As the new report describes, increased flooding, more frequent
landslides and decreased salmon runs are likely, along with
declines in some native species and increases in others. We are
likely to see more successful invasions by nonnative species, while
summer drought could cause more insect damage to forests and more
“When you look at the projected changes, it’s dramatic,” said
lead author Guillaume Mauger in a
news release. “This report provides a single resource for
people to look at what’s coming and think about how to adapt.”
The report includes examples of communities taking actions to
prepare for climate change, such as merging flood-management
districts to prepare for increased flooding in King County and
designing infrastructure to contend with rising sea levels in other
“In the same way that the science is very different from the
last report in 2005, I think the capacity and willingness to work
on climate change is in a completely different place,” Mauger
Sheida Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound
Partnership, said the people of Puget Sound must be prepared for
changes that have already begun.
“To protect Puget Sound, we need to plan for the ever-increasing
impacts of climate change,” she said in a
news release. “This report helps us better understand the very
real pressures we will face over the coming decades. The effects of
climate change impact every part of what we consider necessary for
a healthy Puget Sound: clean water, abundant water quantity, human
wellbeing, and a Puget Sound habitat that can support our native
Work to compile the report was funded by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency via the Puget Sound Institute at UW Tacoma, the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state of
The report will become part of the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound,
where my climate-change stories will reside after publication over
the next three weeks. I’m currently working part-time for the Puget
Sound Institute, which publishes the encyclopedia and is affiliated
with the University of Washington — Tacoma.
For other news stories about the report, check out:
Measuring the progress of Puget Sound restoration is a very
difficult thing to do.
Millions of dollars have been spent to restore streams,
wetlands, estuaries and shorelines. Millions more have been spent
to improve stormwater systems and to clean up contaminated
At the same time, billions of dollars have been spent by
commercial and residential developers in the Puget Sound region.
The results are ongoing changes to the landscape and unknown
alterations to ecosystems.
In the overall scheme of things, are we taking two steps forward
and one step back, or is it two steps back and one step
Puget Sound Partnership’s biennial “State of the Sound Report,”
released this week, attempts to tell us how things are going in the
effort to restore Puget Sound to a healthy condition. Progress is
being made in restoring habitat, according to a
news release about the report, but “measures for chinook
salmon, Southern Resident Killer Whales, herring and other native
species show a decline, and local improvements in water quality
still don’t add up to improvements at the regional scale.”
“These mixed results are the reality of working in a complex
ecosystem that is under tremendous pressures right now,” said
Sheida Sahandy, the partnership’s executive director. “It’s why we
need to make smart, timely investments in our partners’ hard work
to restore and protect habitat, prevent stormwater pollution and
reopen shellfish beds,”
Puget Sound Partnership has developed 37 ecosystem indicators
for tracking progress. They are organized under 21 categories
called the Puget Sound “vital signs.” If you want understand the
latest information, you must look to the new “Report on the
Puget Sound Vital Signs (PDF 9.9 mb).
Four indicators are meeting — or nearly meeting — regionally
identified targets, including those related to inventorying septic
systems, slowing forest loss, and two measurements showing
improvements in the quality of marine sediment.
All indicators for habitat restoration are making incremental
None of the indicators for species or food-web health are
While there has been local-level progress in some indicators,
the results do not add up to regional progress. For example, while
marine water quality is relatively good in some bays (making them
safe for harvesting shellfish and for swimming), other bays have
very poor water quality and are not meeting standards.
I believe these vital signs can help us understand the functions
of the Puget Sound ecosystem and give us an idea about the progress
in restoration. I even used them as a broad outline for my two-year
investigation into the health of Puget Sound and the species found
in the region. If you haven’t done so, I urge you to take a look at
the series, “Taking
the Pulse of Puget Sound.”
At the same time, these 37 indicators often fail to capture many
of the nuances of Puget Sound health, such as species distribution,
population dynamics and primary productivity — all aspects of
Southern Resident killer whales, for example, are now fewer than
when the ecosystem indicators were approved. That could be related
to the number of chinook salmon — the orca’s primary prey — which
also are in decline. But what are the problems facing the chinook?
Lack of spawning habitat? Increased predation by seals and other
marine mammals? Not enough forage fish, such as herring, surf smelt
and sand lance? In turn, what is limiting the growth of the forage
fish populations? The amount or right type of plankton to eat,
spawning habitat, predation, or something else?
It is often said that the ongoing development of Puget Sound is
damaging the ecosystem faster than it is being restored. But I have
not seen convincing evidence to show which way things are going.
