What began as a project to filter stormwater at the Port of Vancouver has evolved into an innovation now being spread to businesses up and down the Columbia River.
A volunteer effort took place last week to create 20 Grattix boxes to be offered for free to businesses along the Columbia from Scappoose, Ore., to Rainier, Ore., and on the Washington side from Woodland to Longview. The Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, with a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, spearheaded the effort.
As they departed from the port shuttle, the group of volunteers donned safety vests and began shoveling rocks and sand for the boxes — back-breaking work.
This effort to get actual boxes out to the community is a first for the partnership, a pilot project of sorts.
Aaron Guffey, stormwater project manager at the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, hopes the donations will be like a grocery store sample, encouraging businesses to create even more boxes. He expects those receiving the boxes to get a feel for them and how little maintenance they require and how great they look for a business.
“Hopefully, it’ll drive a lot more adoption of the box,” said Guffey.
The process is simple. This particular effort involved using 250-gallon plastic food-grade totes, cutting off their tops and pouring in layers of rock, sand, retention soil and hardwood mulch. They’re then topped with plants — rushes and sedges. Each layer is rinsed to remove small particles known as fines.
Matt Graves and his partner Mary Mattix, who invented the Grattix box, have played around with the thickness of the levels over the years, trying to balance water draining at a good speed while still allowing enough time to treat it.
Different buildings with varying roof surface areas may require different sizes of filtration systems in order to treat the water.
Graves and Mattix both work in the port’s environmental office. She is the environmental program manager and Graves is the environmental manager, managing the port’s water quality, stormwater permits, wastewater permits and the drinking water system.
The two concocted the idea in 2009 in an effort to fix the port’s runoff problem without having to buy an expensive system that would require forever being committed to that product.
The boxes are able to remove nearly all zinc — 90 percent to 100 percent — from the runoff, as well as 60 percent to 75 percent of copper.
These are the metals that affect salmon populations in the nearby Columbia River. Washington and Oregon, therefore, allow some of the lowest levels of such runoff, said Graves.
Every roof has some zinc in it, he added, but the industrial galvanized roofs next to the river are of particular concern. Graves said the boxes need to be replaced about every nine to 10 years, though he’d encourage testing the water on some roofs after about five.
Spread the word
Mattix and Graves want to spread their design to as many people as they can.
“We wanted everyone to be able to build these and solve their own stormwater problems,” said Graves.
They’ve held workshops up and down the West Coast. They’ve partnered with colleges. They’ve worked with students in Honolulu and Virginia. There’s even a section of the port’s website that describes how to build one.
“Matt (Graves) and Mary Mattix have a great idea here,” said Guffey. And both these inventors, along with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, want to see more of it out in the world.