Guardians of the Sound: He wants kids to see salmon in creeks



BELLEVUE -- As a college student in the '70s, Damon Diessner spent summers picking trash out of streams here -- enough to fill dump trucks.

"Back in those days, we were pulling refrigerators and washers and dryers, even car bodies, out of rivers and streams," Diessner recalled.

photo by Paul Joseph Brown / P-I
Damon Diessner has been working for the environment since the 1970s. Those junkyard days are gone, but the threat to Puget Sound and its tributaries lives on in the form of fast-flowing, tainted stormwater from suburban sprawl.

Diessner has been tackling that evolving puzzle for 30 years.

As a University of Washington philosophy major with an interest in water science, he stenciled thousands of storm drains to remind people not to dump waste. He went on to help the city create pioneering development standards and designs to control runoff.

"Somewhere in there I got married and had kids and went back to school, and then I look around, and now it's the 21st century, and here I am," said Diessner, now 49.

He is still a leader, now as assistant director of the environment division for Bellevue utilities.

Bill Leif, a water quality supervisor for Snohomish County, worked with Diessner on a three-county plan to protect salmon from tainted urban runoff. He praises Diessner's dedication to "doing the right thing."

Diessner proudly describes Lakemont Park, where tennis courts, a playground and walking trails camouflage underground facilities that cleanse the runoff from surrounding homes and apartments before it drains into Lake Sammamish. The city made the decade-old project work by cooperating with developers.

"Usually you have the stormwater manager and developers on opposite sides," he said. "Yeah, we took up a lot of land for stormwater, but it's useable."

A man who knows his subject, Diessner credits city leaders for taking "visionary steps" to protect streams and wetlands, creating the nation's first stormwater utility in 1974.

"I was just a kid who happened to walk into all that," he said.

Today's challenges are more complex than the early goal of simply preventing flood damage. "If our kids are going to see huge salmon, if we're going to have water that's clean and you can see the bottom of streams, we're going to (have to) do some other things," Diessner said.

It took awhile for his two daughters to get the message. They called him "sewer man" -- until he showed them a 40-pound chinook salmon swimming in a local stream.

"We're slowing the brakes down in this headlong rush toward the abyss," he said. "And I think we're going to get it stopped."


The Seattle P-I did a special series, click here.


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site