The vital signs indicators are not adequate to answer this
question. Lagging indicators — especially population counts — don’t
tell the whole story. But one thing is certain: Without the
investment we have all made in Puget Sound restoration, conditions
would be far worse than they are today.
Over the past few years, the Puget Sound Partnership is getting
better at establishing priorities that will make the most
difference. But it is still mind-boggling to think of the number of
places that have been degraded over 150 years of development, all
needing work to bring things back to a functioning part of the
Puget Sound ecosystem.
Getting the priorities right and getting everyone working
together is an enormous challenge. Coordination must involve
federal, state, tribal and local governments, private businesses
and conservation groups. That was why the Legislature created the
Puget Sound Partnership and issued a special mandate. It seems to
me that the people leading the restoration effort understand their
It was nice to see a recognition of this coordination problem by
U.S. Reps. Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck, who introduced the Save Our
Sound Act, designed to coordinate federal actions with those of the
Puget Sound Partnership, which tries to involve all segments of
society. This SOS bill is now supported by all of Washington
state’s congressional delegation. Check out a
summary of the bill on Heck’s congressional website; read the
story by Tristan Baurick in the
Kitsap Sun; or review the op-ed
piece by Heck and Kilmer in The News Tribune.
The role of local governments in the restoration effort cannot
be over-stated. As restoration continues, damage from ongoing
development must be limited. Concepts of “no net loss” and
“best-management practices” are important — but the key is to
locate development where it will do the least ecosystem damage,
then use construction techniques that will cause the least
disruption of ecological functions.
Breakthroughs in scientific understanding and new solutions to
old problems can make a big difference. Jen McIntyre of Washington
State University finally published her findings about the effects
of stormwater on coho salmon. More importantly, she and her
colleagues revealed how to solve the problem by filtering the
stormwater through compost — or essentially the natural material
found on the forest floor. The study was published in the Journal
of Applied Ecology (PDF 338 kb).
Development regulations by local government have always been a
weak link in the effort to restore Puget Sound. I have been
discouraged by the lack of progress in some cities and counties. In
the face of uncertain science, it has been too easy for local
officials to do the minimum required by state government then turn
around and blame the state when local residents complain about the
higher costs of development.
On the other hand, I am encouraged that more and more local
officials are taking scientific studies to heart, learning how to
judge scientific uncertainty and taking actions to help save the
ecosystem. Stormwater regulations have been a bitter pill to
swallow for many local officials, but creative approaches, such as
I described in the
“Pulse” series could be one of the best things that local
government can do. Another major role of local government is to
protect and restore shorelines, about which I will have more to say
in the near future. (“Water
Ways, Aug. 15, 20115.)
Overall, when I see the beauty of Puget Sound and consider the
combined energy of thousands of people who really care about this
waterway, I can’t help but remain optimistic that the effort to
save Puget Sound is on the right track.
By swimming the entire Green/Duwamish River in King County, Mark
Powell hopes to show that the river’s full length — roughly 85
miles from the mountains to Puget Sound — is a single system worthy
of protection and restoration.
I believe that most people have heard about the Duwamish
Waterway in Seattle, a channelized, industrialized section of the
lower Duwamish River where decades of pollution are being cleaned
up, one step at a time. But how much does anyone know about the
upper end of the river, which begins as a trickle of crystal clear
water in the Cascade Mountains south of Snoqualmie Pass?
“Almost nobody knows the river well, not even the people who
live along the river,” Mark told me.
Mark, the Puget Sound Program director for Washington
Environmental Council. said the idea of swimming the entire river
came to him during the kickoff of a new
Green/Duwamish Watershed Strategy by King County and Seattle.
The plan is to identify all the significant problems in the
PDF 1.1 mb) and to increase restoration efforts where
“I thought this would be an interesting way to connect with
people,” Mark said. “I’m a guy who likes to get outdoors, so this
is a personal commitment I could make.”
Mark swam around Bainbridge Island in the winter of 2008-09.
““By swimming the whole coastline, I’m not just diving to the
pretty spots. I’m forced to look at the gross parts,” he told
reporter Michelle Ma in a story for the
So far, Mark has been swimming the upper and middle portions of
the Green/Duwamish River. He said his biggest surprise is finding
pockets of good habitat everywhere he goes.
Earlier this month, he was accompanied on the river by Sheida
Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, and
Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the partnership’s Leadership
Council. A few days before they swam the river near Auburn, the
Leadership Council approved new “vitals signs” indicators for
“human health” and “human well-being” to emphasize the human
connection to the Puget Sound ecosystem. See
“Water Ways” July 30.
