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SHA's First RainWise Garden at Willis House


SHA's First RainWise Garden at Willis House

On August 13,  Willis House residents celebrated the first RainWise installation at  the Seattle Housing Authority. This is SHA's first green stormwater retrofit project with King County Wastewater Treatment Division and Seattle Public Utilities. 

But what does that mean? It means a system has been installed that drains rain water from the roof into a rain garden and/or ten large tanks, called cisterns.  The cisterns can hold up to 5,300 gallons of rain water total. Instead of the rain water quickly gushing into storm drains, the cisterns and rain garden capture the water, allowing it to slowly trickle into storm drains and then to the wastewater treatment facility.

Why is that important? During the rainy months, October through April, our storm and sewer system in Seattle is put under a lot of strain. Heavy rainfall causes the system to overflow and backup into the Puget Sound, Duwamish River and other local waters. When that happens, human waste, heavy metals, oils from roads and other pollutants are also dumped into these waters. It’s not only highly toxic to salmon, orcas and other wildlife, but also people swimming or fishing in these waters. The RainWise installation at Willis House prevents more than 30,000 gallons per year of polluted water from entering precious waters. You can read more about RainWise and how our contribution helps local communities by visiting

In the summer months, when we are not so worried about heavy rain storms, we can close the cisterns so they fill up with water. Residents and staff may then use that water for gardening and landscaping purposes. It’s a win-win!

This work could not have been done without Vireo Design Studio, a Seattle-based landscape architectural and design firm led by Jan Satterthwaite. Jan and her team worked in the winter and spring of 2019 to have the installation completed in June 2019. Please check out Vireo Design Studio’s other work by visiting