Shoreline program is critical for clean water, our survival

Shoreline program is critical for clean water, our survival Henderson Inlet. Mud Bay. Nisqually River. Woodland Creek. These are unique areas across Thurston County that we all know. These are the areas where the water and land meet - these are our shorelines. Thurston County contains 688 miles of shorelines, and these areas are in peril.

We live, work, fish, swim, and boat here. We cannot take these shorelines for granted. We build our houses on them to have the beautiful view. We place our ports and businesses in them to have access to waterways to ship goods. As a result, we have fewer functional shorelines left. Indeed, pollution in Henderson Inlet and Nisqually Reach has resulted in the closure of many shellfish growing areas.

Today, we are becoming increasingly aware that shorelines are sensitive areas with tremendous value. They help clean our water. They provide food and shelter for the critters we like to eat. They protect us from floods and they help control erosion. And they need special care. This care includes restoration projects such as the citizen stakeholder group in Henderson Inlet that worked to clean up water pollution from defective septic systems, stormwater runoff, and other sources. As a result, 240 acres of shellfish beds will now re-open in Henderson Inlet, one of the most urbanized shoreline areas in Thurston County.

Across the state, counties and cities are evaluating how these shorelines are managed. Shoreline management is governed by the Shoreline Management Act, a state law adopted in 1972. This Act requires that each local government work with the state Department of Ecology on plans to encourage water-dependent uses, protect shoreline natural resources, and promote public access. Thurston County and the cities of Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, Yelm, Tenino, and Bucoda are updating their plans, called Shoreline Master Programs. These plans will guide responsible use, development, and protection of lands adjacent to streams, rivers, lakes, and marine waters for decades.

By modernizing our shoreline regulations, we can have healthy, functioning shorelines that provide habitat for fish and wildlife, support salmon, reduce the risks to lives and property by keeping development out of unsafe areas, protect water quality and preserve our historic shellfish industry.

Thurston County is working on updating our shoreline program in light of an expected 17 percent increase in population in the next 10 years. This growth will put continued pressure on our waterways, shorelines, wildlife, and infrastructure. We must think carefully and thoughtfully about what we want the landscape and our communities to look like in the future: Where do we want our parks; where do we want to access the water; what areas should be protected; and what areas should be developed?

We are committed to protecting the right places, continuing to develop and strengthen our economy, and ensuring our quality of life. This includes having a healthy Puget Sound in which to grow shellfish and for salmon to thrive.

Thurston County’s updated shoreline program will be a critical tool to accomplish this.

We are committed to working together to make hard decisions about how we manage our landscape and if, who, and when we allow individual actions to affect our collective shoreline resources.

Updating Thurston County’s SMPs is a very important opportunity for all of us living in Thurston County. This is what will govern how we live, work, and play along the water’s edge.

We urge all Thurston County citizens to get involved by attending a SMP public meeting or by visiting the Thurston County SMP Web site: www.co.thurston.wa.us/PLANNING/shoreline/shoreline_home.htm

A public meeting for the City of Olympia SMP update will be 6:30 p.m., Thursday, McKenny Elementary School, 3250 Morse-Merryman Road S.E., Olympia.

Public meetings for the Thurston County SMP update will be scheduled over the next few months. The county will complete this process in late 2011.

Sandra Romero, a Thurston County commissioner, can be reached at romero@co.thurston.wa.us. Bill Taylor, a fourth-generation shellfish farmer, can be reached at billt@taylorshellfish.com.