The human connection was still on Sheida’s mind when I talked to
her about a week after her trip to the Green River. The most
“eye-opening” part of the swim for her was the condition of “this
incredibly beautiful natural element coursing through a very urban
She saw evidence of people living along the river in
less-than-desirable conditions, she said. There were barbecues and
trailer houses but no suggestion that people had any connection to
the river — except that some individuals apparently were using it
as a toilet, she said.
“I haven’t quite wrapped my head around that, but it feels very
right that we are considering human well-being,” she explained. “On
the one hand is what we have done to the river. On the other hand
is what we have done to ourselves. We need to figure out how it all
Mark’s adventures on the river are chronicled in a blog called
Duwamish.” He hopes to swim every section of the river where he
is allowed to go and be safe. A portion of the Green River
controlled by the city of Tacoma has no public access, because it
is a source of the city’s water supply. Rapids in the Green River
Gorge are said to be dangerous, so Mark will look for a guide to
help him. And because of heavy marine traffic in the Duwamish
Waterway, he may use a boat to escort him on his approach to
Seattle’s Elliott Bay.
The Green/Duwamish River may be the most disjointed river in
Puget Sound, both physically and psychologically. People who have
seen the industrialized lower river find it hard to visualize the
near-pristine salmon stream spilling clean water down from the
mountains. It is the upper part that provides the inspiration to
clean up the lower part, Mark told me.
“If there was a reason for sacrificing a river, you could find
it in the Duwamish,” he said. “But we can’t afford to sacrifice
even one river. To me, this is what protecting Puget Sound is all
about. By the time the pollution gets to Puget Sound it is too
If salmon can make it through the gauntlet in the lower river,
they may have a fighting chance to spawn and produce a new
generation of Green River fish. Improving their migration corridor
is not an impossible dream.
I suggested to Mark that the name of the river be officially
changed to “Green/Duwamish” or “Green-Duwamish” to help people
recognize that this is a single river from the mountains to Puget
Sound. After all, the name “Salish Sea” has helped some people
realize that we share an inland waterway with Canadians. The other
name-change option would be to call it Duwamish all the way.
Until I started reading about the Duwamish, I didn’t realize how
this river once captured water from the Black River and the White
River as well as the Green River and the Cedar River. But the
system has changed drastically over the past century or so.
As you can see in the map on this page, the Green River once
joined the White River and flowed north, picking up waters from the
Black River. The Black River, which took drainage from Lake
Washington, picked up water from the Cedar River.
Where the Black River merged with the White River, it became the
Duwamish all the way to Puget Sound.
Two major events changed the rivers’ flow and subsequently the
nomenclature. In 1906, a flood diverted the White River to the
south into the channel of the Stuck River, which flowed into the
Puyallup River. Shortly after that, the White River was
artificially confined to keep it flowing south. Because the river
flowing north contained water only from the Green River, the name
“White” was changed to “Green” downstream to where the Duwamish
The other big event was the construction of the Lake Washington
Ship Canal in 1917 to connect the lake with Puget Sound. The
construction lowered the lake by more than 8 feet, with the lake
level controlled by the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. The Black River,
which had taken the discharge flow from Lake Washington before
construction, then dried up. The Cedar River, which had flowed into
the Black River, was diverted into the lake.
Following those changes, the Green River and the Duwamish became
essentially the same river, with the total flow perhaps one-third
as much as it had been before the changes. If you are interested in
this history and other geological forces at work in the area, check
out the 1970 report by the U.S. Geological Survey
(PDF 53.1 mb).
It’s hard to describe the surprise I felt when I first glanced
at a new graph plotting bulkhead construction and removal along
Puget Sound’s shoreline since 2005.
On the graph was a blue line that showed how new bulkhead
construction had declined dramatically the past two years. But what
really caught my eye was a green line showing an increase in
bulkhead removal. Amazingly, these two lines had crossed each other
in 2014, meaning that the total length of bulkheads removed had
exceeded the total length of bulkheads built last year.
Not only was this the first time this has ever happened, it was
totally unexpected. Few people really believed that bulkhead
removal could exceed construction anytime soon. I was happy to
write up these new findings in the latest
newsletter for the Puget Sound Institute, where I’m now
“It was pretty shocking — in a good way,” said Randy Carman of
the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who coordinated the
data based on state permits. “It makes me optimistic going
Randy helped develop the “vitals signs indicator” for shoreline
armoring, along with a “target” approved by the Puget Sound
Partnership. The target called for the total length of armoring
removed to exceed the total length constructed for the 10-year
period from 2011 through 2020.
Like many of the vital signs
indicators, this one for shoreline armoring was far from a sure
thing. In fact, like most of the indicators, the trend was going in
the wrong direction. Some people believed that the Puget Sound
Partnership was setting itself up for failure.
These were “aspirational” targets, Randy recalled, and meeting
them would be a tremendous challenge for many individuals,
government agencies and organizations.
As I described in some detail in the article for PSI, the number
of new bulkheads has declined, in part because of new government
rules. Meanwhile, the number of bulkheads removed has increased, in
part because of government funding.
But something else may be afoot, as pointed out by Sheida
Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, and
David Price, habitat program manager for WDFW. A new “culture” may
be taking hold in which people realize that bulkheads are neither
good for the environment, attractive nor functional when it comes
to people enjoying their own beach.
When talking to shoreline property owners who have removed a
rock or concrete bulkhead, often the first thing they tell me is
how much nicer their beach has become. No more jumping or climbing
off a wall. No more rickety stairs. One can walk down a slope and
plop down a lawn chair wherever the tide tells you is the right
“The factors are all in place for a paradigm shift,” Sheida told
me. “When people see the geotech reports for their own beach, they
can see there is a different way. People can take off their shoes
and put their toes in the sand.”
Getting contractors and real-estate agents to understand and
support new methods of beach protection and restoration is one
strategy being considered. Personally, I was impressed with the
change in direction by Sealevel Bulkhead Builders. Check out the
story I wrote for the
Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal.
It takes a little land to create the right slope to dissipate
wave energy without any man-made structure. In some cases, large
rocks and logs — so-called “soft shore protection” — can help
reduce erosion. In some situations where land is limited and wave
energy is high, a solid wall may be the only remedy. No matter
which option is used, one must consider the initial cost and
long-term maintenance — including consideration of sea-level rise
caused by global warming.
“The secret,” said Dave Price, “is less about the strong arm of
regulation and more about helping people understanding what they
Scientific evidence about the damage of bulkheads has been
building for several years. Among the impacts:
Loss of beach and backshore, which reduces the area used for
recreation, shellfish, bird habitat and forage-fish spawning.
Loss of slow, natural erosion, which helps maintain the
quantity and quality of sand and gravel along the shoreline.
Alteration of wave action, which can impede natural movement of
sand and gravel and scour the beach of fine sediment, leaving
hardpan and scattered rocks.
Increased predation of juvenile salmon by larger fish where
high tides leave deep water along the bulkhead, plus fewer insects
for food caused by loss of shoreline vegetation.
Bulkheads can cause a coarsening of a beach over time, with
harder and harder substrate becoming evident. Damage from one
bulkhead may be slow and limited, experts say, but alterations to
more than 25 percent of the shoreline, as we see today, has taken a
serious toll in some parts of Puget Sound.
Dave told me about the time he stood next to a concrete bulkhead
and watched the tide coming in. Large fish, such as sculpins, were
able to swim right up to the wall.
“I stood there and watched these fish come right in next to
shore,” he said. “These were big fish, and they came up right next
to the bulkhead. There was nowhere for the juvenile salmonids to
get out of there.”
The cartoon below was part of this week’s “Amusing
Monday” feature, and it illustrates the situation that Dave
described. I could say much more about changing trends in
bulkheads, given new studies funded by the Environmental Protection
Agency, but that can wait for future blog posts.
When it comes to restoring the Puget Sound ecosystem, human
beings really do matter — in some ways that are obvious and in some
ways that are fairly subtle.
The Puget Sound Leadership Council, which oversees the
restoration of Puget Sound, acknowledged this fact yesterday when
adopting a new set of ecosystem indicators to measure how Puget
Sound influences the health and well-being of humans.
It’s often said that people have damaged the Puget Sound
ecosystem through years of abuse. They say it will take years of
restoration — by people — to return things to a healthy condition.
But why do we care? Are we spending millions of dollars on
restoration just to benefit fish and wildlife, or are we doing it
The answer, which comes from studies of economics and human
behavior, appears to be that helping fish and wildlife — by putting
the ecosystem back together — also benefits humans in a variety of
When the Washington Legislature told the Puget Sound Partnership
to go forth and lead the way toward restoring Puget Sound to
health, our lawmakers understood that people would be the primary
beneficiaries. The first two goals assigned to the partnership, as
articulated by RCW
A healthy human population supported by a healthy Puget Sound
that is not threatened by changes in the ecosystem;
A quality of human life that is sustained by a functioning
Puget Sound ecosystem;
The other three goals are related to native species, habitats
and water supplies.
Sometimes goals related to human values conflict with goals to
restore ecological functions. For example, one cannot build a house
on undeveloped land without altering the ecosystem in some negative
ways. Sometimes human values are aligned with ecological values,
such when we reduce pollution to clean up streams and drinking
water. In any case, these new ecosystem indicators will help people
understand the tradeoffs and opportunities of various actions.
As I pointed out last month in
Water Ways, the Hood Canal Coordinating Council has completed a
plan and associated website
that highlights connections between human well-being and natural
resources in the Hood Canal region. Hood Canal became a pilot
project for the indicators approved yesterday for all of Puget
Sound. Some of the same folks — including social scientist Kelly
Biedenweg of the Puget Sound Institute — were involved in creating
nine new “vital signs” with indicators to track human-related
changes in the Puget Sound ecosystem.
Unlike the original human health and human well-being indicators
adopted in 2010, these new indicators have undergone an extensive
review by scientists and other experts to ensure their validity and
reliability. That is, these new indicators have real meaning in
connecting human beings to the ecological functions of Puget
In yesterday’s meeting, Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the
Leadership Council, said the human dimension is often ignored in
favor of empirical science.
“This is a hard thing to do,” she said about developing the new
indicators. “This is sort of a brave new world, and I think it is
true that we live in this world whether we call it out like this or
Council member Stephanie Solien said she would like to see more
discussions about human health and well-being issues — not because
they are more important than species and habitats, but because they
make connections to average people.
“People are self-interested,” she said. “They care about their
health, their family’s health, the health of their communities. The
more we can draw those connections to Puget Sound and healthy
watersheds, I think we will be more successful in our work around
ecosystems and saving species.”
Here are the four new vital signs and associated indicators
related to human health:
1. OUTDOOR ACTIVITY: Measured by 1) Percent of
swimming beaches meeting bacterial standards (one of the existing
indicators), 2) Average hours people spend having fun outdoors, 3)
Average hours people spend working outdoors.
2. AIR QUALITY: Indicators to be determined
from existing data.
3. LOCAL FOODS: Availability of wild foods,
such the ability to catch fish, collect shellfish, harvest plants
and hunt for game.
4. DRINKING WATER: Indicators to be determined
from information about water systems.
Here are the five new vital signs and associated indicators
related to human well-being:
5. ECONOMIC VITALITY: Measured by 1) Value of
natural resources produced by industry, including commercial
fishing, shellfish harvesting, timber production, agriculture,
mining and tourism; 2) Value produced by natural-resource
industries compared to gross domestic product of all other
industries in the region; 3) Number of jobs in natural-resource
6. CULTURAL WELL-BEING: Percent of residents
who feel they are able to maintain traditions associated with the
7. GOOD GOVERNANCE: Percentage of people who
feel they have 1) the opportunity to influence decisions about
Puget Sound, 2) the rights and freedom to make decisions about
managing natural resources, 3) trust in local and regional
governments to make the right decisions about Puget Sound, 4) been
well represented by government leaders, 5) access to information
about natural-resource issues.
8. SENSE OF PLACE: Percentage of people who
feel: 1) a positive connection to the region, 2) a sense of
stewardship for the watershed, 3) a sense of pride about being from
9. PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING INDEX: Percentage
of people who experience: 1) inspiration from being in nature, 2)
reduced stress, calm or relaxation from being in nature, 3) Overall
life satisfaction based on criteria in national studies.
Leadership Council member Jay Manning, former director of the
Washington Department of Ecology, said he supports the indicators.
His only concern is that some are beyond the control of the Puget
Sound Partnership, and some may have nothing to do with people’s
connection to Puget Sound.
Jay makes a good point, but the social scientists who developed
the indicators stressed that there will be no targets or goals
associated with human values. What will be interesting to watch is
whether people feel better or worse about the restoration effort as
time goes on, and how the leaders choose to respond to any changes
in public opinion.
Much of the information that will fit into the new indicators
will be the result of phone surveys yet to be conducted. Other
information will be teased out of ongoing research studies. The
partnership has received funding from the Environmental Protection
Agency to hire a consultant to continue work on the human-related
indicators until the numbers are finalized.
None of the new information about human health and well-being
will be included in the State of Puget Sound report to be issued
later this year, according to Kari Stiles, staff scientist for the
partnership. But some information could go into the Vital Signs wheel within
the next year.
As far as I know, nobody has come up with a good name for the
type of pollution that gets picked up by rainwater that flows
across the ground, carrying contaminants into ditches, streams and
eventually large waterways, such as Puget Sound.
“Stormwater pollution” is a term I have frequently used. But
Sheida Sahandy, executive director of Puget Sound Partnership, made
a good point when I interviewed her last summer about the perils of
“I don’t really like calling it ‘stormwater,’” Sheida told me.
“It doesn’t have much to do with storms. It has to do with people.
