Volunteers across the Duwamish River watershed plan on coming together to clean up trash, restore native plants, remove invasive species and learn how to better care for the lands and waters of the region on April 16. It is the first time that the Duwamish Alive Coalition, an alliance of community members and organizations located in the Duwamish and Green River Valleys, will meet at full capacity after a two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus.
The Earth Month day of action will start with a welcoming ceremony across the street from the Duwamish Longhouse in h apus Village Park. Community members will be given native plans and invited to learn about the work being done to restore the ecosystem.
According to Sharon Leishman, director of the coalition, volunteers will participate in a variety of activities including removing trash from the riverbed on kayaks, restoring local wetlands, participating in guided nature walks and learning about the cultural significance of the river to the Duwamish tribe and Coast Salish peoples.
“Having a healthy environment is not only critical to the health of our region, but for community members that live in South Seattle and Tukwila,” Leishman said.
Leishman says restoring the environment is particularly important for low income and underserved communities in the South End that often lack the same access to nature as more privileged parts of the city.
“A lot of the community members don’t have the ability to get in the car and go out to the national parks or the state parks that are up in the mountains,” Leishman said.
South Seattle and King County, including the Duwamish and Green River valleys, have experienced a lot of environmental injustices and industrial pollution. According to a 2016 study conducted by Puget Sound Sage and the University of Washington School of Public Health, the South Park and Georgetown neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by diesel air pollution from trucks and other vehicles.
Portions of the lower Duwamish River are considered some of the most polluted areas in the country, home to a superfund site, a contaminated area that will take long-term mitigation efforts as designated by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Duwamish River Community Coalition (DRCC), a nonprofit organization that is engaged in the cleanup, protested an attempt by the federal government to scale down efforts to repair the damage in 2021.
In 2021, the Duwamish Alive Coalition held a limited day of action due to COVID-19, including youth who participated in the kayak cleanup. DRCC Community Engagement and Communications Specialist Magdalena Angel-Cano said that the opportunity to be on the kayaks was really important because it allowed youth from underrepresented communities to connect directly with nature.
“Many of our folks don’t know what restoration means. Many don’t know how to kayak. Many have never been in the water and seen the river from the inside out,” Angel-Cano said.
In addition to restoration work, Duwamish Alive will also be celebrating the recent allocation of a $220 million federal grant to install a fish passage in the Howard A. Hanson Dam, which is located on the Green River. Leishman says that the passage will dramatically expand the salmon habitat, restoring hundreds of acres of spawning grounds upstream.
“The Duwamish River is unique in that we have all five species of salmon in the river, including the Chinook, which is really important for our orca,” Leishman said in a 2021 interview.
Guy Oron is the staff reporter for Real Change. Find them on Twitter, @GuyOron.
Read more of the Apr. 13-19, 2022 issue.