The Environmental Protection Agency approved new water-quality
standards for Washington state this week, overriding a plan
approved by Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of
It was a rare posture for the EPA. Now the state will be
pressured to appeal the EPA standards to federal court. Cities and
counties as well as some industrial organizations are clearly
unhappy with the EPA’s action, while environmental and tribal
representatives got most of what they wanted.
The EPA action is especially unusual, given that this state is
known for some of the strongest environmental regulations in the
country. After much dispute, Ecology finally agreed to much higher
fish-consumption rates without increasing the cancer-risk rate,
leading to more stringent standards for many of the chemicals. But
Ecology had its own ideas for the most troublesome compounds with
implications for human health. They include polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic and mercury. For background, see
Water Ways, Oct. 18, 2015.
Some news reports I saw this week said EPA’s action will lead to
salmon that are safer to eat. But that’s not at all certain, and
opponents say it is unlikely that the revised limits on chemical
pollution will have any practical effect on compounds that affect
While talking to researchers and investigating a variety of
biologically active compounds, I began to realize the complexity of
the body’s internal chemistry. I thought I knew something about the
endocrine system, but I never fully considered how one hormone can
trigger responses in multiple organs, including the release of
additional hormones, even creating feedback loops.
Early and continuing rains in October have increased streamflows
and brought coho and chum salmon into their spawning territories
ahead of schedule this year.
I was out and about today, taking a look at some of the streams
in Central Kitsap. I couldn’t pass up the chance to enjoy the sunny
and warm weather, and I was pleased to encounter a lot of other
folks doing the same thing. Adults of all ages, some with children,
were out looking for the elusive salmon. That’s not something I
ever saw 10 years ago while making my rounds to public
I believe the growing interest in salmon may result from ongoing
promotions of salmon watching by governmental and volunteer
organizations, as well as the news media. Why shouldn’t we go out
to watch salmon swimming upstream and possibly, if one is lucky,
catch a glimpse of spawning behaviors? After all, we live in one of
the best areas for this enjoyable pastime.
When I was a young child, we didn’t have to worry about wildlife
getting strangled by six-pack rings, because these plastic binders
for cans had not been invented yet. I was 9 years old in 1961 when
this simple, convenient form of packaging was invented, so I
clearly remember the transition. (See Hi-Cone
At the time, nobody predicted the conservation consternation
that would be created by such a simple piece of plastic. During the
1970s and up to present, pictures of entrapped birds and other sea
creatures became common, suggesting that we at least cut the
plastic to save the animals. The first video provides a story of
Before the invention of six-pack rings, people bought soft
drinks and beer in cardboard packages, which sort of wrapped around
the cans. Pabst Blue Ribbon may have been the first beer sold in
cardboard cartons (second video), although Coca Cola may have
started the phase. The Coke
company claims to be the first to take its bottles out of
wooden crates and begin offering cardboard packaging for consumers
as early as 1923.
A giant piece of a cedar log stands erect in a barren landscape
north of Silverdale, where a new channel for Clear Creek stands
ready to receive water.
Well, maybe this channel won’t be entirely new. Designers
working to restore this portion of Clear Creek studied old maps.
They tried to align the new man-made channel to the meandering
stream that existed 150 years ago, before farmers diverted the
creek around their fields.
During excavation, workers uncovered buried gravel — remnants of
the old streambed — along with chunks of cedar that had lain along
the edge of the stream. Buried and cut off from oxygen, these
pieces of wood survived for decades underground, while cattle
grazed in the fields above.
Workers excavating for the new channel used their heavy
equipment to pull out what remained of a great cedar log. They
stood the log vertical and buried one end in the ground — a
monument to the past and future of Clear Creek.
Chris May, manager of Kitsap County’s stormwater program, showed
me the new channel this week. He said it was rewarding to uncover
some buried history and realize that the stream would be restored
in roughly the same place.
“We found the old channel,” Chris told me, pointing to a deposit
of gravel. “We are pretty confident that we got it right.”
This $3-million project has been conceived and designed as much
more than a stream-restoration project. The elevations of the land
around the stream have been carefully planned so that high flows
will spill into side channels and backwater pools. That should
reduce flooding in Silverdale and help stabilize the high and low
flows seen in Clear Creek.
The engineers did not calculate the reduced frequency of
flooding, but floodwater storage is calculated to be 18.4
acre-feet, the equivalent of a foot of water spread over 18.4 acres
or 29,700 cubic yards or 6 million gallons.
