Thursday, November 3, 2016

2016 Puget Sound Action Agenda: Summary and Comments

U.S. Coastal Survey, 1867
In light of the recent federal announcement regarding formation of a federal Puget Sound Task Force and proposed major funding for the recovery and restoration of Puget Sound, it might help to see what the current Puget Sound Partnership Action Agenda entails in order to ponder whether and how the federal effort might dovetail with it. Skagit volunteer Peter Haase has independently provided a personal unpacking of his reading of the Action Agenda and his summary and comments are provided in whole below:

2016 Action Agenda
The Puget Sound Partnership

Summary and Comments  Nov. 2016    Peter Haase

“The Action Agenda is our region’s shared roadmap for Puget Sound recovery. The Action Agenda outlines the regional strategies and specific actions needed to protect and restore Puget Sound. The Action Agenda is a collective effort that is informed by science and guides effective investment in Puget Sound protection and
– From the Executive Summary.

Link to the entire Action Agenda


The 2016 Puget Sound Partnership Action Agenda was adopted by the Leadership Council in August, 2016. It is a 220 page major rewrite of the 2014 Action Agenda which was a minor update to the 2012 Action Agenda. It contains a Letter from the Leadership Council to “The People of Puget Sound”, an Executive Summary, a Comprehensive Plan, an Implementation Plan and three Appendices.

The Letter is 2 pages and signed by all the members of the Leadership Council.  It paints a rather bleak picture of the condition of Puget Sound and of progress for recovery to date.  It thanks the many efforts and people working hard and tells us – “There’s work to be done – let’s roll up our sleeves, together, and get to it.”  (The Letter has a Flesch Reading Ease rating of 12th grade.)

The Executive Summary is 4 pages and highlights the purposes of the various sections and chapters.  It contains links to them.  (Flesch Reading Ease rating of Some College.)

The Comprehensive Plan is about 60 pages long with six chapters.  It covers broad topics like how planning is done, what the various strategies are, and where funding comes from.

           Chapter 1 is 5 pages and is an introduction with some links into details.  (Flesh Reading Ease rating of Some College.)

           Chapter 2 is 15 pages and called Framework for Recovery.  It attempts to identify the parts of recovery and how they go together.  It reiterates the 6 Recovery Goals that are in the founding statute which are then divided into 25 Vital Signs.  The Vital Signs have 47 “Recovery Targets,” of which 19 are not yet set. Of the 28 that have been set, most have seen poor progress to date.  There are links into details.  (Flesh Reading Ease rating of Some College to Difficult.)

           Chapter 3 is 10 pages and called Managing Recovery.  It identifies many of the main players, what they do, and how they attempt to coordinate/manage the work of more than 100 different agencies, groups, tribes and committees.  There are links into further details.  (Flesh Reading Ease rating is Very Difficult.)

           Chapter 4 is 20 pages and called Planning Recovery.  It describes how planning is done and lists three Strategic Initiatives, 29 Strategies, and 106 Sub-strategies.  The Strategic Initiatives address Stormwater, Habitat, and Shellfish.  The links to further detail are not activated.  (Flesh Reading Ease rating is Very Difficult.)

           Chapter 5 is 8 pages and called Funding Recovery.  It lists many of the sources for funding, but does not give amounts. It states that the estimated total cost to complete the three Strategic Initiatives is $1 billion, of which $.5 billion is identified.  It also provides suggestions of how the shortfall can be addressed including better coordination between funders and a focus on the highest priority “Near Term Actions.”  There are some links to further details.  (Flesh Reading Ease rating is Very Difficult.)

           Chapter 6 is 4 pages.  It is a Glossary of 45 terms and includes links to much supporting documentation beyond the Action Agenda.

The Implementation Plan is about 113 pages long with 5 chapters.  It covers the next couple of years.  It describes 363 Near Term Actions prioritized within the three Strategic Initiatives from Chapter 4 of the Comprehensive Plan.  Near Term Actions were submitted by more than 106 different “Owner Organizations” including federal, state and local governmental agencies, tribes, non-profits, and committees, and were vetted, assigned to Strategic Initiatives, and prioritized by Strategic Initiative teams.  A Near Term Action … “can begin or achieve specific milestones within the next two years and is consistent with the strategies.”  The estimated cost to complete the current phase of all the Near Term Actions is $242 million with $23 million currently budgeted.

           Chapter 1 is 72 pages and lists and ranks all of the 363 Near Term Actions (NTAs).  119 NTAs are assigned to the Stormwater Strategic Initiative.  Of the top ranked 10% of these NTAs, 8 are for study/identify/review and 4 are for do.  204 NTAs are assigned to the Habitat Strategic Initiative.  Of the top ranked 10% of these NTAs, 6 are for study/identify/review and15 are for do.  40 NTAs are assigned to the Shellfish Strategic Initiative.  Of these top ranked 10%, 3 are for study/identify/review and 1 is for do.  (For the top ranked NTAs, about ½ are for study/identify/review and ½  for do.)  There are several links to supporting documents.  This chapter is almost all tables of Near Term Action summaries and was not reviewed for reading ease.

           Chapter 2 is 5 pages and is about the development, use, and measurement of the Implementation Plan.  The measures are: A Report Card to be produced periodically for each of the 363 Near Term Actions; The 2017 “State of the Sound” document; and Reports of progress towards the targets for the Vital Signs described in Chapter 2 of the Comprehensive Plan.  Primary uses for the Implementation Plan are to encourage the legislature and funders to prioritize available funds and to provide any legislation needed for Near Term Actions to succeed.  (Flesh Reading Ease rating is Very Difficult.)

