Thursday, October 27, 2016

Whoa! Are We Going To Save Puget Sound— Again?

Headlines screamed last week: “White House, Washington state and federal leaders announce major new initiatives for Puget Sound recovery;” “New federal task force to identify Puget Sound’s top issues;” “The Obama administration steps up to the plate on cleaning up Puget Sound.” Are we done with the Puget Sound Partnership effort and its laboriously-derived Action Agenda?

Maybe not but it was hard to see what the fit was, if there was one, between the $600 million funding promise, the new task force partnership among federal agencies and tribes and the ongoing state effort to make Puget Sound fishable, swimmable and diggable... one of these days.

There were many fine words spoken about the new initiative which puts Puget Sound on the same federal radar screen as Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades. Nice official quotes from the White House Office of Environmental Quality, Senators Murray and Cantwell, Congressmen Heck, Kilmer and Larsen and Governor Inslee. (White House, Washington state and federal leaders announce major new initiatives for Puget Sound recovery)

Did anyone involved in the current ongoing Puget Sound recovery effort have anything to say? Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council chair Martha Kongsgaard in the Associated Press story is among those hailing the initiative as a significant step forward. "What we can't do alone as a state is get these huge projects done," she said. Todd Myers with the Washington Policy Center and a member of the Partnership’s Salmon Recovery Council is quoted as cautioning against complicating things with another task force. "Rather than doing what we know needs to be done, adding another political process wastes time and resources from what we already know needs to be done," Myers said. (New federal task force to identify Puget Sound’s top issues)

Kongsgaard must understand the federal initiative is focused on big earthmoving restoration projects. Big projects like the Elwha River restoration ($351.4 million) makes the $600 commitment look like pocket change but way outside the state’s league.

Myers, bless his devil’s advocacy, takes us back to the formation of the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority, the reformulation of the Puget Sound Action Team and the rebirth of Puget Sound recovery as the Partnership effort. Maybe others recall as I do the listening-post sessions marking the beginning of the Partnership effort when folks were asked what needed to be done to recover Puget Sound. Three main points kept being raised: enforce existing laws, use local resources and adequately fund recovery efforts.

Will this new federal initiative and task force with $600 million (oh, the money still has to be approved by Congress) help us enforce existing laws, use local resources, adequately fund our recovery efforts? Don’t get me wrong: I love what’s been accomplished at the Elwha and Nisqually and similar earth moving projects. Even though there isn’t any deadline like 2020 to make Puget Sound fishable, swimmable and diggable, I still feel some urgency in enforcing shoreline rules and incentivizing alternative ways to protect the nearshore, cleaning up combined sewer overflows, retrofitting the built environment to eliminate runoff, enforcing best management for septic systems and agriculture, and a whole list of other actions to keep the crap from a growing population out of Puget Sound. Maybe you still feel the urgency, too.

Will this new task force, the tribes and the federal agencies united by the memorandum of understanding (BTW, did the military bases sign on, too?) put their money and their political will toward helping the Partnership get the work done? Is it reasonable to hope so?

One final note: Suquamish Tribe chief Leonard Forsman is quoted in the Associated Press news story as saying: "In order for us to reverse the tide of damage that's been going on in Puget Sound, we're going to need everybody... And that includes not only the government agencies and the state agencies and the nonprofits, but we also need all the people who live here and are moving here."

OK. Then who’s carrying the torch to organize the people? The Puget Sound Partnership? The Department of Ecology? The Treaty Tribes? Washington Environmental Council? Don’t be shy, speak up.

--Mike Sato

16 comments:

  1. You are saying what we are all thinking Mike! When I look at projects like restoring the Deschutes Estuary to add 260 acres of nearshore habitat back to Puget Sound and how long it is taking to make it happen - right in the State of Washington's back yard - I know why Puget Sound is still in deep trouble!!! Thanks for this....Sue P

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  2. Another reader comments: "Read your restrained article on PS being saved one more time. What don’t you see when it comes to the charismatic, action-oriented, strong leadership and inspirational Department of Ecology that has placed Puget Sound front and center in everyone’s living room?"

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    1. Correction..what you don't see is the Dept of Apology encouraging miles of industrial geoduck tracts in every possible estuary and breaking the food web for every other species that previously held a niche in those areas, both prey and predator.