In all, about 30,000 cubic yards of material have been removed
across 21 acres, including the former Schold Farm on the west side
of Silverdale Way and the Markwick property on the east side.
Native wetland vegetation will be planted along the stream and in
low areas throughout the property. Upland areas will be planted
with natural forest vegetation.
The topsoil, which contained invasive plants such as reed
canarygrass, was hauled away and buried beneath other excavated
soils to form a big mound between the new floodplain and Highway 3.
That area will be planted with a mixture of native trees.
Plans call for removal of 1,500 feet of an existing road with
upgrades to two aging culverts. Adding meanders to the straightened
channel will create 500 feet of new streambed that should be
suitable for salmon spawning.
Plans call for adding 334 pieces large woody debris, such as
logs and root wads to the stream. Some of that wood will be formed
into structures and engineered logjams to help form pools and
“This will be one of the first streams to meet the Fox and
Bolton numbers,” Chris told me, referring to studies by Martin Fox
and Susan Bolton of the University of Washington. The two
researchers studied natural streams and calculated the amount of
woody debris of various kinds needed to simulate natural
conditions, all based on the size of a stream. (Review
North American Journal of Fisheries Management.)
The elevations on the property were also designed so that high
areas on opposite sides of the stream would be in close proximity
in several locations.
“Beaver will pick that spot,” Chris said, pointing to one
location where the stream channel was squeezed by elevated banks on
each side. “We want to encourage beaver to come in here.”
Beaver ponds will increase the floodwater storage capacity of
the new floodplain and provide important habitat for coho salmon,
which spend a year in freshwater and need places to withstand both
high and low flows. Because the county owns the flooded property,
there won’t be any complaints about damage from beavers, Chris
Clear Creek Trail (PDF 390 kb), which begins on the shore of
Dyes Inlet, will be routed along the higher elevations as the trail
winds through the property. Three new bridges will provide vantage
points to watch salmon after vegetation obscures other viewing
areas from the trail. Viewing platforms, as seen along other parts
of Clear Creek Trail, were not included in this project but could
be subject to further discussions.
Count me among the many people — experts, volunteers and users
of Clear Creek Trail — who are eager to see how nature responds
when water (now diverted) returns to the new stream channel. For
decades, the lack of good habitat has constrained the salmon
population in Clear Creek. The stream still has problems related to
its highly developed watershed. But now a series of restoration
projects is providing hope for increased coho and chum salmon and
possibly steelhead trout as well as numerous other aquatic
In a story in the
Kitsap Sun, Reporter Tristan Baurick described work this week
on the Markwick property, where fish were removed in preparation
for final channel excavation.
Here are some details (including photos) of various Clear Creek
projects, as described in the state’s Habitat Work Schedule for
On the outside, chum and coho salmon don’t seem all that
different from one another, not when you consider the variety of
fish in Puget Sound — from herring to halibut along with dozens of
odd-looking creatures (EoPS).
But we know that if you place coho in stormwater taken from a
heavily traveled roadway, the coho are likely to die within hours.
But if you do the same thing with chum, these hardy fish will
barely notice the difference.
Researchers began to observe the varying effects of pollution on
different species of salmon years ago. In 2006, I reported on
studies by researcher Nat Scholz of the National Marine Fisheries
Service, who discovered that coho would swim into Seattle’s heavily
polluted creeks to spawn, but they wouldn’t get very far. Within
hours, they would become disoriented, then keel over and die.
Sun, June 10, 2006)
Later, Jenifer McIntyre, a researcher with Washington State
University, collaborated with Scholz to refine the studies,
exposing adult coho and later young coho to stormwater under
controlled conditions. Much of that work was done at the Suquamish
Tribe’s Grover’s Creek Hatchery in North Kitsap. The researchers
also measured the physiological effects of pollution on zebrafish
embryos during their early stages of development.
Working at the Washington Stormwater Center in Puyallup, Jen
made a remarkable discovery that has dramatically changed people’s
thinking about stormwater treatment. She found that if you run the
most heavily polluted stormwater through a soil medium containing
compost, the water will no longer have a noticeable effect on the
sensitive coho. Rain gardens really do work.
Now, Jen, who recently joined the faculty of WSU, is beginning a
new phase of her research, probing deeper into the physiological
responses of coho salmon when exposed to polluted stormwater. She
told me that the varying responses of coho and chum offer clues
about where to look for problems.
