FOLIAGE WEEK | Yes, we’re still celebrating the first full week of spring! Today, learn about the work of our Urban Forestry Irrigation Team.

Street trees in Seattle. Photo Credit: SDOT Flickr.

Foliage Week continues!  

To celebrate the start of Spring, we’re highlighting the work of our Urban Forestry team – along with our partners at the Office of Sustainability and the Environment and Seattle Public Utilities – who work together to maintain our city’s trees and green spaces.   

Today, we are shining a spotlight on our Urban Forestry irrigation team.  

We were lucky enough to talk to a few incredible SDOT employees who work each day to make sure that our street trees and urban landscape are well-watered and manage stormwater runoff sustainably and efficiently. 

The Urban Forestry Irrigation Team manages, maintains, and repairs all of the irrigation systems in SDOT’s formal landscapes and right-of-way green spaces.   

Meet two members of our Urban Forestry irrigation team: Cliserio Bonilla and Jose Dominguez! 

Cliserio Bonilla (left), and Jose Dominguez (right), pictured in November 2019 (pre-pandemic). Photo Credit: SDOT.  

Cliserio is SDOT’s Irrigation Lead and Senior Grounds Equipment Mechanic. Jose’s role is Facilities Maintenance Worker. 


Hello Cliserio and Jose! What do you do at SDOT?  

CliserioAs Irrigation Lead, I am in charge of all irrigation systems for SDOT. I also respond to irrigation repairs for private systems that were unintentionally damaged. I help review and modify irrigation plans and inspect contractor installations for Capital Improvement Projects, assisting SDOT landscape architect Shane Dewald.  

Jose: I am the Facilities Maintenance Worker for the SDOT Urban Forestry Irrigation Crew. This means that I inspect, troubleshoot, repair, install, and maintain all of SDOT’s irrigation systems. 


What do you like about your role?  

CliserioI like that I have full support and trust from my crew, my supervisor, managers, and the senior landscape architect to perform my role. I oversee every aspect of maintenance, monitoring, installations, renovations, inventory, scheduling, and managing the workload of SDOT’s irrigation systems – some of which have been around for many years. 

Jose: I like the fact that I can work with my hands and tools. I like to provide irrigation systems that function well for the plants and trees they provide water for. 


What was a recent rewarding or challenging project you completed?  

Cliserio: The E Prospect St Shoreline Street End Project was both challenging and rewarding. About two years ago, a former Madison Park resident sought to transform a 11,000 square foot area of unimproved right-of-way at the E Prospect St shoreline street end into a nature preserve. (Read more here!

The preserve is a piece of land between the north boundary of the Seattle Tennis Club and residences on 41st Ave E and E Prospect St. It was created with the help of volunteers, Seattle Tennis Club staff, and SDOT Shoreline Street Ends and Urban Forestry staff. From April 2019 to May 2020, volunteers had installed over 600 native shrubs and 40 trees on the site.  

Work on the East Prospect St Shoreline Street Ends project. Photo Credit: SDOT.

Due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on crew capacity, installation of the irrigation system was delayed last summer. During this time, volunteers watered the large site with a hose and water provided by the Seattle Tennis Club. 

Earlier this month, the Urban Forestry irrigation team, consisting of Irrigation lead Cliserio Bonilla, Jose Dominguez, Alekisio Pupungatoa, and Marvin Maaele, completed the irrigation installation! Kim Rhodes, Maintenance Laborer and an incredible equipment operator used equipment called a “tractor dingo” to excavate through roots, rocks, and debris.  Urban Forestry gardeners Hannah Held and Joey Buchholz followed up with weeding and mulching of the excavated area. The water utilized by the irrigation system is provided by the Seattle Tennis Club via a 3-year agreement and temporary construction easement, which made the project cost-efficient and effective.  

Jose: Recently, the irrigation crew set up traffic control to extend irrigation to the north half of the new median on 7th Avenue N between Denny and N Thomas St.  New lines and sprinklers were installed over a two day period. It was rewarding to complete a project that will ultimately ensure the plants survive. 


What is something you wish Seattle residents knew about Urban Forestry or our urban landscape?  

CliserioOur landscapes and trees mean a lot to our residents and our community, and provide the green spaces and natural environment that make Seattle the Emerald City. 

Jose: People are always grateful for the work we do and the landscapes that we maintain. They provide green spaces and beautify the urban environment for all residents. 


We also talked to Landscape Supervisor Gary Hren about some recent projects the irrigation team has completed in 2021. 

At Roosevelt Way NE & NE 75th St: We added a new flow meter sensor to be able to monitor water usage remotely. We will know when there is a malfunction, leak, or problem with a system almost immediately when it happens in real time! The system will detect flow problems and alert the crew virtually. Soon, we’ll renovate the  existing irrigation system, and add a flow meter sensor that allows us to detect water leaks, water use, and flow remotely.

On the Burke Gilman Trail: This was a challenging project on the trail near the Ballard Locks. Here, there were  tree roots damaging our irrigation systems, causing leaks under concrete sidewalks. To solve this challenge, we used an “air spade” to go under the base of the tree to bypass the water pipes and not damage the root system. Air spading helps excavate around tree roots using pressurized air. This is less invasive than digging, and does not damage the roots or irrigation system. This also helped avoid the expense and effort of breaking out and rebuilding sidewalk adjacent to the tree. We did this at the medians on Greenwood Ave N from N 107th to N 112th Streets.

We’re grateful for the hard work of our irrigation team!