Ravensdale, Washington

The Green River, or the Duwamish River, flows through the Cascade mountains into Auburn, Wash. over the course of 90 miles. Since the 1800s, the Green-Duwamish river has seen rapid development in industry and commerce along its banks, the Duwamish Basin becoming the core of Seattle’s economic hub.  

Last Friday, the Changing Currents team set out for the Cascades. In true Northwest September fashion, the early morning weather was misty and sprinkled with rain showers; not heavy enough to deter this crew, however. We arrived at the Green River Headworks in Ravensdale, Wash. to interview Tacoma Water’s Deputy Superintendent Chris McMeen. 

Tacoma Water provides drinking water, and other water utilities, to 320,000 people in the Tacoma area. In terms of size, there are 400 large water systems in the US, and Tacoma’s ranks #100 on that list. The Green-Duwamish River has been Tacoma’s source of water since 1913.

McMeen told us about the significant economic and social impacts the Green-Duwamish river has on the Tacoma community.  “100 years ago, Tacoma decision makers chose the Green River for [their] water source. Rivers are generally the only sources that can feed the demands of a large and growing community…[it’s the] lifeblood of ecosystems…Rivers have multiple uses, needs, and pressures,” McMeen said.

McMeen explained that these growing communities have left an impact on the river and its ecosystems in a way that weren’t really understood 40-50 years ago.  

Particularly here in the Northwest, salmon are an iconic and integral part of the river. However, today they are faced with threats, like diseases, that are caused by urban pollution. In order to facilitate growing numbers and successful seasons, Tacoma Water actively helps monitor what fish are passing through and managing their inland travels through relocation. Fortunately, salmon are protected through regulation, but outside sources of pollution and habitat loss pose real threats to these fish.

“Salmon capture people’s imaginations,” McMeen claimed.

There is something about fish that stirs a connection in people. When it comes to conservation, engaging people with these animals and allowing them to feel that connection is what inspires community involvement.

When asked what would happen should the community abandon the idea of protecting and conserving our rivers, McMeen stressed the importance of the river as infrastructure.

“People would leave and it would erode the structure of the community. If infrastructure fails, people leave because they have to.”  

Our waterways provide basic needs that often times we don’t think about until the charge on a bill is higher than expected.

“People don’t realize that we’re connected to supplies that are right under our feet. What people do in their yards can have an effect on water sources directly,” McMeen said.  

It is the simple habits and choices that can really make a difference.

“Don’t run water when brushing [your] teeth, be smart about irrigation, use water effectively as possible,” McMeen suggested.  

Be engaged – there’s nothing bad about being an informed citizen.

McMeen explained, “Citizen engagement only improves outcomes.”

While the situation may seem bleak, McMeen stated that there has been a steady increase in improvements – people are becoming more aware of their water consumption.  

“Over the last 30 years, really in the last 10, water consumption and awareness have changed drastically in a positive way.”  

By performing simple tasks that really add up, everyone can be an advocate for the river.

For photos of our time in Ravensdale, please visit our Green River gallery page.