“It is very interesting,” she said. “As biologists, we
understand that there is variability among species. But we would
expect, at least among salmon, that things would be pretty much the
Researchers in Japan have discovered that different kinds of
fish have different subunits in their hemoglobin, which are the
proteins in red blood cells that carry oxygen to the vital organs.
Since coho and other salmon may have different forms of hemoglobin,
oxygen transport in the blood is a good place to start this
investigation, she said.
From there, the issues of blood chemistry get a little
technical, but the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen can
depend not only on the form of hemoglobin but also on the pH
(acidity) of the blood, she said, and that can be altered by drugs
and other chemicals.
Another thing that researchers may be seeing is “disseminated
intravascular coagulation,” a condition that results from clotting
in the lining of the capillaries. DIC can reduce or block blood
flow where it is most needed and eventually cause organ damage.
That’s an area for more research, Jen said, noting that these
investigations are moving forward in collaboration with researchers
at NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Meanwhile, Jen is working with chemists at the University of
Washington’s Center for Urban Waters in Tacoma to figure out which
substances — out of hundreds of chemicals found in stormwater —
could be causing these deadly effects on fish.
If isolating the dangerous compounds proves too difficult,
researchers might be able to start with the original toxic sources,
perhaps exposing fish to chemicals found in tires, oil, antifreeze
and so on, Jen said. For those effects, it might be good to begin
the investigation with the well-studied zebrafish embryos, which
are transparent and can be observed closely throughout their
Needless to say, this is a field of intense interest. If
researchers can discover what is killing coho, they might begin to
understand why the recovery of chinook salmon in Puget Sound has
been so slow. Chinook, which could be added to Jen’s studies, are
listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and
are the preferred prey of Puget Sound’s killer whales, which are
listed as endangered.
Two recent articles discussed the relative hardiness of the chum
compared to coho salmon:
The long-running controversy over Washington state’s water
quality standards for toxic chemicals is nearly over. We will soon
know just how pure the water must be to get a clean bill of
We still don’t know whether the Environmental Protection Agency
will approve the new state standards adopted this week or impose
more stringent standards that EPA developed for several key
pollutants. The EPA has already taken public comments on its
“We believe our new rule is strong, yet reasonable,” said Maia
Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, in a
release. “It sets standards that are protective and achievable.
With this rule now complete, we will continue to press forward to
reduce and eliminate toxics from every-day sources.”
For more than two years, much of the controversy focused on the
fish-consumption rate — an assumption about how much fish that
people eat. The FCR is a major factor in the equation used to set
the concentration of chemicals allowed in water before the waterway
is declared impaired. (See early discussions in
Water Ways, Nov. 11, 2010.)
Initially, after plenty of debate, the state proposed increasing
the FCR from 6.5 grams per day to 175 grams per day — a 27-fold
increase. The initial proposal counter-balanced the effect somewhat
by increasing the cancer-risk rate from one in a million to one in
100,000 — a 10-fold shift. Eventually, the state agreed to retain
the one-in-a-million rate.
As I described in
Water Ways last October, some key differences remain between
the state and EPA proposals. Factors used by the EPA result in more
stringent standards. The state also proposes a different approach
for PCBs, mercury and arsenic, which are not easily controlled by
regulating industrial facilities and sewage-treatment plants — the
primary point sources of pollution.
PCB standards proposed by the EPA make representatives of
industry and sewage-treatment systems very nervous. Water-quality
standards are the starting points for placing legal limits on
discharges, and EPA’s standard of 7.6 picograms per liter cannot be
attained in many cases without much higher levels of treatment,
Entities in Eastern Washington are in the midst of planning
efforts to control pollution in the Spokane River, and major sewer
upgrades are under consideration, the letter says.
“If Ecology were to follow the same approach on Puget Sound that
it has on the Spokane River, this would amount to a range of
compliance costs from nearly $6 billion to over $11 billion for
just the major permits identified by EPA,” the letter continues. “A
more stringent PCB criterion is also likely to impact how
stormwater is managed, as PCB concentrations have been detected in
stormwater throughout the state.”
For pulp and paper mills using recycled paper, the primary
source of PCBs is the ink containing the toxic compounds at
EPA-allowed concentrations, the letter says. Other major sources
are neighborhoods, where PCBs are used in construction materials,
and fish hatcheries, where PCBs come from fishmeal.
