Celebrating our 20th Anniversary, Featuring King County Wastewater Treatment Division and Susan Tallarico

Celebrating our 20th Anniversary, Featuring King County Wastewater Treatment Division and Susan Tallarico


“IslandWood is working to teach about the importance of water in our ecosystems and contributing to our ability to have a cleaner Puget Sound.”



The Brightwater Education Center in Woodinville.

The King County Wastewater Treatment Division (KCWTD) has been a critical partner in IslandWood’s growth over the last 10+ years, particularly in helping to expand our ability to reach children with programs beyond our Bainbridge campus and to broaden the idea of  “the environment” to include urban systems. It’s impossible to talk about IslandWood’s growth and history without recognizing the significant role KCWTD has played in our evolution.


For the past ten years, IslandWood has delivered programs for 3rd – 6th grade classes at the Brightwater Education Center in Woodinville, which is owned and operated by KCWTD. At the Center, we typically reach about 7,000 students a year with learning aimed at understanding the water cycle and how humans and the built environment impact the quality of our water, with consequences for humans, plants, and animals. In 2023, our work with KCWTD expanded to include offering programming at the South Plant in Renton, further increasing our ability to reach more children with programs in their communities.


Hear from Susan Tallarico, Education and Engagement Manager for King County Department of Natural Resources, as she shares why KCWTD engaged with IslandWood over a decade ago and why they continue to partner with IslandWood to deliver education programs for children and the community.



King County and IslandWood staff based at the Brightwater Center. Susan is seen here at far left.

How did you first interact with IslandWood?


I was one of the first ‘graduate interns’ that IslandWood had back before it opened in 2002. I was in the middle of getting my graduate degree at Lesley University in conservation education and I, along with others, were brought in as interns to help with the start-up and creation of what became the School Overnight Program and Graduate Programs. We took the first graduate classes; developed the curriculum and were the first folks to live in the staff/grad cabins!



And how did you become involved with IslandWood in your role at KCWTD?


The Brightwater Center in Woodinville was completed and opened in 2011. We had decided to go big on education. Really, the Center was built out of a community ask – an ask for a community education center, a robust green and park space, and a community event space. We went through a formal RFP process for organizations that could provide educational programming, and obviously, I had already known IslandWood at that point as well. It was a time when IslandWood was looking to expand programming and reach on this side of the water, into the Greater Seattle area. Working with us gave IslandWood a physical space in the Seattle area and allowed them to kick off and establish their urban presence and programming. It was a perfect fit for us given IslandWood’s mission and their niche and expertise in providing (particularly at the time) elementary and family programming. I also knew from my own experience with IslandWood that their programs would be staffed by really good, well-trained educators.



A child kneels beside a pond at Brightwater, and uses a net to get a sample of the plant life in the pond.

A child kneels beside a pond at Brightwater using a net to get a sample of the plant life in the pond during an IslandWood program.

Ten years later, what keeps KCWTD working with IslandWood to deliver these programs?


IslandWood has continued to prioritize and focus energy, effort, and resources on its urban programs. It’s really become a big piece of IslandWood – the idea that urban environmental education is just as important, and can be more relevant even, than programs that bring kids to the woods. IslandWood’s urban programs have put a lot of focus on the bigger definition of “the environment” and broadening people’s minds about what this looks like, and that it includes the built infrastructures too. Kids talk about how they never thought about where water goes or what happens when things go down a drain – and this is a huge part of environmental education too. It’s great that IslandWood has evolved to teach both kinds of experiences – the urban and the residential experience on Bainbridge – which makes environmental education more inclusive. IslandWood is working to teach about the importance of water in our ecosystems and contributing to our ability to have a cleaner Puget Sound.



Why is providing educational programming important to KCWTD?


You know, we’ve become too good at hiding the pipes and water infrastructure underground. People don’t realize that they are part of the water cycle and that there are issues with our water systems. Polluted stormwater is a huge problem for our region and there are many ways that people can help. I believe that we’re not going to get attitude and behavior change without increased awareness and knowledge, so we’re putting resources and attention into programs that increase community engagement on these critical issues. We know we’ll have better outcomes for our communities and the planet when we increase understanding around water issues and try and create more water stewards.



A huge thank you to King County Wastewater Treatment Division and Susan for all their support, collaboration, and innovation over the last 10+ years. We look forward to many more years of inspiring water stewards together!



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