Treating runoff on State Street

It’s always hard to swallow when street trees are removed from the Olympia cityscape. A street tree in full bloom or showing off its fall foliage beats the heck out of a street sign or billboard.

But sometimes trees have to be sacrificed for the greater good. That’s the case with the State Avenue Stormwater Retrofit project.

The city is removing 19 street trees on State Street between Central Street and East Bay Drive as part of a larger project to improve treatment of stormwater runoff that currently drains untreated into Moxlie Creek, and eventually flows into East Bay in lower Budd Inlet.

Some of the trees are in the way of stormwater infiltration devices that the contractor is installing to reduce pollution reaching Puget Sound. Some conflict with curb extensions designed to slow down traffic and improve pedestrian safety. Still others have root systems that are damaging the sidewalks.

It leaves State Street a little barren this winter, but city officials said the finished project next spring will include 29 new trees suitable for urban landscapes to replace the 19 lost to the project. That’s not a bad tradeoff.

More importantly, the project tackles what studies show to be the number one water quality problem confronting Puget Sound urban stormwater runoff, which carries a witches brew of oil, grease, heavy metals nitrogen and suspended solids into the region’s treasured body of marine water.

It’s important that all jurisdictions along the shores of Puget Sound not only reduce stormwater runoff from new projects, but tackle stormwater retrofit efforts like the State Avenue project.

They are expensive – the State Avenue combined project totals $1.74 million – but inaction is even more costly to the marine environment and marine species that need cleaner water to survive.