The letter points out similar problems for EPA’s proposed
mercury standard, calling the level “overly conservative and
unattainable in Washington (and the rest of the United States), as
the levels of mercury in fish are consistently higher than the
When water-quality criteria cannot be attained for certain
chemicals using existing water-treatment technology, facilities may
be granted a variance or placed under a compliance schedule. Both
environmentalists and facility owners have expressed concern over
uncertainties about how the agencies might use these
Despite the uncertainties, environmentalists and Indian tribes
in Washington state generally support the more stringent standards
proposed by the EPA.
“Tribes concur that water quality discharge standards are only a
part of the toxic chemical problem in the state of Washington and
that more efforts toward source control and toxic cleanup are
needed,” writes Lorraine Loomis of the
Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “However, the standards
are an essential anchor for determining where and how to deploy
toxic reduction efforts and monitor enforcement.”
When I said this controversy is nearly over, I was referring to
a time schedule imposed this week by U.S. District Judge Barbara
Rothstein, who ruled that the EPA missed its own deadlines for
updating water quality criteria.
Rothstein, responding to claims from five environmental groups,
imposed a new deadline based on EPA’s own suggested dates. Because
the state has finalized its rule, the EPA now has until Nov. 15 to
either approve the state’s criteria or sign a notice imposing its
own standards. Checkout the
judge’s ruling (PDF 494 kb).
The new criteria won’t have any practical effect until applied
to federal discharge permits for specific facilities or in
developing cleanup plans for specific bodies of water — although
state inspectors could use the new state criteria for enforcing
state laws if they discover illegal discharges.
I’m certainly no highway engineer, but I’ve been thinking about
the difference between building roads in Kansas, where I was born,
and building roads in the Puget Sound region.
Kansas has its streams and wetlands to be sure, but nothing like
the density of natural features that we find in the Puget Sound
watershed, where land elevations change constantly and roadways
must cross streams and wetlands at every turn.
For many years, road construction in the Puget Sound region
involved filling wetlands and burying pipes just big enough to pass
the water. It was assumed that salmon would make it through. But
based on our current knowledge of salmon migration, we realize that
these shortcuts took a major toll on the populations of salmon and
This week, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a
lower court ruling requiring state agencies to correct decades of
road-building mistakes that impaired salmon passage on state
highways and on state forest roads. Check out
Monday’s story in the Kitsap Sun.
The lawsuit, filed by 21 Indian tribes, was based on the idea
that undersized and poorly functioning culverts severely affected
the total salmon runs in violation of treaties signed in the 1850s,
which promised Native Americans the right to fish forever in
The lawsuit did not address culverts owned by the federal
government, local governments or private property owners, but the
same principles apply. Steps are now being taken to improve salmon
passage based on standards developed by the Washington Department
of Fish and Wildlife.
Meanwhile, a state advisory committee, known as the Fish Barrier Removal
Board, has been working to establish priorities with top-ranked
projects providing the greatest improvement in salmon habitat.
Kitsap County Engineer Jon Brand, who serves on the board,
described a two-pronged approach to set the priorities. One is to
focus on priority watersheds, with the idea of making major
improvements in a variety of streams in a given area. (See map
above and board
materials (PDF 50.4 mb), Oct. 20, 2015.) The second approach is
to coordinate planning for top-priority streams, with the idea of
working on entire stream systems at once. Obviously, it does not
make sense to replace a culvert upstream if a downstream culvert
continues to block salmon passage. Check out the list of
top-30 ranked projects (PDF 57 kb).
The Fish Barrier Removal Board is putting together a funding
package to be submitted to the Legislature. As Jon pointed out,
some of the most effective projects for salmon passage are not in
the Puget Sound region nor subject to the federal court ruling. The
list also goes beyond state roadways and includes a mix of
ownerships based on the watershed and stream priorities mentioned
State lawmakers face some difficult funding decisions. With the
court order hanging over their heads, along with a 2030 deadline,
they may choose to do only culvert-removal projects in the Puget
Sound region, even though projects in other areas could get a
greater bang for the buck. And will there be money left over to
support local governments trying to improve salmon passage in their
I asked Jon about the expediency of early road-builders who must
have given little consideration to salmon when they filled
wetlands, carved out drainage ditches and installed pipes to carry
the flow of water. It was not always that way, Jon told me.
That method of road-building arrived with the invention of large
earth-moving equipment, he said. In the 1800s and early 1900s,
filling a stream and inserting a culvert was more difficult than
building a bridge of logs, given the vast quantities of timber on
the Kitsap Peninsula.
