Each time it rains or snow melts, that water runs off rooftops, down sidewalks, and through streets until it reaches a storm drain. This water is known as stormwater. As it moves through urban areas, it picks up pollution from roofs, industrial areas, and roadways. Some of the predominant and most dangerous pollutants in stormwater are PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Once that stormwater is down a drain, the contaminated water eventually drains into the Spokane River. Some of that contaminated water flows into storage tanks – along with our wastewater – to be treated before it enters the river. However, the system is under capacity and every time it rains half an inch or more the tanks overflow, spilling raw sewage and contaminated stormwater directly into the river.

The Lands Council has an innovative solution that will help protect our Spokane River: storm gardens. With storm gardens, stormwater avoids the storm drains entirely by permeating through the garden’s soil. This alleviates the need to store stormwater with wastewater, thus reducing the chances of storage tanks overflowing into the river. Our gardens are some of the first in the nation to use biochar, an organic technology for treating stormwater. Biochar, a waste product from agriculture, is a highly porous form of activated carbon and when added to soil absorbs and binds to pollutants, keeping them out of our river and aquifer. Already The Lands Council has built 3 storm gardens in the Shadle neighborhood, landscaping with native plants that have the added benefit of providing natural pollination corridors. To make a serious impact, however, we need to do more. Rather than waiting for a multi-million/billion dollar retrofit of our water system, The Lands Council can be a part of the solution by building more storm gardens in our region.

Stormwater/Green Technology FAQ's

What is Green Technology?

Technology whose use is intended to mitigate or reverse the effects of human activity on the environment.

What is Low Impact Development (LID)?

Low Impact Development (LID) is a stormwater and land-use management strategy that tries to mimic natural hydrologic conditions by emphasizing the following techniques:

  • Conservation
  • Use of on-site natural features
  • Site planning
  • Distributed stormwater best management practices (BMPs) integrated into a project design

LID best management practices emphasize pre-disturbance hydrologic processes of infiltration, filtration, storage, evaporation, and transpiration. Common LID practices include: bio-retention, storm gardens, permeable pavements, minimal excavation foundations, vegetated roofs, and rainwater harvesting.

What are the Benefits of Low Impact Development?

  • Reduces Pollution in runoff
  • Reduces flooding and protects property
  • Protects drinking water supplies
  • Maintains stream flows and water levels in wetlands
  • Reduces building costs for stormwater management
  • Allows projects to be constructed on less land
  • Results in more attractive neighborhoods

Why use green technology to treat stormwater?

As stormwater moves through urban areas it picks up pollution from roofs, industrial areas, and roadways. Contaminated stormwater goes down the drain and into the Spokane River. Some water is flows into storage tanks along with waste water and treated before entering the river. However, this system overflows when it rains over half an inch therefore spilling raw sewage and contaminated stormwater directly into the river.

Are there toxins in Stormwater?

Yes! Some of the predominant and most dangerous pollutants in stormwater are PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), enters the river through stormwater at a rate higher than all other sources combined. PCBs affect aquatic life and—through fish consumption—impact public health. PCB exposure, which occurs from eating certain Spokane River fish, can cause skin rashes, cancer, liver disease, immune deficiencies, neurological and behavioral complications, and reproductive and endocrine system problems. In addition, for more than a century, our community has lived with a legacy of mining waste consisting of lead, arsenic, cadmium, and zinc originating from Idaho’s Silver Valley. These contaminants can lead to serious health problems in humans. Exposure to heavy metals through contact with beach soils can lead to childhood lead poisoning, nervous system and kidney damage, and cardiovascular disease.

Why should I plant a tree?

For every 5% of tree cover added to a community, polluted stormwater is reduced by 2%. Not only do trees help manage stormwater, they provide shading, air filtration, traffic noise reduction, and home value improvement. One tree can lift up to 100 gallons of water out of the ground per day, keeping polluted stormwater from entering the river or aquifer.

Why should I plant a free Ponderosa provided by The Lands Council?

Ponderosa Pine is the prominent natural tree in our region and the City of Spokane even declared the Ponderosa our City Tree! Ponderosas typically comprise 80% of the forests in our region and are perfectly suited for our climate. Their deep tap roots have access to low water tables and makes them drought tolerant. Since they are native, they also provide habitat for wildlife. The Lands Council also recommends planting other native species like willow or aspen. For more native plants, we recommend the information found here:

What are some Ponderosa Pine care tips?

  • Building a good structure and scaffold is important when caring for Ponderosa pines at installation.
  • Young trees benefit from light pruning to form balanced branches and ensure a strong central leader or trunk.
  • Newly planted Ponderosa pine growing tips include providing supplemental water for the first year, providing a stake or other support and fertilizing with a phosphorus high food to encourage root growth.
  • Plant them in moist, well-drained soil in full sun in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 to 7.
  • No Ponderosa pine plant guide would be complete without mentioning protection from rodents, deer and other pests. Place a collar around young trees to protect them from nibbling damage.

We also recommend you call your local utilities before you dig (Avista 811). Ponderosas can grow to be over 150ft tall and it is recommend to consider this when planting next to your house, power lines, and foundations.


Where can storm gardens be constructed?

Storm gardens can be made in a variety of ways to accommodate space and cost limits. Currently, The Lands Council is advocating for storm gardens to be placed along public roadways and drainages in your neighborhood. If you require more information about making your own storm garden or want to know more about them you can start at:

Who should I contact about putting a storm garden in my neighborhood or household?

You can contact The Lands Council who will then bring your response to the table when consulting organizations and governmental agencies who will be implementing storm gardens. You can email for questions and request more information.

I’ve contacted The Lands Council about a Storm Garden, now what?

The Lands Council is currently gauging interest and will work with partnering organizations and agencies to determine the best locations and strategies for installing a storm garden. Neighborhoods with supporters and advocates will likely be chosen so we encourage you to advocate in your community for more green infrastructure. If you’re interested in creating your own you can find out more at:

Is this the same as SpokaneScape?

The City of Spokane introduced SpokaneScape as water-efficient landscaping that has been designed specifically for the Spokane area; its focus is on the replacement of lawn with low-volume irrigation and drought tolerant plant material. To learn more visit the SpokaneScape site: