The benefits of trees are endless. Recognizing one benefit in particular - trees' natural role in stormwater management - the cities of Kirkland and Vancouver, in Washington, have integrated urban forestry programs and surface water management plans into one comprehensive watershed approach.

Since 2005, Vancouver has fully funded its urban forest management program with surface water fees.

"What we do in our landscapes throughout the watershed has a direct impact on our water quality. Planting and preserving trees is the easiest and cheapest way to assist in managing stormwater," explains Charles Ray, urban forester of Vancouver. "A thriving urban forest provides a clean and sustainable environment that assists in improving water quality."

Trees can absorb a significant amount of water and readily consume water-polluting nitrates such as phosphorus and potassium, which are considered food, from re-entering water sources. Once the water is absorbed, trees then store it in the canopy and later release it back into the atmosphere through evapotranspiration. In addition, trees help slow down and temporarily store runoff, promoting infiltration and decreasing flooding and erosion downstream.

Vancouver's urban forestry program works toward three goals: maintain and preserve tree canopy, public education and outreach to promote environmental stewardship, and increasing the tree canopy. While keeping these goals in mind, the program provides services such as managing the city's urban forest under the urban forestry management plan, which was adopted into the city's comprehensive land-use plan.

The forestry program provides staff support to a seven-member citizens urban forestry commission, and coordinates contractor and volunteer tree preservation/planting efforts. Public outreach efforts include stressing the importance of the urban forest for stormwater management as part of a comprehensive surface water management program to improve water quality.

In 2008 Bobbi Wallace, surface water & waste manager for Kirkland, Wash., also secured similar funding authorization to enhance surface water management for her city. The program is still fairly new, and Wallace is taking baby steps toward achieving the same level of funding and services as Vancouver. So far, stormwater fee funds are allocated to employ 10% of the public works department's grounds team, grounds techs, and supervisor, and pay half of the city's arborist and urban forester salaries.

Wallace hopes to increase funding to add a full-time position to the grounds team for the 2011 and 2012 bi-annual budget.

American Public Works Association 2010 Congress
"The Nexus: Urban Forestry and Stormwater Management"
Charles Ray
Urban Forester, City of Vancouver, Wash.
Bobbi Wallace
Surface Water & Waste Manager, City of Kirkland, Wash.
Sun., Aug. 15, 2010
3 - 3:50 p.m.