Those early log bridges no doubt caused fewer problems for
salmon, but they did not last. Eventually, nearly every bridge was
replaced, often by dumping fill across the stream and allowing a
small culvert to carry the water.
As for my misguided notion that Kansas can ignore stream
crossings because the state has no serious environmental problems,
I found this language in “Kansas
Fish Passage Guide” (PDF 2.3 mb), a document written for
“In Kansas, fish passage issues caused by culverts were not
recognized by road officials until about 2010, when … research
indicated that culverts and low-water crossings were a significant
cause of habitat fragmentation in the Kansas Flint Hills.
“Many of the threatened and endangered fish in Kansas are a type
of minnow or minnow-size fish. Small fish typically are not strong
swimmers, so waterfalls, water velocity and turbulence can be a
barrier to passage upstream. Culverts are dark and have an atypical
channel bottom that may also discourage fish passage. Lack of water
depth through the culvert can restrict passage during low-flow
“Stream barriers reduce habitat range and can adversely affect
fish populations upstream and downstream of the stream crossing. A
severe event like a drought or oil spill in a stream segment can
wipe out a species, and the species cannot repopulate the stream
because of the barrier.”
Kansas has begun to prohibit blocking culverts and to address
existing fish-passage issues. As the above-referenced publication
states, “On the Great Plains, it’s usually easy to design and
construct a stream crossing for a two-lane road to provide fish
More than 20 years of removing and reconstructing old logging
roads in the Skokomish River watershed has finally paid off with
measurable improvement to water quality and habitat, according to
experts with Olympic National Forest where millions of dollars have
been spent on restoration.
The U.S. Forest Service this week declared that the upper South
Fork of the Skokomish is now a “properly functioning” watershed,
and the major road-restoration projects are complete.
After writing for years about horrendous problems with sediment
washing out of the upper watershed, this news comes as a nice
surprise. I’ve been hearing experts talk about water-quality
improvements, but this new declaration is a major milestone in the
restoration of the entire Skokomish River ecosystem.
“This is a proud and historic occasion for the Forest Service
and our many partners who have worked very hard for over two
decades to restore this once badly degraded watershed,” Reta
Laford, supervisor for Olympic National Forest, said in a
In 2012, Olympic National Forest designated the upper and middle
South Fork Skokomish sub-watersheds as “priority watersheds.“
Forest Service officials pushed forward with action plans
containing a list of restoration projects designed to put the
watersheds on a path to ecological health.
Completion of the key restoration projects in the upper South
Fork allowed for the new designation as a “properly functioning”
watershed. This marks the first time that any watershed in Olympic
National Forest has been upgraded due to completion of all
essential restoration projects. Watershed conditions and aquatic
habitat will continue to improve as natural processes roll on.
Restoration in the South Fork actually began in the early 1990s,
when the Forest Service acknowledged that the region was
criss-crossed by a damaging network of logging roads. At nearly
four miles of road for every fourone square mile of forest, it
was one of the densest tangles of roads in any national forest.
In 1994, the Forest Service designated the South Fork Skokomish
as a “key watershed” in the Northwest Forest Plan, which called for
major cutbacks in logging and received support from President Bill
Clinton. Between the early 1990s and 2005, Olympic National Forest
completed $10.6 million in restoration work, including $7.9 million
for road decommissioning, road stabilization and drainage
In 2005, the Skokomish Watershed Action Team (SWAT) was formed
among a coalition of more than 20 government agencies,
environmental organizations and business groups with diverse
interests. The SWAT developed a unified front for promoting
restoration projects and seeking funds. Members agreed that the
focus on roads should begin with the upstream segments, later
moving downstream, while other work was coordinated on the estuary
near Hood Canal. Much of the lower area was owned or acquired by
the Skokomish Tribe, a critical partner in the SWAT.
Between 2006 and 2015, the Forest Service continued with $13.2
million in restoration projects in the South Fork, including $10.9
million on road problems. In all, 91 miles of roads were
decommissioned, closed or converted to trails, and 85 miles of
roads were stabilized or improved with new culverts and drainage
Much of the road restoration work was funded by Congress through
the Forest Service’s Legacy Roads and Trails Program. Former U.S.
