Improving Puget Sound’s health has been a decades-long project costing several hundred millions of dollars. The Puget Sound Partnership, a state agency charged with coordinating the recovery battle, faces daunting challenges brought by the intensity and growth of human activity on the Sound’s shoreline and in watersheds that drain into it.
An inventory of our region’s efforts — in a 2015 report to the governor and Legislature — showed small progress is being made on many fronts. But the PSP report also found deteriorating conditions in some areas and stalemate in others.
Progress was in the areas of restoring estuaries, floodplains and riparian areas, in shellfish beds returned to production, and in inspections of shoreline sewage or septic systems. Loss of land to development and the plight of herring, Chinook salmon, orcas and the condition of marine waters were listed as ongoing worries.
Stormwater containing nasty chemicals is seen as the biggest threat to the Sound, which U.S. Rep. Denny Heck of Olympia describes as our nation’s largest marine estuary by water volume. Add to this the global challenge of ocean acidification that lurks as a new threat to the Sound.
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That is why all should support the ongoing efforts of Heck and his 6th Congressional District ally, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer of Tacoma. The two Democrats are advancing a bill that would raise the national profile of Puget Sound at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
They are calling their measure the PUGET-SOS, or Promoting United Government Efforts to Save Our Sound. Heck said the goal behind H.R. 3630 is to declare Puget Sound a water body of national significance and designate an EPA office to Puget Sound’s health. It would align federal environmental efforts with those of state and local governments and tribes, which have treaty rights to a share of fish and shellfish found in Puget Sound waters.
Heck noted during a recent visit with The Olympian editorial board that all 10 Washington members of the House are co-sponsors of PUGET-SOS, as are a few lawmakers from other states.
Kilmer and Heck also are sponsoring H.R. 4648, which promotes a financing tool for green approaches to stormwater infrastructure. This bill would add a line in the EPA’s clean-water revolving fund for green stormwater infrastructure, or GSI; states could apply for competitive grants through the fund.
Heck and Kilmer created the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus in 2013 as freshmen in Congress. If they cannot get their Puget Sound bill to move, they’ll try to attach it to a water resources bill. If that fails, their hope is that President Barack Obama issues an order designating Puget Sound as a water body of national significance.
Obama issued such an order to protect the Chesapeake Bay in 2009.
Any progress on Puget Sound is sure to be slow, but any movement that adds cohesion to the effort is worthwhile. Local and state governments bear the greatest burden, but Heck and Kilmer’s colleagues from around the nation need to get on board and make it a national priority to restore the health of Puget Sound.