It won’t be long before local governments will be called on to do their part to restore Puget Sound.
That’s one conclusion I drew yesterday from a conversation between representatives of the Puget Sound Partnership and the Kitsap County commissioners.
Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the PSP’s Leadership Council, and PSP Executive Director Gerry O’Keefe have been visiting local governments throughout Puget Sound to learn what they are doing now and to gauge their capacity and willingness to do more to improve the natural environment.
It has long been recognized that the effort to protect and restore Puget Sound requires the support of the people who live here. And local officials tend to be much closer to those living in their community. As a result, they can often bridge the gap between decision-makers at the top levels and the people who need to make changes in their daily lives.
That bridging role also is played by the multi-layered Puget Sound Ecosystem Coordination Board, which is made up of people representing interest groups as well as geographic areas.
O’Keefe said he sees Kitsap County as a leader in several areas. He specifically mentioned the county commissioners’ Water-As-A-Resource Policy, which calls on county employees to consider the value of all fresh water supplies — even sewage and stormwater, which can be converted to beneficial uses.
“Many communities are coming to the same place,” O’Keefe told the commissioners, “but you are out in front on that.”
County Commissioner Josh Brown said it is easier to show people the benefits of spending money to restore Chico Creek, where salmon can be seen swimming through Kitsap Golf & Country Club. It is harder to sell people on the idea of spending several million dollars to upgrade the Central Kitsap Wastewater Treatment Plant to provide cleaned-up effluent (rather than drinking water) for irrigation.
Brown said he is frustrated when Kitsap County “pushes the envelope” to identify sources of pollution and uses local money to upgrade outdated stormwater systems, when the state proposes a per-capita distribution of fees collected for stormwater improvements. The funds should be available to those who have the best projects and do the best job, he said.
Brown also made a pitch for a regionwide “pollution identification and correction program” proposed by the Hood Canal Coordinating Council. In that program — which needs some outside funding — priorities for cleaning up pollution will be set for the entire Hood Canal watershed, made up of portions of Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties.
Kongsgaard said Hood Canal is like a “grandfather” organization, showing the way for other “local implementing organizations” created under state law.
Fitting local goals into regionwide policies and using local governments to advance regionwide goals are among the challenges of the Puget Sound Partnership.
As I write this, I’m riding a ferry from Bremerton to Seattle, where the Leadership Council is scheduled to approve targets for ecosystem indicators during a two-day meeting. How many chinook salmon need to return to local streams before Puget Sound is considered “healthy” is just one of the questions to be answered.
“Part of the whole process is being able to monitor and hold the partnership accountable,” Kongsgaard said. “Without targets and goals and measurables, you are not going to get to the end game.”
The targets are required by state law, but everyone realizes they may need to be changed over time, she added. It’s something that has never been done before.
“Chesapeake hasn’t quite gotten it right,” she noted. “They have been taken over by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), which is good or bad depending on who you are. But we are going to do this as a community.”
The next step involves an update to the Puget Sound Action Agenda, guided by the targets for ecosystem indicators. That’s where local governments will be asked to make commitments to help restore Puget Sound, particularly when it comes to development and land use.
“With 2 million more people coming down on us, we have got to get real about this,” Kongsgaard said. “We must come together and say we value Puget sound. It is a tremendous economic driver.
“I hope we are brave enough to do something that is not target-light,” she added. “The real meat will be in the action agenda, what it will take to get your work done.”
O’Keefe said city and county officials understand the tools available to them and the political context in which they operate.
“You know,” he told the Kitsap commissioners, “what is possible in your community.”