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  3. Good article Mike. I talked to a PSP staffer yesterday who told me that they "did not have any idea what the new task force was going to do, nor it's relationship to the PSP." There apparently is a meeting coming up internally to help roll out this in greater detail.

    The whole thing sort of smacks of a political stunt, coming just before the election with money promised but needing Congress to act, which would be more difficult to see getting done than actually cleaning up the Sound.

    All of us that have spent hundreds of volunteer hours in meetings with the PSP, prioritizing for years, are not happy to see this pop up, and the poor announcement messaging seems to be (though I'm not saying it is) that "we need to get stuff done and need another coordination layer of bureaucracy to do it." I thought (and so has others) that the PSP is supposed to be that layer. Why not strengthen it? The chief wants to see more people engaged in clean up, is he going to support getting more than the pittance that the PSP has dedicated to messaging and education in the LIOs? I could go on for hours on this, just like all the hours of meetings I have sat in for the PSP in order to further the same goals that this announcement claims they are going to help achieve. I hope they do without throwing the baby out with the Soundwater!

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  4. Derek Kilmer is on the opening-remarks agenda for the NW Straits Conference in Pt. Townsend this Friday and Saturday. He will probably get some questions about it?

    The newest PSP Action Agenda has 363 Near term Actions (... can begin or achieve specific milestones within the next 2 years consistent with strategies ...) The estimated cost of the current phases of them is $242 million. The estimated budget for them is $23 million. As near as I know, these 363 items have been hashed out and prioritized with what must have been a laborious and elaborate process and represent the best ideas of moving forward in the immediate future. I dunno - maybe it is time for a bunch of bigger shoes to take over?

    But who will enrage - er engage the "people"? I can't imagine any governmental or tribal entities doing that. There is precious little in any of the 363 Near Term Actions that even comes close to doing that. So I hope your challenge lands in more fertile ground!

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  5. Who is going to undo what industrial aquaculture is inflicting on our estuaries? You can't talk about "restoring" anything when "removing" everything but monocultues is industry's financial goal!

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    1. Heather, I don't think that anyone at the Federal level sees industrial aquaculture as a problem. In fact NOAA seems to give great credence to it as a way forward to feed hungry masses. And the industry is spending large sums lobbying these same organizations back in WA DC. If you are concerned about making this new organization aware of it as an issue, you best get in front of them sooner than later.

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    2. The hungry masses Alf are in Asia. What will happen when the Chinese bring their new BC operation online. Why buy WA product when they can "grow their own" out of the new hatchery NW of Vancouver. You're so right about industry spending on lobbying. More than 40 people representing all State agencies, plus some feds and tribes, attended the Olympia meeting of Shellfish Initiative Phase II. That was our taxpayer money being spent by agencies to prop up the industry with help by Gov Inslee. Missed the last meeting n SW Wa but probably same group pushing same agenda, plus when and how much to spray in Willapa Bay.

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  6. To Rabbit's Guy: Thanks for clarifying the count. I'm hoping that these brahmins at the Federal level actually look at the prioritization list that we have painstakingly put together. This whole thing came out of the blue with no discussion to any groups out there in advance. Very disheartening. We can't even act as field support for their efforts since we have no idea what these efforts are, or if they plan to abandon the whole PSP framework. If they don't come forward soon to us that have been spending vast amounts of time to get the PSP right, and tell us what the heck they are planning, it will be a very bad outcome, to be sure. That they couldn't even give us a heads up, when the PSP leadership team knew what was coming, is depressing in the extreme.

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  7. Funding bills originate in the House. Will a bill for this activity even get out of committee. The only way this activity gets funded is to move $600M from someone else's budget.

    Jay Inslee could accomplish what the mythical $600M cannot; replace the head of the WA DOE with marching orders to get the pesticides out of natural waters, clean up the manure-laden surface waters around daily farms, and issue an EIS for regulating shellfish farms.

    Speaking of farming, didn't the USDOE farm out a wad of cash to the state a few years back to accomplish something. What happened to that money?

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    1. STIX27 fYI Pierce County HAS bitten the bullet and declared a Determination of Significance for Taylor's proposed 25 acre (you read that right) industrial geoduck tract in our enclosed estuary, Burley Lagoon. First public meeting attended by 110 people on Oct 25. Home team 30, visitors ZERO. Testimony was solidly against the proposal and demanding Pierce County focus on specific issues during the "scoping" process of the EIS. Follow developments on Protect Our Shoreline News or FB Friends of Burley Lagoon.