Rep. Norm Dicks was instrumental in creating that program, and
congressional support has continued under the leadership of Norm’s
successor, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and
Key funding for restoration also has come from the Forest
Stewardship program, which uses receipts from commercial timber
thinning on forest lands. Other financial support — especially in
the lower watershed — has come from the state’s Salmon Recovery
Funding Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2009, I wrote a story for “Wilderness” magazine
about how these programs were bringing “green jobs” to the
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed an
in-depth study of the river’s ecosystem last year and is now
seeking funding from Congress for a series of projects in the
watershed. Check out
Water Ways, April 28, 2016.
To celebrate this milestone for Olympic National Forest, the
SWAT will recognize the work at its general meeting Friday at the
Skokomish Grange Hall, 2202 W. Skokomish Valley Road. The meeting
begins at 9 a.m., and the public is invited.
For years, I have been told the story of how PCBs and other
toxic chemicals cling to soil particles and tiny organic debris as
polluted water washes off the land.
Eventually, the PCB-laden particles are carried into Puget
Sound, where they settle to the bottom. From there, they begin
working their way into marine animals, disrupting their normal
functions — such as growth, immune response and reproduction.
The idea that contaminants settle to the bottom is the story
I’ve been told for as long as I can remember, a story long accepted
among the scientific community in Puget Sound and across the U.S.
So I was surprised when I heard that leading scientists who study
toxic chemicals in Puget Sound were questioning this long-held idea
about how dangerous chemicals get into the food web.
Puget Sound may be different from other waterways, they
“When you look at the concentrations in herring and the
concentrations in the sediments, something does not line up,” Jim
West told me. “The predictions are way off. We think there is a
Jim is a longtime researcher for the Washington Department of
Fish and Wildlife. I have worked with him through the years on
various stories about the effects of contaminants on marine
organisms. But now he was talking about changing the basic thinking
about how chemicals are transferred through the food web.
Jim postulates that many of these PCB-laden particles that wash
down with stormwater never sink to the bottom of Puget Sound.
Instead, they are taken up by tiny organisms floating in the water.
The organisms, including bacteria and phytoplankton, are eaten by
larger plankton and become incorporated into fish and other
free-swimming creatures — the pelagic food web.
Jim presented his findings at the Salish Sea Ecosystem
Conference last month in Vancouver, B.C. Sandie O’Neill, another
WDFW researcher, presented other new information about the transfer
of contaminants through the food web — from plankton to herring to
salmon to killer whales.
My stories about the studies conducted by Jim and Sandie (with
help from a team of skilled scientists) were published today in the
Puget Sound, where you can read them. These are the first of at
least 10 story packages to be to written by a team of reporters
working for the Puget Sound Institute.
The Salish Sea conference was attended by more than 1,100
people, including 450 researchers and policymakers who talked about
new information related to the Salish Sea — which includes Puget
Sound in Washington, the Strait of Georgia in British Columbia and
the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the U.S./Canada border.
When I first heard about Jim West’s idea regarding the fate of
toxic chemicals circulating in Puget Sound, I thought one result
might be to shift restoration dollars away from cleaning up
sediments to cleaning up stormwater. After all, if the majority of
PCBs aren’t getting into the sediments, why spend millions of
dollars cleaning up the stuff on the bottom? Why not devote that
money to cleaning up stormwater?
In fact, the worst of the contaminated sediments in Puget Sound
have been cleaned up, with some cleanups now under way. That helps
to ensure that toxic chemicals won’t get re-suspended in the water
and taken up into the pelagic food web all over again. A few
hotspots of contaminated sediments may still need some
As far as putting the focus on stormwater, that’s exactly what
the Puget Sound Partnership has done with support from the
Department of Ecology and other clean-water agencies. It is now
well established that the key to reducing pollution in Puget Sound
is to keep toxic chemicals out of stormwater or else create
settling ponds, rain gardens, pervious pavement and other methods
to capture the PCB-laden particles before they reach Puget
I noticed that Ecology just today
announced a new round of regulations to control stormwater in
King, Pierce, Snohomish and Clark counties. Proposed changes
include updating stormwater programs for new construction projects
and for redevelopment. An appendix will describe Seattle’s plan to
reduce stormwater pollution in the Lower Duwamish River, where PCBs
are a major problem. For more on stormwater regulations, go to
As Sandie told me during our discussions, all the work on fixing
habitat in Puget Sound streams is not enough if we can’t control
the discharge of PCB’s — which were banned in the 1970s — along
with newer contaminants still working their way into our beloved
waterway. Any measure of healthy habitat must include an
understanding of the local chemistry.