Watching Our Water Ways

Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Posts Tagged ‘Puget Sound restoration’

‘Pulse of Puget Sound’ series halfway done

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

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?”

food web

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 story:

  • Puget Sound has about 70 common species of marine birds. Many populations are in decline but some appear to be stable and a few are increasing.
  • The winter population is about four times as large as the summer population, reaching a peak of roughly half a million birds.
  • 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 blame.
  • 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 discussion.
  • 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.

What’s to happen with funding for Puget Sound?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Finding money for Puget Sound restoration is likely to become more difficult next year as legislative power shifts to Republicans in the state Senate and the Legislature wrestles with funding for education.

The power shift follows the defection of two Democratic senators to effectively create a Republican majority in the Senate. See reporter Mike Baker’s story for the Associated Press.

The upcoming budget debate will no doubt revolve around new funding for education. The State Supreme Court has ruled that the Legislature must find more money to fund basic educational needs, as required by the Washington State Constitution. Gov. Chris Gregoire has been talking about proposing a new dedicated tax, but now opponents of tax increases will have a stronger position.

Gov.-elect Jay Inslee ran on a no-new-taxes pledge, so it is likely that all state programs will go back on the chopping block, and nobody can predict what will come out of the turmoil.

Inslee told me a month ago that he could not predict whether Puget Sound programs would get more or less money, but he considered the state’s “paramount duty” to be education. Please review the Kitsap Sun story on Nov. 15.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gregoire told Seattle Times reporter Andrew Garber that her greatest disappointment was not getting more done to restore Puget Sound:

“Because that’s forever. That’s a big forever issue for this state. What I think happened… is we were on our way, and then we just got taken to our knees by the recession. While I kept funding it through other means, it didn’t get the focus I think it needs and deserves because I was so consumed by the recession.”

The governor told me during an interview last month that she still hopes the Legislature can find more money for Puget Sound — including a stable funding source — once the state gets to a stronger financial footing:

“We kept putting money in… I kept pushing for ongoing funding, and we will have to continue to do that for awhile.

“When the recession hit, I have to say that everybody’s attention got drawn away. People wondered, ‘Can I put food on the table? Am I going to lose my job?’ It was so all-consuming that I couldn’t focus on the sound.

“There was a lot of talk about a flush tax. We have never really done the research on it. The last couple of years was no time to be thinking about that. We have demands for education and transportation. But at some point we will have to find the ability to (pay for) more capital projects.

“I think we have held our own and made some improvement, but not the improvement we should have. We have to kick it up. 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.”

Gov. Gregoire also acknowledged to me that federal funding for Puget Sound could become more difficult with the retirement of U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, who has been a powerful advocate for Puget Sound. On the other hand, she has hope that Norm’s effort through the years and the establishment of the Puget Sound Partnership with provide ongoing credibility for the program. She also believes that Norm’s replacement, Democrat Derek Kilmer, will be a strong advocate for Puget Sound, along with the state’s two U.S. senators.

Other comments from my interview with the governor were used in the first story in what will be an ongoing series about the Puget Sound Partnership’s ecosystem indicators. See Kitsap Sun, Nov. 24.

Speaking of money for Puget Sound, the Salmon Recovery Funding Board has approved $19.2 million statewide for salmon projects next year. I focused my story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun on estuary projects in Hood Canal, but the full list of projects (PDF 279 kb) can be downloaded from the website of the Recreation and Conservation Office.

It might be interesting to review the history of these grants, year by year. The following are the annual allocations with links to more details:

2013: $19.2 million. News release, Dec. 10, 2012

2012: $30 million. News release, Dec. 12, 2011

2011: $19.8 million. News release, Dec. 20, 2010

2010: $42.8 million. News release, Dec. 15, 2009

2009: $19.8 million. News release, Dec. 12, 2008

2008: $60 million. News release (PDF 360 kb), Dec. 19, 2007

2007: $16.6 million. News release (PDF 262 kb), Dec. 8, 2006

2006: $26.6 million. News release (PDF 262 kb), Jan. 11, 2006

2005: $26.7 million. News release (PDF 188 kb), Dec. 9, 2004 (Gov. Gary Locke)


Recession pushes and pulls on Puget Sound cleanup

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

In some ways, the recession we are going through has been very good for Puget Sound, at least if we’re talking about ecosystem restoration.

Gov. Chris Gregoire spies an eagle flying over Oakland Bay during Friday’s media tour.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

In an effort to stimulate the economy and create jobs, Congress appropriated lots of money for projects that were ready or nearly ready to be built. The Puget Sound Partnership lists 614 projects with a price tag of $460 million since 2008. An estimated 15,640 jobs were created in the process, according to the PSP.

But the recession also helped another way. It turns out that when restoration and public-works projects were put out to bid, most of them came in well under their original estimates. Contractors apparently needed the work so badly that they were willing to cut their profit margins and compete hard for the available work. That freed up money for additional projects.

On Friday, Gov. Chris Gregoire led a media tour to some of the projects being built with special federal and state appropriations. One was the Belfair sewage treatment plant, designed to remove nitrogen from Hood Canal to address the low-oxygen problem. Her message was that Puget Sound restoration must not be placed on the back burner until the recession is over.
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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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