Officials in Washington state’s Shellfish Program have
identified a clear pathway to meet a state goal of restoring 10,800
net acres of shellfish beds to a harvestable condition by 2020.
The 10,800-acre target, established by the Puget Sound
Partnership, was considered overly ambitious by many people when
the goal was approved in 2011. Many still believe that the
shellfish restoration effort will go down in flames, along with
other goals, such as increasing chinook salmon and killer whale
populations by 2020.
In reporting on the Shellfish Implementation Strategy, a
document still under development, I’ve learned that the goal is
within reach if enough of the ongoing recovery efforts around Puget
Sound continue to make progress. Please check out my latest stories
the shellfish back” and “Closing
in on the magic number in Samish Bay,” both published in the
Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
Federal funding to restore Puget Sound and other large U.S.
estuaries would be slashed by more than 90 percent under a
preliminary budget proposal coming from President Trump’s
Funding for Puget Sound restoration would be cut by 93 percent,
from the current budget of $28 million to just $2 million,
according to figures cited by the
Portland Oregonian and apparently circulated by the National
Association of Clean Air Agencies. Here’s
The Great Lakes, which received a big boost in spending to $300
million in the current biennium, would be hammered down to $10
million. Chesapeake Bay, currently at $73 million, would be reduced
to $5 million.
Much of this money goes for habitat protection and restoration,
the kind of effort that seems to be kicked to the bottom of the
priority list, at least in these early budget figures. The new EPA
administrator, Scott Pruitt, appears to be focusing on upgrading
water infrastructure, cleaning up toxic sites and reducing air and
water pollution, although everything is cut deeply and details
Citing pollution problems in Puget Sound, an environmental group
is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to revoke Washington
state’s authority to enforce the federal Clean Water Act.
Environmental Advocates, based in Portland, says a review of
103 discharge permits issued by the Washington Department of
Ecology shows a failure to control nitrogen pollution. Excess
nitrogen reduces oxygen levels in the water and triggers algae
blooms, resulting in serious problems in Puget Sound, according to
petition submitted to the EPA.
“Ecology determined that over 80 percent of the human sources of
nitrogen in Puget Sound comes from cities and towns, but it
continues to issue discharge permits as if it were completely
ignorant of these facts,” Nina Bell, the group’s executive
director, said in a
“It’s just flat out illegal to issue permits that contribute to
harmful pollution levels,” she added. “These permits are the
walking dead, existing merely to create the impression that the
state is doing its job to control water pollution when it is
Seals and sea lions can no longer be ignored in the effort to
recover our threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon or our endangered
new study shows that seals and sea lions are eating about 1.4
million pounds of Puget Sound chinook each year — about nine times
more than they were eating in 1970, according to the report. Please
read the story I wrote for the Encyclopedia
of Puget Sound, also published in an abridged version in the
Seals and sea lions in Puget Sound get the first chance to catch
the chinook as they leave the streams and head out to the ocean.
Since they are eaten at a very young age, these small chinook,
called “smolts,” never grow into adults; they never become
available for killer whales or humans.
Based on rough estimates, as many as one in five of these young
fish are getting eaten on their way out of Puget Sound. If they
were to survive the seals and sea lions and one factors in the
remaining mortality rate, these fish could translate into an
average of 162,000 adult chinook each year. That’s twice the number
eaten by killer whales and roughly six times as many as caught in
Puget Sound by tribal, commercial and recreational fishers
combined, according to the study.
One of the goals established by the Puget Sound Partnership is
to improve freshwater quality in 30 streams throughout the region,
as measured by the Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity, or B-IBI.
Simply described, B-IBI is a numerical measure of stream health
as determined by the number and type of bottom-dwelling creatures
that live in a stream. My latest article published in the Encyclopedia
of Puget Sound describes in some detail how this index works.
Here’s the basic idea:
“High-scoring streams tend to have a large variety of ‘bugs,’ as
researchers often call them, lumping together the benthic species.
Extra points are given for species that cannot survive without
clean, cool water. On the other hand, low-scoring streams are
generally dominated by a few species able to survive under the
Because benthic invertebrates have evolved over time with salmon
and other fish, many of these important “bugs” are primary prey for
the fish that we value highly. Said another way, “healthy” streams
— as measured by B-IBI — tend to be those that are not only cool
and clean but also very good habitats for salmon.
Restoring Puget Sound to a healthy condition by the year 2020 is
an unrealistic goal that needs to be addressed by the Puget Sound
Partnership, according to the latest performance audit by the Joint
Legislative Audit and Review Committee.
