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.