Seattle resident turns open sewers back into streams

 

After John Beal returned to Seattle from the Vietnam War, he and his family often picnicked on a wooded hillside where a large pond fed a meandering stream. Twelve years ago, developers bought the property and sold it to a sand-and-gravel pit operator.

"I watched over a period of five years as it was absolutely devastated," says Beal. "No one said a word about it and then it was just gone. That's what made me decide that I was going to start standing up for these water systems."

Since then, Beal and his I'M A PAL (International Marine Association Protecting Aquatic Life) foundation, which works to restore streams, have received awards from the United Nations and Seattle Audubon Society. Beal is an innovator in two areas: urban habitat restoration and forging cooperation among business, government and environmentalists. His labors have taken place in one of the Pacific Northwest's most industrial areas: the South Park district of Seattle.

Fifty years ago, the Duwamish River, which runs past Boeing and other major industries in Seattle, was home to mighty fish runs of coho, chum and king salmon, and steelhead and cutthroat trout. The fish swam out of the Duwamish into the spawning channels - Hamm Creek and Ninety-Sixth St. Stream - that crisscross Beal's neighborhood.

As Seattle's industry rapidly expanded during World War II, the resulting pollution virtually destroyed the fish runs. The spawning streams were turned into a wasteland until Beal began to restore them.

Beal, a big man with shaggy-dog gray hair, has made almost daily visits to his streams for over a decade. There, he has performed all the nitty-gritty tasks of habitat restoration: taking away tires, refrigerators and hazardous waste; bringing in trees, plants, fish, birds and mammals.

Now the three-and-a-half miles of stream once again host beavers, great blue herons, catfish and frogs. This year Beal counted 60 spawning salmon making their way up the stream.

In cooperation with the State Department of Wildlife and regional water quality agencies, Beal has taken a number of steps to clean up pollutants and reduce sediment in the streams. Sediment is the enemy because it can smother eggs which salmon or trout deposit in a stream's gravel. Beal constructed a series of small dams and ponds to trap sediment at the top of Ninety-Sixth St. Stream.

The dams "slow the water down and allow the sediment to fall out," says state biologist Phil Schneider. Eventually, Beal says, he'll dig out the soft gray mud which is filling up his ponds and haul it away.

Beal also combats sediment, erosion and pollution by planting native vegetation like watercress, lady fern and water lily in and around the streams. Schneider says watercress "can trap sediment and actually uptake pollutants and improve water quality." He also says the plants provide the stream with a scent for salmon to home in on and follow when they are returning to spawn.

When Beal began his cleanup efforts he discovered that some businesses were illegally dumping hazardous waste into the streams. So he went door-to-door in his neighborhood, talking with area companies about their waste-disposal practices, and discovered that many felt overwhelmed by the complexity and expense of regulations.

Beal responded by putting together a coalition of local businesses and government agencies which set up the Environmental Co-op of South Seattle. The idea behind the co-op was simple. Through forming a kind of buyers' cooperative, the businesses hope to negotiate better prices from hazardous waste handlers than any single company could receive on its own.

The co-op is trying to set up milk runs, where a hazardous waste hauler will go from one member's business to another's, all on the same day, and pick up enough waste to qualify for a bulk discount. Lower prices will reward the businesses which are in compliance and, the co-op hopes, attract those that are illegally dumping.

Though still in its infancy, the co-op represents a promising trend in an era where business, government and environmentalists are so frequently mired in conflict. Last fall, the co-op received public and private grants to expand its activities.

Does this mean Beal will end up spending more time in co-op meetings than out on the stream? It doesn't seem likely. Beal says he needs to work outdoors to feel right with the world.

For more information, contact I'M A PAL at 742 South Southern, Seattle, WA 98108 (206/762-3640).

The writer free-lances out of Seattle, Washington.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • WASHINGTON DC REPRESENTATIVE
    Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Washington, DC Position Reports to: Program Director The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is seeking a Washington, DC Representative...
  • REGIONAL CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    Position Title: Regional Campaign Organizers (2 positions) Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Preferred Billings, MT; remote location within WORC's region (in or near Grand Junction...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....