Tag Archives: Washington Environmental Council

Stormwater report urges cities and counties to get up to speed on rules

In Kitsap County, stormwater has been a major issue — and the subject of ongoing newspaper stories — for a very long time.

As a local reporter working for the Kitsap Sun, I followed the prolonged struggle among engineers, developers, planners and environmentalists to approve new rules for reducing toxic runoff washing into Puget Sound. After the legal battles were over, local governments were called on to update their stormwater codes, and many key provisions went into effect last year.

Click for a PDF (1.7 mb) version of “Nature’s Scorecard.”

It was with some surprise that I read a new report called “Nature’s Scorecard,” which reveals that more than half of the 81 cities and counties around Puget Sound have failed to follow through in a meaningful way to encourage low-impact development, which is required by state rules. Low-impact development, or LID, involves techniques that filter rainwater into the ground as close to the source as possible.

According to the report, 15 percent of the local governments failed to update their codes, and an additional 38 percent made only minor changes. Out of 81 local governments, 20 were forced to file a “notice of noncompliance” admitting they had not met the new standards.

The scorecard is a joint effort by two environmental groups involved in water quality, Washington Environmental Council and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. It was nice to know that the authors of the report contacted local officials in advance where deficiencies were noted. Some officials offered explanations, and others moved quickly to fix the deficiencies, according to Mindy Roberts of WEC.

Mindy told me that she hopes the scorecard and discussions with local officials will result in LID improvements without going to court.

The scorecard also calls out municipalities that have done exceptionally well on the LID front. Named as “green star leaders” for going beyond the minimal standards are Kitsap County and the cities of Lacey, Oak Harbor, Olympia, Port Orchard, Renton, Seattle and Tacoma. See the news release on WEC’s website.

The softer approach also paid off in Fife, where stormwater officials apparently were not aware of the state requirement to make LID the primary method of stormwater management, Mindy said. After city officials were contacted, they jumped into action and now have a code that will reduce stormwater pollution.

Stormwater officials in Mountlake Terrace were on schedule to meet the state mandate, Mindy said. But the City Council, under pressure from developers, failed to pass the code language when it was presented to them. Now city officials are again working to come into compliance, she noted.

The website for “Nature’s Scorecard” includes information about the impacts of stormwater, the need for LID regulations and the status of various cities and counties. Scores in the report come from compliance with five key LID strategies: reducing impervious surfaces, protecting native vegetation and soils, supporting pervious pavement, planting native vegetation, and protecting natural buffers along streams, wetlands and shorelines.

Puget Sound residents are encouraged to review the report’s findings and support their elected officials in the implementation of LID to protect Puget Sound. Contact information for city and county stormwater officials is provided for each listed municipality.

One of the reasons that Kitsap County is a leader in stormwater management is the support from residents of unincorporated areas. Each property owner pays an annual fee to monitor water quality, assess pollution problems, develop appropriate solutions and construct regional stormwater systems in already-developed areas. Anyone can review the current five-year stormwater capital plan (PDF 1 mb).

The Kitsap County commissioners recently approved new stormwater fees for the coming years. It was interesting to hear the testimony of supporters at the meeting. Check out the video (above), beginning at 25:09 minutes. A fact sheet on the fees (PDF 1.6 mb) can be found on the county’s website.

Like Kitsap County, the city of Auburn has fully embraced stormwater management to address flooding and reduce pollution. Information, including an in-depth comprehensive storm drainage plan, can be found on the city’s Storm Drainage website.

At the national level, Kitsap County and Auburn received awards last year from the Water Environment Federation Stormwater Institute, which promotes innovative stormwater solutions. They were among six award winners nationwide for both large and small municipalities that go beyond regulations. Auburn was recognized for its stormwater innovation, while Kitsap was recognized for its management. See the news release from WEF.

Other related information:

  • “What makes stormwater toxic?”: The dangers of road runoff and possible solutions are examined in an in-depth story by reporter Eric Wagner. The piece was published Dec. 4 in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
  • U.S. Government Accountability Office (PDF 4.7 mb): In a survey of 31 municipalities, the GAO found that green infrastructure — another term for LID — was more challenging than traditional pipes and ponds. GAO learned that collaboration among nearby governments is important and should be supported through documented agreements.
  • Kitsap County’s news release on Nature’s Scorecard: “A low-impact development approach allows us to work with the rain, rather than against it,” said Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido. “This approach protects, restores, conserves, and reclaims our water — and this scorecard helps us know exactly where we stand in our region.”
  • “Are you planning for LID?”: Association of Washington Cities provides information resources and videos.
  • Building Industry Association of Washington: BIAW offers information on specific LID techniques, manuals and guidelines, technical articles and reports, and links to government requirements.

Duwamish swim over, Mark Powell finds ‘the heart of the Duwamish’

Mark Powell made it, completing his swim today of the entire Duwamish River, with the exception of some whitewater rapids upstream and a stretch of the river through Tacoma’s protected watershed. For background, see Water Ways, Aug. 22.

