Guide to tell water health

After two years of study, the state agency charged with cleaning up Puget Sound has come up with 20 "vital signs" it will use to measure the restoration.

David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, compared the indicators, announced Monday, to those used by medical doctors to assess human health.

“Naming these indicators is a major milestone in our efforts to restore the Sound and measure our success,” he said.

Twelve of the indicators are quantifiable scientifically and were chosen as representatives of a “family” of related issues, according to the agency.

Several of the scientific indicators relate to the populations of various wildlife species: wild chinook salmon, southern resident orcas , Pacific herring and key Puget Sound bird species.

The indicators also include the amount of toxics found in Pacific herring, English sole and salmon, and the amount of toxins in sediments.

Success also will be measured by the percent of shorelines blocked by bulkheads and by types of land use in upland areas, including the percentage of impervious surfaces, such as roads, roofs and parking lots.

In addition, the indicators include six less quantifiable social science measurements, including a “quality of life” index, determined in part by cost of living and median household income, and a “Sound behaviors” index, which will track the adoption of “Puget Sound friendly practices” by residents.

Also tracked will be the annual commercial harvest of wild fish and the number of recreational fishing permits sold each year, changes in acreage of healthy shellfish beds, and the percentage of beaches that meet water quality standards for swimming.

The indicators also include two “program measurements” – the amount of public money allocated to restoring the Sound, and the percentage of the partnership’s highest-priority issues actively being addressed.

Dicks said the indicators will be revised as necessary as the Sound’s natural system and the effect of people on it become more clearly understood.