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  8. The recent announcement from the White House did not come out of the blue. Congressman Denny Heck introduced the Puget SOS Act in September of 2015 and has been working advance the legislation since. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/3630/text

    By this summer, it appeared that the Act, like many other pieces of federal legislation wasn't going to get through Congress to the President by the end of his term. Congressman Heck along with Congressman Kilmer began working with federal agencies and the Puget Sound Partnership to look for other ways to move action on recovery of the Sound, and to foster greater federal investment and attention to the region. The funding announced is welcome, but the formation of a federal Taskforce in DC is perhaps more important, as it puts Puget Sound at an administrative level of attention closer to Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and the Florida Everglades.

    Of the $600M in new money, $450M is to support projects that came out of the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project (http://www.pugetsoundnearshore.org/index.html), a joint effort of the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife that started a major effort to evaluate nearshore problems and project ideas in 2001. The final Engineer's Report released this year identifies over $1 billion in nearshore related projects, and the three projects targeted for the first phase estimated to cost $450M. The $20M for the Skokomish River and the $23M for the Mud Mountain Dam are similarly well vetted USACOE projects that address specific habitat or barrier problems and were ripe for inclusion in a funding package.

    The $124M in federal funding is for the implementation of the Puget Sound Action Agenda and represents a 5 year commitment for EPA to match an equal investment from the state of Washington. It should be noted that all of the investments will require Congressional or state legislative appropriations, but the commitments from the executive branch, EPA and the Department of Defense to move forward on these positive steps to recover Puget Sound are significant.

    This is all important work, but does not encompass even all the nearshore habitat needs, let alone the water quality issues we face which by some estimates amount to a staggering $500 billion dollar price tag if we were to capture and treat all stormwater in the Puget Sound Basin.

    But as I mentioned previously, perhaps the most significant portion of the recent announcement is the formation of the federal Taskforce. From the announcement:

    "The Task Force announced today is designed to effectively approach the multi-faceted threats these ecosystems face through development of a “Puget Sound Action Plan” to better coordinate federal programs and focus restoration efforts. The Task Force will develop this action plan in collaboration with the State of Washington and in consultation with tribal governments, as well as through input from a diverse group of stakeholders.
     
    In particular, the Task Force will build on identified priorities in three categories: stormwater management, shellfish sustainability, and habitat protection and expansion."

    It should be noted that the "Puget Sound Action Plan" is for the federal agencies, and we can hope that it parallels the Puget Sound Action Agenda developed by Puget Sound Partnership, and that it focuses greater federal investment of our national time and treasure to recover Puget Sound and the Salish Sea.

    The announced investments are relevant, valuable and timely. I would not get too worked up about whether you were deeply involved in the timing or content of the recent announcement, which was driven by strategies relevant inside the Washington, DC beltway. I would put your energy into supporting the planned expenditures in Congress and in the state legislature, and I would focus on getting your voices heard as the federal Taskforce works with regional interests to develop their action plan.

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    1. So, speaking plainly: 1) This was no surprise but timed in advance of the November 8 election. 2) The federal Puget Sound Action Plan comes out of the other Washington (DC) beltway politics and the new federal Task Force will decide what relationship its plan will have to the state's Puget Sound Action Agenda. 3) No money is in hand; all the money talked about requires congressional and state legislative appropriation. Got it.

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    2. On #1, the timing was supposed to be sometime before the current Administration leaves office. There was talk about July, then August, and it finally slipped to October. And #4, your readers should try to support these appropriations in both legislative bodies.

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    3. I'm sure we will all do the best we can and it will take more than the readers of this blog post. The last concern mentioned in the blog was: "Then who’s carrying the torch to organize the people? The Puget Sound Partnership? The Department of Ecology? The Treaty Tribes? Washington Environmental Council? Don’t be shy, speak up."

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  9. Fascinating! Thanks Jacques for clearing up the details. The federal announcement and the PSP could have done a better job of managing the announcement and the content to look like less of a surprise. I agree with Mike that any state agency or tribal government lacks the skills and authority to organize citizens to support appropriations in Congress or the legislature. It is the role of the NGO community to do this.

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