During his remarks after climbing out of the water in Elliott Bay, Mark said he had concluded along the way that “the heart of the Duwamish River … is still beating”:

“I started out with the idea that I would hope to find the heart of the Duwamish River, and I think I succeeded. One thing I saw stands out above all else, and to me it is the heart of the Duwamish River. I saw thousands of wild pink salmon swimming up the Duwamish and the Green River.

“There’s a huge run of pink salmon this year. I don’t know how many people in Seattle know about it. Schools of salmon so thick and so close that I reached out and touched the salmon with my hand. I have never seen so many salmon except in videos taken in Alaska.

“That’s not to say everything is fine on the Duwamish River. There are some other species of salmon not doing so well. There are some very well known pollution problems. But the thriving, healthy wild pink salmon run to me is the heart of the Duwamish River. The heart is still beating.”

The first video on this page shows the final leg of Mark’s journey through the industrial Duwamish Waterway, a journey that began where the Green River begins as a trickle south of Snoqualmie Pass high in the Cascade Mountains.

The second video gives us a view of the pink salmon that Mark raved was the “heart of the Duwamish.” Mark talks about the overall journey in a video he posted on the “Swim Duwamish” blog.

For more detail, check out stories by Tristan Baurick in the Kitsap Sun and Lynda Mapes in the Seattle Times.

Swimming a river called Green/Duwamish to open our eyes to the promise

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?

Mark Powell
Mark Powell

“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 watershed (map, PDF 1.1 mb) and to increase restoration efforts where needed.

“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 Seattle Times.

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 landscape.”

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 links together.”

Mark’s adventures on the river are chronicled in a blog called “Swim 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 late.”

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 began.

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).

People for Puget Sound disbands after 21 years

UPDATE, Sept. 13

For some different perspectives on the demise of People for Puget Sound:

Reporter Lynda Mapes interviews Denis Hayes of the Bullitt Foundation and others in her story in the Seattle Times.

Mike Sato, longtime communications director for People for Puget Sound, offers his viewpoint in his blog “Salish Sea Communications.”

Alf Hanna recalls the good work done by People for Puget Sound in his blog “Olympic Peninsula Environmental News” and includes this terse observation:

“Tom Bancroft’s comments to the press about not knowing the financial status of the organization are simply not accurate. There is nothing more needing saying than that I was there, on the board when he was hired. He knew full well what the situation was. He’s a smart guy, who knows how to read a financial report. But this isn’t about Tom. It’s about the Salish Sea.”


When a well-established institution like People for Puget Sound suddenly disbands, it’s like a death in the family for supporters and colleagues. Questions about what happened hang in the air. Explanations never seem adequate.

How could People for Puget Sound manage to survive and wield great influence for 20 years only to go under a year and a half after a new executive director takes control?

Kathy Fletcher, who helped form the organization in 1991 and served as its executive director for 20 years, seemed happy to pass the reins of the organization to Tom Bancroft, who had worked at the top levels of the National Audobon Society, Wilderness Society and other groups.

Here’s what Kathy said at her retirement party:

“Beyond what you can read about Tom on paper, I can now say, after working with him for a little over two months, he is the right human being to lead People for Puget Sound. His judgment is excellent; his instincts are great; and his people skills are terrific. People for Puget Sound is in good hands.”

Tom Bancroft

I’ll come back to what Kathy told me today, but Tom’s take on the situation is that People for Puget Sound grew faster than revenues allowed from about 2007 to 2011 (before his arrival), and he was unable to make enough adjustments to keep things going, no matter how hard he tried.

“This was not expected when I took the job,” Tom told me. “I discovered soon after I got here that the organization was larger than we could afford.”

He says he took over as director in April of 2011 and within a month began to eye the balance sheet and worry about the future.

“I said, ‘My god, what have I gotten into,” he noted.

The organization had taken on a $300,000 loan in 2010, using as collateral more than $500,000 in reserve funds.

“We had a lot of reserves, but we had to contract back down to what the revenues were,” he said.

Near the end of last year, six full-time and two part-time staffers were laid off from a total staff of about 25 people.

A fund drive last spring could have helped restore the organization to an even keel, but the effort failed to generate the level of donations required for success.

In May, another five full-time staffers were laid off. Others left on their own.

“It’s not that any one thing fell apart,” Tom said. “The economic reality affects all funding. Foundations are not having as much money as before. Individuals don’t have the money to give. It is a tough time right now…

“I got to a point where I still needed to do cuts, and cutting staff would not work, because we wouldn’t have enough people to run the programs. I was caught in a bind.

“I thought we could try to squeeze through this. But I would rather we protect the mission and keep it going than try to keep us alive (until nothing is left).”

With board approval, Tom used most of the remaining reserve funds to pay off the $300,000 loan. The remainder is going into a transition effort designed to move the programs to other environmental groups.

