By Arunika Bhatia and Chris Spencer, Doris Duke Scholars
Mid-July, nearly 3,000 members of Seattle’s Vietnamese Buddhist community gathered at the Chua Co Lam Pagoda on South Graham Street to celebrate the annual Quan Am festival. Along with live music, dance performances and food, visitors also witnessed the grand debut of a newly installed green stormwater-infrastructure features. Just two days earlier, Tom Le from Sky Landscaping Services finished installing five cisterns to capture rainwater running off the temple’s office roof, as well as a small floral garden to catch any remaining runoff.
Cisterns are super-sized rain barrels that collect rainwater from rooftops, allowing property owners to harvest rain water throughout the winter months and then use that water for irrigation in the summer. Around 38,000 gallons of water will pass through the five cisterns at Co Lam. Along with the large pagoda, office and visitor center, the property also has a community vegetable garden that members use for cooking and terraces lined with trees and shrubs that provide a green space to relax in an otherwise gray area. Capturing rainwater throughout the winter months slows the flow of rainwater into stormwater pipes, and reduces the need for other sources of water to keep these spaces green during the summer.
These types of projects are focused on balancing the needs of urban development and preserving nature. As the population of the Puget Sound region continues to grow, this balance becomes increasingly important. In an interview translated from Vietnamese, Master An shared that “respecting Mother Nature is important to Chua Co Lam’s Buddhist values” and the community upholds the same principles of balance with nature that inform urban conservation. For example, before the installation of this project, the temple was using small buckets and a makeshift hose system to irrigate gardens with rainwater. With the installation of new heavy-duty cisterns, the temple’s capacity to harvest and reuse rainwater is greatly increased.
As the Puget Sound region becomes increasingly diverse, these nature-based projects also need to take into account inclusion and equity. Ensuring that infrastructure is implemented through an equity and inclusion lens is a priority for The Nature Conservancy’s Puget Sound Cities program.
The Conservancy upholds these values of equity and inclusivity by collaborating with partners like ECOSS, an environmental nonprofit organization located in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle. ECOSS utilizes a multi-lingual, community-based approach to Green Stormwater Infrastructure, working with communities throughout Puget Sound. Within the Co Lam project, Kevin Duong, the Vietnamese Community Coordinator at ECOSS, helped recruit and train Tom Le, the Vietnamese owner of an Issaquah-based landscaping group. Tom’s close relationship with head monk, Master An, and his familiarity with the temple ensured that cultural and community needs were respected and incorporated throughout the project.
In addition to the stormwater benefits, the green infrastructure installment at Co Lam is especially exciting because of the high visibility of the temple. With more than 100 families at each service and anywhere between 1,000 and 3,000 attending larger events such as Tet Vietnamese New Year and the Quan Am Festival, this site will be a valuable demonstration of the benefits that green stormwater infrastructure projects can provide for communities. With the support of The Boeing Company, The Nature Conservancy and ECOSS, Co Lam community leaders are empowered to uphold their values of conservation and preservation.