We’re talking about our dirt, our detritus, our filth. Everyone has
it, and we all dump it into the sound to one degree or
Stormwater is relatively pure when it falls from the sky as
rain. It only gets dirty because the runoff picks up dirt, toxic
chemicals, bacteria and other wastes, mostly left behind by
“Stormwater has gotten a bad wrap,” Sheida said. “It’s really
what we’ve done to the poor thing that makes it evil.”
Officially, the Environmental Protection Agency and Washington
Department of Ecology tend to call it “nonpoint source pollution.”
It’s a term that tells us what this kind of pollution is not.
Specifically, it is not pollution coming from a point source, such
as a pipe. But “nonpoint” does not describe what it really is.
Technically, nonpoint pollution is more than stormwater. It
includes waterborne sources such as marinas and atmospheric
deposition from air pollution. Taken together, this form of
pollution remains the most serious threat facing those who would
clean up and protect Puget Sound.
We need a new term like “mess-left-behind pollution,” because it
generally results from someone leaving some kind of contamination
on the ground — such as animal waste or leaking motor oil — or
failing to anticipate future problems — such as those caused by
toxic flame retardants in furniture or mercury from a multitude of
coal-fired power plants.
Agriculture, including livestock wastes;
fertilizers and pesticides; and erosion from grazing practices and
over-cultivation of fields.
Atmospheric deposition, including emissions
from automobile, industrial and agricultural sources and backyard
burning of trash.
Forest practices, including turbidity from
erosion caused by loss of vegetation and road-building, as well as
pesticides and fertilizers from forest applications.
including increased temperature from loss of vegetation or water
impoundment; turbidity from erosion caused by shoreline alteration;
and increased bacteria and chemical concentrations from loss of
Recreation, including sewage, paint and
solvents from boats.
Urban/suburban areas, including bacteria from
failing septic systems, pet wastes and urban wildlife; erosion from
construction and landscaping; lawn chemicals; road runoff; chemical
spills; and increased stream temperature from loss of
While putting the final touches on a two-year, 10-part series
about the Puget Sound ecosystem, I couldn’t help but wonder about
the true character of Washington state and its citizens.
How much do people really care about salmon and rockfish, eagles
and herons, killer whales, cougars, and many lesser-known species
in and around Puget Sound? Do we have a political system capable of
supporting the needed efforts — financially and legally — to
correct the problems?
After interviewing hundreds of people over the past few years, I
have a pretty good feeling about this state, especially when
considering other parts of the country. There is hope that we can
save some of the remaining gems of the Puget Sound ecosystem while
restoring functioning conditions in other places.
Puget Sound Partnership, which is overseeing the restoration
efforts, still has the support of many people and organizations —
including many conservatives and business-oriented folks. That
support comes despite ongoing struggles by the partnership to find
a proper place within the state’s political system. Review my
latest story in the
Kitsap Sun (subscription).
“Let science lead the way” remains the refrain of both critics
and supporters of the partnership. But that is easier said than
done — even if you could take politics out of the equation.
Scientists in almost any field of research don’t always agree on
the fundamental problems, and there is a competition among
scientific disciplines for limited research dollars. Are endangered
fish more important than endangered birds or endangered whales, or
should we be studying the plankton, sediments and eelgrass that
form the base of the food web?
Really, where should we focus our attention and tax dollars?
That’s a key question. The correct answer is, and always has been,
“All of the above.”
When it comes to funding, the decision-making becomes widely
disbursed, and I’m not sure whether that is good or bad. At the
local level, we have Lead Entities and Local Integrating
Organizations. At the state level, we have the Salmon Recovery
Funding Board, the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board and
Then there is the Puget Sound Partnership, with its seven-member
Leadership Council and 28-member Ecosystem Coordination Board,
along with its science advisory panel. The partnership establishes
an Action Agenda to guide funding decisions by the others.
One would never want an individual man or woman deciding where
the money should go. But do the various groups help identify
important problems, or do they diffuse attention from what could be
a focused strategy? I believe this will always be somewhat a
One thing I confirmed in the final installment of the 10-part
series “Taking the Pulse of
Puget Sound” is that nobody was ever serious about a deadline
established in the law creating the Puget Sound Partnership.
Restoring Puget Sound by the year 2020 remains on the books as a
goal that needs to be changed.
If officials acknowledge that the goal cannot be met, will the
Legislature and the public continue their support for the current
level of funding or perhaps increase support?
That gets back to my wondering about the true character of
Washington state and its citizens. Based on past legislation, this
state is clearly a leader in ecosystem protection. We have the
Shoreline Management Act, the Growth Management Act (with its
urban-concentration and critical-areas protections), Municipal
Stormwater Permits, Forest Practices Act and more.
