Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Throwing In the Towel on Puget Sound’s 2020 Goal

Guest blog by Kathy Fletcher

The Puget Sound Partnership has now officially thrown in the towel on the goal of restoring Puget Sound to health by the year 2020. From press accounts of this latest report, one might have concluded that the 2020 goal was set only 10 years ago, when the current version of the Partnership was established. Actually, the goal was set more than 30 years ago by Washington State, in 1985 legislation that created the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority.*

Coincidentally, a new report on the status of one piece of the job to save the Sound--the cleanup of Port Angeles Harbor's toxic sediments--has announced a new timeline for completion: 2029 or perhaps 2032. Does anyone besides me find it shocking that 20 years after the polluting mill closed, the responsible agencies have not even come up with an approach to the cleanup?

Governor Inslee seems genuinely concerned, and wants to inject "urgency" into the restoration of the Sound. Great. But we have been here before. Governors Gardner, Lowry, Locke and Gregoire all pledged before him to do right by the Sound. But throughout these decades there has been a huge gap between words and actions, between promises and the guts to make it happen.

What, if anything, will be different this time?

(Kathy Fletcher served as Chair and Director of the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority and was founder and Executive Director of People For Puget Sound.)

* RCW 90.71.300
Action agenda—Goals and objectives.

(1) The action agenda shall consist of the goals and objectives in this section, implementation strategies to meet measurable outcomes, benchmarks, and identification of responsible entities. By 2020, the action agenda shall strive to achieve the following goals:
(a) A healthy human population supported by a healthy Puget Sound that is not threatened by changes in the ecosystem;
(b) A quality of human life that is sustained by a functioning Puget Sound ecosystem;
(c) Healthy and sustaining populations of native species in Puget Sound, including a robust food web;
(d) A healthy Puget Sound where freshwater, estuary, nearshore, marine, and upland habitats are protected, restored, and sustained;
(e) An ecosystem that is supported by groundwater levels as well as river and streamflow levels sufficient to sustain people, fish, and wildlife, and the natural functions of the environment;
(f) Fresh and marine waters and sediments of a sufficient quality so that the waters in the region are safe for drinking, swimming, shellfish harvest and consumption, and other human uses and enjoyment, and are not harmful to the native marine mammals, fish, birds, and shellfish of the region.

(2) The action agenda shall be developed and implemented to achieve the following objectives:
(a) Protect existing habitat and prevent further losses;
(b) Restore habitat functions and values;
(c) Significantly reduce toxics entering Puget Sound fresh and marine waters;
(d) Significantly reduce nutrients and pathogens entering Puget Sound fresh and marine waters;
(e) Improve water quality and habitat by managing stormwater runoff;
(f) Provide water for people, fish and wildlife, and the environment;
(g) Protect ecosystem biodiversity and recover imperiled species; and
(h) Build and sustain the capacity for action.

[ 2007 c 341 § 12. < Laws/Senate/5372-S.SL.pdf?cite=2007 c 341 § 12.> ]


  1. Setting any kind of date for PS Cleanup is totally unrealistic. Clean-up requires behavior changes - changes we are just starting to realize as the new generation of protectors grow into their role. We will get there - but all of this continual planning, agendas, etc., is holding us back. We need coordinated local action with the whole ecosystem in mind. Action, on-the-ground projects, and funding going to local community efforts.

  2. Thanks, Sue. Thanks for recognizing the new generation and the local efforts.

  3. Kathy's right. Perhaps the whole effort was doomed to fail with the language in the RCW that says we will strive to achieve, rather than making a committment, providing adequate funding, holding all parties accountable. There has always been a gap between the words and the committment and the failure of the 2020 goal is the price to pay.

    1. strive:
      - to exert oneself vigorously, try hard
      - to make strenuous efforts toward any goal

  4. I agree that we need as Sue says, "coordinated local action with the whole ecosystem in mind." And the ecosystem doesn't care if we "strive" or "commit". If we don't find a meaningful way to answer the question, "are we doing enough fast enough?", the ecosystem will answer it for us and we probably won't like the answer.