Friday, November 2, 2012

The ‘Poor’ State of Our Sound

I drank beer with a few folks the other night and talked about saving Puget Sound. The beer was good; the discussion, well, less than satisfying.

Talking about saving Puget Sound is less than satisfying the same way reading about how the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council addressed and approved the latest State of the Sound report. (“Little progress reported in Puget Sound health”)

According to the Sun article, there’s progress on reopening polluted commercial shellfish beds and restoring habitats but many other indicators of the Sound’s health— Chinook salmon and orca populations, herring stocks and eelgrass beds, and water quality— are not improving. The best that can be said is that it would be worse if nothing were being done, and that the problems weren’t created in a day and won’t be solved in a day.

So what do we know?

We know a lot of money has been spent but there’s not enough money to do what’s necessary. In fact, we might not know, exactly, how much money is needed but it’s a lot more than the $230 million a year that’s been spent since 2008.

We know what work’s been done thus far but we don’t know whether the work’s been effective because we can’t afford to monitor effectiveness and decide what actions work, what actions don’t work.

We think we know that people know the health of the Sound isn’t good but that doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in what they do in their lives. And, as Skagit County citizen Pete Haase told the Council, picking up dog poop isn’t going to save the Sound.

Uncap me another beer.

The Partnership and its Leadership Council seems mired in the same rut saving Puget Sound has been in for years and years: not enough money to get the job done right, not enough ways to show that spending the money and doing the work are making a real difference, and not enough people caring enough to insist that Puget Sound be protected and restored to health.

Where’s the leadership?

We need the leadership, political or otherwise, that says let’s protect the Sound by first enforcing existing laws that protect the Sound. It’s not an easy task but essential: Do No More Harm.

We need the leadership, political or otherwise, that brings together businesses, soccer moms, the hook-and-bullet crowd with whale huggers, tribes and local governments to establish an ongoing revenue source to put real money into cleaning up polluted runoff, restoring habitat and reopening polluted shellfish beds. It’s not an easy task but it has been done: the Centennial Clean Water Fund (the cigarette tax) is one example from the mid-’80s.

We need the leadership, political or otherwise, that gets on the road and into our communities to energize and publicize the many, many local efforts underway protecting and restoring parts of Puget Sound. It’s not an easy task but we need to build awareness of what’s at stake in saving Puget Sound neighbor-to-neighbor, project-by-project— and shape that constituency into one that insists that the Sound be protected and restored to health.

Enough beer for now. Where’s the leadership?

Look, tell me what you think, and I’ll buy the next round.

--Mike Sato


  1. Much can be said about the recent publications. You made many good and,to me, probably valid points.

    My area of concern has been on the inability of the whole Puget Sound Partnership effort(and I mean the core agency as well as all the boards, panels, and local integrating organizations)to simplify and popularize the situation of Puget Sound and the kinds of fixes needed. There is no PR effort except for ones that trivialize the problem into dog poop and car drips. Far too many of the leadership folk come from government or quasi-government bodies that do not do that sort of thing and don't know how.

    As to what I think if I only have one thought? Let's get Alan Mulally to spending some time on this issue and come back and head it up - he caused a bunch of it, he is about ready to retire, and guilt and ego are wonderful chips to play!

    And, on 2nd thought - if More Whales is a target, it might be good to explain that to the whales as well as write hundreds of pages about it in books.

  2. Well, instead of drinking beer over there you should have been drinking beer over in PT covering the NW Straits Initiative meeting. "Colonel" Anthony Wright gave us a good reason to believe he actually might get something of consequence achieved. Billy Frank Jr. gave us a good history lesson and why he believes, 'no one in Washington D.C. is in charge, so you folks, right here, are.' Others told us of the good efforts they are doing to get real science on the ground on ocean acidification, and many other positive steps. Are they enough? The jury is still out. Next is to get the MRCs funded properly, and to have Tony Wright right the ship of the Partnership and get the public and the legislature behind it. There's not much time left.

  3. I'll buy both of you the next round. It would help if, without going to all these meetings, there were available to the public some statements in plain English that described the game plan for paying for meeting recovery goals, enforcing existing laws, and how the public is involved. Mike

  4. The number of acres producing shellfish or in river restorations are not ecological indicators, they are measures of effort and use. Populations of apex predators and keystone species and other real ecological indicators continue spiraling into oblivion. The State systematically excludes the scientific disciplines of Ecology and Oceanography from any meaningful debate. The flip side of no net loss is no net gain. The State provides no regulatory incentive to fix damaged nearhsore environments. Tide flats, salt marsh and streams of less than 20 gallons per minute flow rate have no ecological value... in the eyes of the State Shoreline Master Program which is currently being force fed to local jurisdictions. HW Branch