Are we ready to go all the way, by setting interim goals for
2020 and looking to the long term? We will need to better track
progress, which means gathering more data in the field —
monitoring, if you will.
Monitoring is not as inspiring as restoring an important
estuary. But think of all the time and money spent on forecasting
the weather, which relies entirely on monitoring with costly
investments in satellites and equipment, all needing continual
Envision a significant role for experts who can describe changes
in the ecosystem and help us decide if our money is being well
spent. If weather reporters can hold a central role on the evening
news, why shouldn’t we have ecosystem reporters discussing
I wouldn’t mind hearing a report on the news something like
this: “We are seeing improved conditions in southern Hood Canal,
with scattered salmon spawning at upper elevations, and a 90
percent chance that oyster beds will be opened in Belfair.” (Just
kidding, of course.)
Puget Sound Partnership’s proposed budget, as submitted by the
governor, contains more than $1 million for assessing Puget Sound
recovery. That could be an important step to providing information
about how the ecosystem is responding to the hundreds of millions
of dollars spent on protection and restoration so far.
In writing about the future for the final part of the “Pulse”
series, I described a 2008 report from the University of
Urban Ecology Research Lab. The report identified the primary
“drivers” of change that would determine the future of the Puget
It was interesting to learn that if we are lucky about climate
change — or even if we’re not so lucky — the future is largely in
our hands. How will we react to economic ups and downs? How will we
address land use with millions of new people coming in? Will we
embrace technology as the final solution or look to nature for
The report describes six remarkably different scenarios, though
others could be constructed. Perhaps the worst one is called
“Collapse,” in which warning signs of ecological problems are
ignored and economic challenges are met by relaxing environmental
regulations and allowing residential sprawl. In the end, the
ecosystem cannot withstand the assault. Shellfish beds are forced
to close, and hundreds of species — including salmon and orcas —
Two scenarios hold more hopeful outcomes. One, called “Forward,”
includes public investments to purchase sensitive areas, including
shorelines. Growth becomes concentrated in cities, and people learn
to fit into the ecosystem. The other, called “Adaptation,” includes
grassroots efforts to save water and resources and improve people’s
ecological behavior. Protecting shorelines, floodplains and
wildlife corridors help reduce flooding and protect species that
could have been wiped out. Check out
“Scenarios offer glimpses of a possible future for Puget
Sound,” Kitsap Sun (subscription).
Joel Baker, director of Puget Sound Institute, capped off my
“futures” story with a sense of optimism, which I find contagious.
I don’t know if Joel was thinking of the Frank Sinatra song, “New
York, New York” which contains the line, “If I can make it there,
I’ll make it anywhere.” But Joel told me something like, “If we
can’t make it here, we can’t make it anywhere.”
Here are his exact words:
“As an environmental scientist, I find it interesting that
things are starting to come together. We continue to grow
economically, so we have the money.
“Energy is lining up with the environment, and we’re forcing the
restoration program to think holistically. It’s as much about
transportation as it is about sewage-treatment plants.
“The Pacific Northwest is technologically savvy; we have smart
people here; and we have the collective will to get things done. So
I’m optimistic about cleaning up Puget Sound. If we can’t do it
here, God help the rest of the country.”
I’ve completed the seventh story package in a 10-part series
examining the Puget Sound ecosystem, with a special focus on
indicators of ecological health. We’re calling the project “Taking
the Pulse of Puget Sound.”
The latest stories, which ran Sunday and Monday, addressed
freshwater quality. The opening piece looked at the huge amounts of
pollution coming into our streams via stormwater — one of the
highest priorities for cleanup, yet one of the most difficult to
As the Puget Sound Partnership’s executive director Sheida
Sahandy told me, industrial discharges are still a concern, but
they are no longer the biggest problem.
“Now we’re dealing with stormwater, which is trickling in here
and trickling in there, and everybody has a finger in it,” she
Solutions are many, and the goal should be to shut off pollution
at the source, beginning with removing dangerous chemicals from
everyday products. Since the sources of pollution are numerous,
everyone needs to play a part — from cleaning up pet wastes to
properly using of household chemicals to reducing the use of lawn
and garden pesticides. (Those who don’t subscribe to the Kitsap Sun
may still find value in the graphics on the
Freshwater Quality page.)
I led off the first story by showing the increased efforts by
city and county governments to better manage their stormwater
systems, such as pumping out their catch basins, sweeping their
streets and converting outdated stormwater ponds into filtration
systems, commonly known as “rain gardens.”
I also introduced readers to the Washington Stormwater
Center, a research facility in Puyallup where scientists are
testing the effectiveness of rain gardens and pervious pavement.
