TACOMA, Wash. — It may have looked and even felt like recess, but students at Sherman Elementary School were actually hard at work helping the orcas.
The kids made a rain garden for their class project, with a little help from adults.
"Mulch is an important thing to keep the weeds from growing. It keeps moisture around the plants. And why do we like rain gardens? Because they help orcas!" said Defenders of Wildlife Northwest Representative Robb Krehbiel.
Krehbiel led the frenzy of digging for a program called Orcas Love Raingardens. It will filter stormwater run-off from their school's roof and keep it from flowing down drains and into Puget Sound.
Just like another Tacoma rain garden, which is the largest of its kind in the world right now.
Jessica Knickerbocker spearheaded the construction of the Point Defiance Urban Rain garden, which filters stormwater from 750 surrounding acres. That adds up to about 8 million gallons of stormwater a day during an average rain event.
"When it is raining, this fills up and it is black like tar. If you were to touch it, it is sticky at times to the point of, one day I may have done that and had to wash my hands three or four times to get the stickiness off of it," explained Knickerbocker.
"Most of the city of Tacoma doesn't provide water quality treatment of its stormwater sewer before it goes into Puget Sound, so all of the dirty contaminants from our roads and cars and homes go basically down the pipes and into Puget Sound untreated," she said.
The rain garden at Sherman Elementary is smaller but no less important, Krehbiel says.
"All of these students are going to become the next generation of leaders in Tacoma and Washington. Green stormwater infrastructure is a low-cost and, in my opinion, commonsense thing to do to reduce our impact on Puget Sound, salmon and orcas. It's important to get these kids to start thinking about how what we do up here on land is connected to what happens in the ocean as soon as possible," Krehbiel said.
Protecting orcas and their habitat may seem like a daunting and insurmountable challenge, but if we can learn anything from the students, it's that working together is the way to begin.