It’s a issue I’ve often asked about when talking to people both
inside and outside the Puget Sound Partnership. What’s the plan?
Are we just going to wait until the year 2020 and say, “Ah shucks;
I guess we couldn’t reach the goal.”?
Puget Sound Partnership, the organization created by the
Legislature to coordinate the restoration of Puget Sound, is on the
right track in many ways, according to the
preliminary audit report. But the Partnership needs to address
several “structural issues” — including coming up with realistic
goals for restoration.
A draft of a Federal Action Plan to protect and restore Puget
Sound is scheduled for completion before Donald Trump takes office
on Jan. 20, according to officials involved in developing the
The plan will help demonstrate that Washington state and nine
federal agencies are aligned in their efforts to recover one of the
most important waterways in the nation, according to leaders
involved in a new Federal Puget Sound Task Force.
The task force was created in October by President Obama, who
essentially elevated Puget Sound to a high-priority ecosystem, on
par with Chesapeake Bay, the Florida Everglades and the Great
Lakes, according to a
news release from the White House.
memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed among federal agencies
replaces a less structured MOU that was scheduled to expire next
year. The new agreement calls for a five-year action plan to be
completed by June 1, but a draft should be ready by Jan. 18,
according to Peter Murchie, who manages Puget Sound issues for the
Environmental Protection Agency and chairs the task force.
“Part of the goal is to have something in front of the
transition folks … that they can then shepherd through individual
budget and prioritization processes that they’ll be doing with new
leadership,” Murchie told the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership
Council two weeks ago.
Five major Puget Sound projects have been given the provisional
go-ahead by Congress in a massive public works bill signed
yesterday by President Obama.
It seems like the needed federal authorization for a $20-million
restoration effort in the Skokomish River watershed has been a long
time coming. This project follows an extensive, many-years study of
the watershed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which winnowed down a
long list of possible projects to five. See
Water Ways, April 28, 2016, for details.
In contrast, while the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem
Restoration Project (PSNRP) also involved an extensive and lengthy
study, the final selection and submission to Congress of three
nearshore projects came rather quickly. In fact, the Puget Sound
package was a last-minute addition to the Water Resources
Development Act, thanks to the efforts of U.S. Reps. Rick Larson,
D-Lake Stevens, and Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, along with Sens.
Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the Puget Sound Leadership
Council, has always spoken with a voice of both reason and passion
while guiding the Puget Sound Partnership in its efforts to restore
Puget Sound to health.
Yesterday and today, Martha attended her final meeting as a
member of the Leadership Council, the governing body of the
Partnership charged with coordinating Puget Sound ecosystem
While listening to presentations on technical and financial
issues, Martha always seems to quickly focus discussions on the key
issues of recovery while asking how to help average people
understand the complex problems.
As a reporter, I’ve enjoyed speaking with Martha, who not only
answers my questions in a direct and revealing way but also
indulges my curiosity. Our discussions often take tangents onto
other interesting subjects, sometimes leading to new stories or old
stories told in a new way.
Nobody doubts Martha’s love of Puget Sound, expressed by her
willingness to spend countless unpaid hours working for a better
It’s always nice when I can report a little good news for Puget
Sound recovery. For the second year in row, we’ve seen more
shoreline bulkheads ripped out than new ones put in.
After officials with the Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife completed their compilation of permit data for 2015, I can
say that 3,097 feet of old armoring were removed, while 2,231 feet
Scientific evidence is mounting that bulkheads cause
considerable harm to the shoreline environment, affecting salmon
and many other species integral to the Puget Sound food web.
As I pointed out in a story published this week in the Encyclopedia of
Puget Sound, we cannot say whether the armoring removed has
restored more valuable habitat than what was destroyed by new
structures. But we can hope that’s the case, since state and
federal governments have targeted restoration funding toward high
priority habitats. They include shorelines used by forage fish,
such as surf smelt and sand lance, as well as feeder bluffs, which
deliver sands and gravels needed for healthy beaches.
One problem with the data, which officials hope to improve in
the future, is that we don’t know whether the new bulkheads being
built are the standard concrete or rock bulkheads or the
less-damaging “soft-shore” projects. Unlike hard armor, soft-shore
projects are designed to absorb wave energy by sloping the beach
and placing large rocks and logs in strategic locations. It’s not a
perfect solution, but it is a reasonable compromise where armoring
is truly needed.