins near your house; install and maintain catch basin inserts. Wear and tear on roads, tires and brakes leaves a lot of pollutants behind.
  • Fix vehicle fluid leaks immediately and consider alternatives to driving solo.

In your community:

  • Get involved with community stormwater projects such as marking storm drains, maintaining neighborhood green spaces, and establishing pesticide aware neighborhoods.
  • Participate in your local watershed management group and in land use, stormwater and development planning with your city or county. Support smart development practices that maximize the natural vegetation.

Learn more about our stormwater program