Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Shhh...Puget Sound Partnership's Leadership At Work

PHOTO: Darren Stone (Times-Colonist)
The bad joke used to be that the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority had no authority, the Puget Sound Action Team didn’t take much action, and the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council.. well, you can finish the bad joke.

The Leadership Council meets in Skagit County this coming Wednesday and Thursday at the Padilla Bay Reserve. Its staff (still under interim director Mark Daily— nobody seems to want the job since Tony Wright resigned in January) will report on how well Puget Sound recovery is meeting goals in the critical areas of eelgrass, nearshore and shoreline habitat.  They’ll also discuss fish consumption science and monitoring, a legislative agenda for the 2014 session, and what’s next for the Puget Sound Starts Here campaign.

Are we recovering the health of Puget Sound? Like most of you, these days I only know what I read or hear or see in the media and saving Puget Sound has become one of the better kept secrets eclipsed by climate change, ocean acidification and coal export. I admit to having a bias towards communications, primarily because I take government transparency and public participation seriously. If one of the big problems with Puget Sound recovery is that ordinary folks don’t know what’s at risk and are not participating in its recovery, then keeping Puget Sound’s health a secret is taking us nowhere fast.

In the last few months, there have been ample opportunities for the Partnership and its leadership to say something about our Sound’s health. With two deaths in our resident orca L-pod, we are now down to where we were 10 years ago with a low of 82 Southern Resident killer whales.  The state’s inability to come up with fish consumption standards continues to allow toxic pollutants to be discharged into the Sound  and puts residents at risk from eating fish.  Research showing a decrease in the number of creatures living in the sediment of the central Puget Sound was called a “wake up call” then it seemed everyone went back to sleep.

Are the issues complicated? Sure they are but they require a public discussion sparked by more than picking up dog poop and washing one’s car on the lawn. Can the issues be understood by voters? They had better be— otherwise kiss the recovery of the Sound goodbye.

Governor Gary Locke’s pronouncement about saving our salmon-- that “extinction is not an option”-- only ended up being hollow as we waited and waited for actions to protect critical habitats and reduce and eliminated toxic pollution. It will be a shame if Governor Chris Gregoire’s pronouncement that, by 2020, the Sound will be “fishable, swimmable, diggable” became a toothless tiger because no leader would say clearly and loudly what needed to be done and who needed to do it— and hold them accountable for getting it done.

Partnership, Leadership Council, Governor Inslee— your play.

--Mike Sato


  1. And what about the people? Indeed - leadership is an issue when it comes to cleaning the Sound...but we, as citizens, while doing our part to keep the water clean must also voice our concerns and demand action on the part of our "leaders"...that is the only way anything ever gets done!! How about some "Sound Action?"

  2. The Leadership meetings at Padilla Bay Reserve will be from 10 am to 4 pm on the 10th and then 8:45 am to noon on the 11th. There are Public Comment times each morning and the afternoon. I have attended several of these meetings and most "public" comments come from members of various special interest organizations. It would be nice to have some "real" public input during these opportunities - I encourage comments of thanks and also comments of request - what different/more/specific things you think should be happening by this Puget Sound Partnership cleanup effort.

    1. I had the same experience when they were first "listening to the public" way back in the beginning. Wasted days of my life and much gas driving to all of the locations where they held "public meetings", trying to get the opportunity to speak. The for profit special interest groups took up every minute at every meeting. This led me to believe this was not the star for the everyday people - who pay their wages - to pin their hopes on. That's right up there with tying to get them to pay attention to the fact that we have no enforcement of most of our environmental/ecology laws at the local government level here.

  3. I fear that the Partnership is becoming a behind the scenes player with little visibility or ability in the public's eyes. They appear to having become a bureaucracy that pushes a lot of "paper" around, but have little to actually do with the job of cleaning up the Salish Sea. I don't know what the right thing to do with the Partnership is, kill it, re do it in some new form? It would be great to see the Governor look to make it his lightning rod, and actually put it on point with a leader, like we all thought Tony Wright would be, with some ability to shake things up, get mad in public about the state of the Sound, and get show the public that things are being done. This milktoast attitude that they can sit back and not make waves is just not working for anyone. They have little to no political capital that I or any friends can see, and they are a non entity from the public's POV, as well as a joke among the legislators that I've talked to. No one has said anything good to me about the Partnership in years, and I find myself making excuses for their poor showing whenever they come up, which is rarely.

  4. Communication at the reach basin or creek mouth subwatershed is the key to action. Local people living on a bay or cove or in the local uplands of the small creek basin that feeds that bay or cove can be organized to receive information, speak in behalf of their cove or bay'ssubwatershed place, and demand action from agencies. People can take action and form community groups/ Developers don't want discussion. Agencies don't want to be watched, Scientists need money to do their research and seek funding for it. Politicians are afraid they'll lose votes if they budget expenditure of tax money or impose regulations on property owners. But everybody already knows their shoreline waters are dead or dying and the fish and crabs and clams they grew up with or noticed when they moved to their bays and coves are no longer there anynore. Most property owners want to be good stewards of their places and would like help and advice in cleaning up and preserving their local shorelands and creeks. Thousands of rain gardens being built around the sound by property owners are a good example of the capabilitity people have. Local land trusts can be an impetus and a string of beaches and bays and coves can be like pearls of a necklace for action and to attract support for businesses like restaurants which feature the scenery as well as local seafoods and farms. It's local people who will solve the problem, not the agencies; and more science is not the only answer and only causes more delay.
    Grant Jones

  5. Rabbits: Special interest groups are not "real public?" Hmmmm...seems like you have hit the proverbial nail right on its old head. The ordinary, non-aligned citizen has no voice because they don't know what is going on? Because they don't care? Because they don't want to change? Yep, all of the above - and I would add that some are very intimidated by complex and exclusive issues/groups. What's the answer?

  6. I am convinced that belonging to a special interest group, and supporting it, is a most effective way to get your issues raised and addressed. Belonging might be as simple as making a yearly charitable donation to a non-profit that works towards goals you agree with.

    My personal main issue with this Puget Sound Partnership effort is that it does not provide the information ordinary citizens need to understand the problems and then ideas for helping with solutions. Information that works for people at the shore of the beach or on a whale-watching boat or at a park along a creek. It takes 6 years of a scientific college degree to read and understand their documents.

    There are hundreds of citizens even now who are out in the field doing work to help ... maybe they are docents at the Lime Kiln Lighthouse or a beach in Olympia. Maybe they are sampling water in streams or documenting surf smelt spawning habitat. Those people need proper, serious, vetted, useful material to be able to talk to the folks they come in contact with. "Pick up your dog poop" is a great effort needing doing, but it does not go far or broad at all in helping the Salish Sea, the critters in it, and us who enjoy it.


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