Photo depicting a StormFest educator wearing a blue jacket speaking to a group of middle-school youth gathered around tables with maps and drawings under a green "Parks, Recreation, & Cultural Services" pop-up tent.

StormFest Combines Science, Environment, and Students to Combat Water Pollution

by Sarah Goh


The Puget Sound’s lakes and waters are dangerously at risk, and it all starts on our streets, rooftops, and even sports fields. In Washington alone, stormwater is the source of one-third of all of the state’s water pollution. 

Though usually starting out as rain, stormwater eventually mixes with sediment and contamination — oil, fertilizers, soil, soaps, chemical spills, etc. — when it hits the ground. The polluted runoff is directed into storm drains and enters Washington’s waters still tainted with our pollutants. 

To spread awareness about stormwater, five jurisdictions of Washington and the Highline Public Schools district have committed to an annual education event. StormFest is a stormwater science festival for students at five middle schools within the Highline school district. The program started in 2018 when the City of Burien received a grant for stormwater education. 

“The main goal of StormFest is to give students a hands-on science education experience,” Burien environmental education specialist Paige Morris said. 

StormFest originally occurred as a field-trip event with all five Highline sixth grade classes traveling to Des Moines Beach Park for the three-day event. However, since the pandemic made it hard for schools to organize, Morris said they decided to bring StormFest to schools themselves.

For 10 event days this year from April to June, the Stormfest committee brought models, curriculums, and educators to the middle schools. 

This year, students took two days to learn about stormwater and solutions that could prevent stormwater pollution. Day one was spent sorting and collecting aquatic macroinvertebrates — animals without backbones — and learning about the tolerance these organisms have to polluted habitats. Day two consisted of 3D models and maps of watersheds — areas of land that drain to bodies of water — where students learned how their local watershed could impact the environment.

Photo depicting two middle-school-aged youth looking at a diagram of a city neighborhood next to a body of water while an educator has the pair run through an experiment using the diagram.
Day two of this year’s StormFest consisted of 3D models and maps of watersheds — areas of land that drain to bodies of water — where students learned how their local watershed could impact the environment. (Photo: Sarah Goh)

“A lot of these students recognize what stormwater is,” Morris said, “but this helps bring the concept closer to home … for example a golf course near your house and the fertilizer it has that [contaminates] stormwater.”

The StormFest committee recruits educators locally from the community and pays them a stipend as well. Some of these educators also speak other languages. Morris said interpreters are provided at these events with the curriculum translated into Spanish and Vietnamese. 

“It’s really working for the kids,” Pacific Middle School science teacher A.J. LeCompte said. “StormFest brought what we couldn’t do in the classroom.”

Though StormFest is currently a Highline school district program, Morris wants to increase awareness of the accessibility of their resources. All of the StormFest equipment, kits, and models can be checked out by any school district in Washington for free. The curriculum and its lessons are online for teachers to use as well. 

For more information about how to participate in StormFest and stormwater education, contact Paige Morris at PaigeM@burienwa.gov.


Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 06/13/2022 to correct and clarify that five jurisdictions of Washington and the Highline Public Schools district (not just King County as previously reported) committed to holding an annual education event to spread awareness about stormwater; StormFest originally occurred as a field-trip event for sixth-grade students (not all Highline middle schools as previously reported); and the StormFest event lasts for 10 days (not five as previously reported).


Sarah Goh is a Singaporean American journalist who graduated from the University of Washington with a dual-degree in biology and journalism. At the intersection of community, science, and humanities, she hopes to elevate marginalized voices and explore the overlooked and unexpected through her writing. Find her at sarahsgoh.com or on Twitter @sarahsgoh.

📸 Featured Image: StormFest is a stormwater science festival for students at five middle schools within the Highline school district. (Photo: Sarah Goh)

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