Gov. Chris Gregoire and her replacement, Jay Inslee, still have great hopes for the future health of Puget Sound, as I learned when I interviewed them separately in recent days.
I reserved some of the governor’s comments for a story that appeared in today’s Kitsap Sun titled “Human values count in Puget Sound recovery.”
This is the first of an undetermined number of stories I’ll be writing over the next year or so dealing with ecosystem indicators. Indicators are selected measures to help us understand the pace of progress in restoring Puget Sound. I hope the upcoming stories will reveal something about the functioning of the ecosystem and how the various pieces fit together.
The first story today addresses human health and quality of life, which have always been a central focus of Chris Gregoire’s effort to make sure Puget Sound is “swimmable, diggable and fishable” for future generations.
“Things have not moved as quickly as I had hoped,” the governor told me, referring to efforts by the Puget Sound Partnership. “I thought we got off with a bang, including public engagement. Now, we are into the tough stuff.”
She recalled how, years ago, cleanup efforts focused on reducing industrial discharges. That includes the period from 1988 to 1992, when she served as director of the Washington Department of Ecology. Now most of the serious pollutants reach Puget Sound through stormwater runoff. The current effort is to reduce the volume of water flowing across the ground while eliminating a huge variety of pollutants at their source.
If you read the comments at the end of news stories regarding the Puget Sound Partnership, you could come to believe that the agency has a long way to go in convincing the average person that he or she is part of the problem. But many of the comments are made by cranky people who seem unlikely to be convinced of anything.
In general, most people really care about Puget Sound and simply need help in taking the right steps, according to surveys. In my story today, the partnership’s Dave Ward talks about an indicator that could help measure changes in human behavior.
As for Gov.-elect Jay Inslee, it is hard to tell how things will change under his leadership. He reminded me in our interview that he faces severe budget difficulties — and money certainly is a major factor in Puget Sound recovery. See my story in the Nov. 15 Kitsap Sun.
To the dismay of some opponents, Inslee has always been a strong advocate for the environment. That is not likely to change. He has been a leader on climate change and clean energy, and he has a deep-rooted passion for Puget Sound and the surrounding forests. I learned a good deal about his views a decade ago during an extended interview, which involved a hike through a roadless area in Olympic National Forest. See the Kitsap Sun story from May 19, 2002.
While the governor-elect has no immediate plans to change the structure of the Puget Sound Partnership, he stressed that he wants to ensure that restoration projects are guided by science.
Gregoire said during our recent discussion that she would advise the incoming governor to keep up the pressure on the partnership, and she hoped that more funding will become available as the economy recovers.
In October 2010, if you recall, Gregoire emphasized the importance of maintaining Puget Sound programs, despite the financial crisis.
“We are in the hardest economic problem since the deep depression, but we cannot take a recess; we cannot take time out,” she said at that time during a tour of Belfair’s new sewage-treatment plant. See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 15.
In our recent discussion, the governor said she was not able to find as much money for Puget Sound as she had hoped. Here’s how she put it:
“We kept putting money in. We couldn’t let up. I kept pushing for ongoing funding, and we will have to continue to do that for awhile.
“I think we have held our own and made some improvement, but not the improvement we should have. The population continues to grow. We’re going to have to kick it up or we are going to lose ground. I’m not proud of the fact that we are kind of treading water right now.”
She said things are unlikely to get easier right away, because the state is still struggling with its budget. Furthermore, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, a successful advocate for federal funding, is leaving office. Dicks was instrumental in putting Puget Sound on a national stage, on par with Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, Gregoire said. She expressed hope that the increased profile for Puget Sound will endure with the help of others in the state’s congressional delegation.
As Washington’s economy recovers, Chris Gregoire would like to see talks turn to a stable funding source, such as a “flush tax” on residents in the Puget Sound region. Another idea debated in the Legislature was a tax on oil and chemical products that could be used for stormwater improvements. Gregoire continues:
“There’s been a lot of talk about a flush tax. We have never really done the research on that. The last couple of years was no time to be thinking about that. We have demands on education and transportation. But we need a sustained reliable source of funding.
“And we need public support. Unless and until we get everyone engaged, we are not going to make it…. I think we are well on our way. Local communities are doing a lot of volunteer work. School groups are monitoring the environment….
“When the recession hit, I have to say, everybody’s attention got drawn away by other concerns: ‘Can I put food on the table? Am I going to lose my job?’
“Now we’ve got to find a better way. We have to have a bottoms-up approach. People must consider themselves part of the solution.”