Kathy Fletcher

Kathy Fletcher said she worked hard through the transition period before her retirement in 2011 to make sure everything was in order and a new director was prepared.

“This is shocking and sad,” she told me, referring to the news that People for Puget Sound would come to an end. “I never would have imagined that this would have happened.”

Kathy said when she left the organization, there was plenty of money in the reserve fund to cover the $300,000 line of credit and more. The group had been dipping into the reserve fund for two or three years, she said, but that’s why the organization had amassed such a large fund to begin with. The challenge, as it has always been, was for the organization to raise donations, she said.

As with any nonprofit group, it takes constant attention to keep the budget in balance, she said.

“Looking at how the economy has not bounced back, I can see that some cutbacks may have been necessary. It requires constant effort, sometimes a huge amount of effort.

“The fact that we borrowed against our line of credit was daunting to the new director, but that was a challenge,” she told me. “It meant a fund-raising burden, but it should not have resulted in closing things down.”

Still, Kathy acknowledges that she has been completely gone from the organization and does not wish to place blame now.

Mike Sato, one of the founders of People for Puget Sound and a public communications expert, lost his job during last year’s layoffs. Mike says the executive staff had worked for two years to prepare for Kathy Fletcher’s departure and the transition to new leadership.

“Some people will think that the charisma of the organization went away with Kathy,” he said. “But we made a real effort to establish the brand ‘People for Puget Sound.’ We were trying to say, ‘We are 20 years old and moving ahead.’”

During the 20 years of the group’s existence, Sato recalls other times when finances were tough.

“At times, some of us deferred salary to keep the organization going. We did creative financing, but we always pulled through, because we looked at this as a real cause rather than a balance sheet.

“Would another group of people have done things differently?” he wondered. “We did it because it was a cause, and you do whatever needs to be done. It is not financially impossible.”

Tom Bancroft said he is proud of the advocacy and policy accomplishments by the organization over the past year. He says he and his staff worked hard on the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda, on the Department of Ecology’s new statewide stormwater permit and on agreements dealing with combined sewer overflows in King County and the city of Seattle.

“If we can save the mission and keep the mission strong, I will feel good about walking away from here,” Tom told me. “Puget Sound is a fantastic body of water, and it’s critical to the well being of the people who live here.”

To save the “mission” of People for Puget Sound, Bancroft wants to shift policy, advocacy and education programs to the Washington Environmental Council, an environmental group that he sees as an ongoing “partner” in the effort to protect and restore Puget Sound.

He expects WEC to sharpen its focus on Puget Sound and even keep the name “People for Puget Sound” as a branch of the organization.

Meanwhile, restoration programs — largely funded with government grants — could be turned over to EarthCorps, another longterm partner involved in restoration projects.

Where grants are involved, an agency sponsor will likely need to approve the transfer of funds to any group taking over funded programs.

Mike Sato said it will take a firm commitment from other environmental organizations to keep up the watch dog functions performed by People for Puget Sound — particularly when it comes to oil-spill and vessel-related issues.

“Agencies will move forward,” Mike said, “but only as much as there is a constituency saying these things must be done.

“We’ve been wanting the (Puget Sound) Partnership to get its act together. We wanted to see the Partnership succeed. And now they seem to be getting it together, and somebody needs to be a watch dog so that things don’t fall by the wayside.

“It looks like the Partnership will be OK,” Sato added. “I’m just sorry that People for Puget Sound will not be around.”

Bancroft expects the organization will disband by the end of this month.

Judge puts Maury Island gravel project on hold

Environmental organizations were celebrating tonight after a federal judge blocked work on Glacier Northwest’s controversial gravel-mining operation on Maury Island.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled that no more work can be done on a loading dock until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares a full-blown environmental impact statement. The Corps also must “consult” with other agencies about harm that the project could cause to threatened and endangered species.

Shortly after Martinez issued his ruling, I received an e-mailed statement from state Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, who oversees a state lease for the gravel-mining operation.

“Due to the ruling in federal court today, the lease NW Aggregates has with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources is no longer in good standing,” Goldmark said.

“It is imperative that we protect Puget Sound. The judge recognized there are potential impacts from this project on threatened and endangered species, like orca and salmon. The ruling cites many of the same issues that we have raised in recent months.”

The court ruling, combined with Goldmark’s express position, creates a significant hurdle for Glacier Northwest to overcome.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Pete Stoltz, Glacier Northwest’s permit coordinator, told the Associated Press. “We participated in the entire process, provided all the information required.

“We’re hopeful that the process could happen expeditiously,” he said, adding that the company will cooperate fully with federal environmental reviews.

The case was brought by plaintiffs Preserve Our Islands, People for Puget Sound and Washington Environmental Council.

You may wish to read Martinez’s entire order (PDF 96 kb) for yourself, but I’ll try to summarize it here:
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