Jenifer McIntyre, a Washington State University researcher, has
demonstrated that stormwater from highway runoff is 100 percent
effective at killing adult coho salmon. Yet that same stormwater
filtered through soil — such as in a rain garden — is cleaned up
enough that fish can survive, apparently unaffected.
Monday’s story addressed the increasing use of benthic
invertebrates — water bugs — to measure the health of streams. The
bugs are doing double duty, since they are both a measurement of
stream quality and a critical part of the food web for the
Some 27 local governments and organizations are involved in
collecting data on benthic invertebrates from about 850 stream
locations throughout Puget Sound. For results, check out Puget Sound Stream
When I began this project on freshwater quality several weeks
ago, I thought it was going to be easier than some of the other
story packages I have done, such as on fish, birds and marine
mammals. If anything, this issue is more complex. I’ll admit that
I’ve neglected this blog while pursuing these issues, and soon I
will be moving into the issue of freshwater quantity.
Overall, I must say that I’ve been impressed by the many people
dedicated to finding answers to the mysterious problems brought on
by pollution and by those finding solutions even before the
questions are fully identified.
UPDATE, June 11, 2014
Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, wrote
a tribute to Billy Frank that is worth reading. Jeromy mentions
three admirable attributes of Billy Frank and gives examples of
each. They are words to live by.
Stand up for what you believe in … even when no one else
Treat people with respect even if you’re on opposite
It’s the big and small things that make your community a better
The affection and admiration expressed for Billy Frank Jr. has
been somewhat overwhelming in recent days. I thought it would be
nice to pull together some of the tributes — including the memorial
service — that talk about this man who was an irrepressible voice
for salmon recovery, environmental restoration and Native American
Billy, 83, a member of the Nisqually Tribe and chairman of the
Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, died last Monday, May 5, at
his home. As I said in
Water Ways last Tuesday, I believe Billy will remain an
An estimated 6,000 people attended his memorial service Sunday
at the Squaxin Island Tribe’s Skookum Creek Event Center, located
at Little Creek Casino Resort near Shelton.
The service was recorded by Squaxin Streams and posted on the
Livestream website, which is the video player on this page.
Billy Frank’s own words, “Nobody can replace my life,” speak of
the changes from one generation to the next. Billy knew as well as
anyone that we can’t go back, but he asked people to help determine
a better environmental future. Secretary
of State Legacy Project.
1. Billy's own words
Tributes, statements, news
William D. Ruckelshaus, former chairman of the Puget Sound
Partnership’s Leadership Council, of which Billy was a member.
Published in Crosscut, May 8.
Martha Kongsgaard, current chairwoman of the Puget Sound
Partnership’s Leadership Council. Published on the partnership’s
website, May 6.
Sunday marked the halfway point in my ongoing series “Taking the
Pulse of Puget Sound,” which examines the health of our waterway
and asks the question, “With all the money being spent on
restoration, are we making any progress?”
For me, the series so far has been an adventure and a learning
experience, thanks to abundant help from the many great scientists
and smart policy makers we have in this region.
The first half of the project has focused largely on species,
including humans; herring and organisms at the base of the food
web; salmon and marine fish; marine mammals; and
Sunday’s piece on birds (subscription).
Still to come are stories about marine water quality, freshwater
quality, upland habitat, water quantity and the future.
As a reporter, I regret that everyone can’t read all these
stories immediately without a subscription to the Kitsap Sun, but I
have to trust that these kinds of business decisions will allow me
to keep doing my work. Still, many of the stories, photos and
graphics in this series are available now with or without
subscription, starting with the lead page, “Taking
the Pulse of Puget Sound,” and moving through the series:
Some of the larger points from the latest seabird
Puget Sound has about 70 common species of marine birds. Many
populations are in decline but some appear to be stable and a few
The winter population is about four times as large as the
summer population, reaching a peak of roughly half a million
Because birds can fly from one place to another, their choices
of location can tell us something about the health of one place
compared to another in Puget Sound.
If the population of a wintering bird species is in decline,
you need to know something about its migration route and nesting
area before you can conclude that conditions in Puget Sound are to
The marbled murrelet, a “threatened” species, is an odd bird,
first identified by early explorers in the late 1700s but whose
nesting habits weren’t discovered until 1974.
Researchers are trying to learn why two similar birds — tufted
puffins and rhinoceros auklets — are faring differently in Puget
Sound. Steep declines are seen for tufted puffins, which may be
headed for an endangered species listing, while rhinoceros auklets
are on the increase. Their varying behaviors are at the center of
Ecosystem indicators for birds, as chosen by the Puget Sound
Partnership, are more involved than most other indicators. They
focus on the densities of four bird species and also consider food
supply and reproductive success.