           Chapter 3 is 8 pages and devoted to the Stormwater Strategic Initiative. It correlates this Initiative with 9 sub-strategies (of the 106) and several of the Vital Signs and the Targets associated with them.  There are a few links to supporting materials.  7 large “Gaps” are listed such as “Coordination between regulatory measures that drive Stormwater Management (Clean Water Act) and land use management (Growth Management Act.)” 3 “Barriers” are listed such as “Political Will for Regulatory Actions” and “Funding.” (Flesh Reading Ease rating is Very Difficult.)

           Chapter 4 is 14 pages and devoted to the Habitat Strategic Initiative. It correlates this Initiative with 16 sub-strategies (of the 106) and several of the Vital Signs and the Targets associated with them.  There are a few links to supporting materials.  6 large “Gaps” are listed such as “Adequate tools and approaches to prioritize planning efforts.”  3 “Barriers” are listed including “Sustainable funding for ongoing progress” and “Political will.”  (Flesh Reading Ease rating is Some College.)

           Chapter 5 is 9 pages and devoted to the Shellfish Strategic Initiative.  It correlates this initiative with 19 sub-strategies (of the 106) and several of the Vital Signs and the Targets associated with them.  There are a few links to supporting materials.  This chapter also identifies 5 specific “Regional Priorities” such as “Reverse the declining water quality trends and protect water quality in shellfish growing areas classified as threatened or concerned.”
Chapters 3 and 4 do not identify such “Regional Priorities.”  7 large “Gaps” are listed such as “Projects addressing recreational shellfish beds.”  2 “Barriers” – “Funding” and “Political will” are listed.  (Flesh Reading Ease rating is Very Difficult.)

Appendix A is 8 pages and is a cross reference of the 29 Strategies and 106 Sub Strategies back to the numbering schemes used in the 2012 Action Agenda.
Appendix B is 4 pages listing 7 “Crosscutting Sub-strategies” such as “Monitoring” and “Regulation and Enforcement.”
Appendix C is 18 pages and lists more than 300 on-going programs (programs that are part of existing Puget Sound recovery efforts and include activities that align with the Implementation Plan priorities and timeline)
and relates each to one or more of the 29 Strategies.


1.    Many of the shortcomings with the 2012 Action Agenda were dealt with in this 2016 version.  It is 220 pages rather than more than 600.  There is a Table of Contents.  There are many hyper-links that allow you to jump about and navigate without endless scrolling.  Almost all complex and rather meaningless diagrams were removed. Many (many, many) local actions have been included, and more of the actions are of the doing sort rather than studies and meetings and reporting and reviews and assembling.

2.    Unfortunately the entire document is still very difficult to read and filled with scientific terms and organization names.  I doubt anyone not well involved in the Puget Sound recovery would get much out of it – not even the Executive Summary.

3.    Because of the many hyper-links, I have not always included a great deal of detail in my Summary above.  It is quite easy now for you to open the entire document with the link shown above and then jump immediately to any one of the sections and browse through it. Usually you can even jump on into much detailed supporting documentation if you like.  The very long sections are usually simple tables and quite easy to work through.  My suggestion is to set aside a couple of hours and start in.  See where you get.  But be forewarned – it seems the more you understand it, the more questions you have and it is very much work to meander around in there looking for an answer!  It probably could use some Frequently Asked Questions!

4.    I suspect most have seen persons at rest stops with a cardboard sign that says something like – “On Way from Vancouver to LA. Need gas money.”  You wonder what faith they must have to ever have started with so little gas and money.  That is what this Puget Sound Partnership effort is like. Several years in and we only have money in hand to get another 10% of the way – as the Implementation Plan states.  The “doing folks” must have tremendous faith; know something not in this document; or really like their job and the pay.

5.    There are Gaps and Barriers stated broadly for each of the major “Initiatives” – an “Initiative” is a way to sort of bundle up all the actions, strategies, sub strategies, data and planning that relate to a single broad topic like Stormwater.  Those gaps and barriers are frankly enormous – like “Lack of political will.” There is precious little in the Action Agenda that goes after closing the gaps and removing the barriers.

6.    There is perception that if your pet project is one of the Near Term Actions and highly ranked, then it will get money.  Or if you are at the bottom of the heap you won’t and if you never made it in at all, forget it.  But such is not the case.  Funders usually have their own criteria for funding a project and those may not be the same as the ranking criteria at all.  Everyone who has a project amongst the 363 Near Term Actions will still need to make a proposal to a funder, unless it has already been done.  I live in Skagit County and almost no Near Term Actions are in there from our County groups – we have no Local Integrating Organization to assemble and forward them.  But we have the Skagit River and the nasty Samish River and they guarantee a rather large and continuing source of money.

7.    There is overwhelming complexity in this effort: 47 “Recovery Targets”; 363 Near Term Actions that could help; more than 100 different named agencies, governmental bodies, tribes, groups and committees; 29 Strategies; 106 Sub-strategies; $242 million needed to finish what is going; $1 billion is current estimate for total job; 300 other ongoing projects that contribute to recovery but are not in this plan.  Boggling.

8.    The figure of $1 billion to fully complete the three strategic initiatives does not address other areas of work (beyond those strategic initiatives) that needs attention as well.  Probable sea level rise is an example.

9.    My personal main pet peeve of the entire Puget Sound Partnership effort is about Public Awareness and Caring.  I cannot fathom why there is not a professional and hard-hitting campaign to tell the public about the problems (the 25 Vital Signs and their 47 Recovery targets) and what they can do to help – problem by problem.  Instead we have had the “Puget Sound Starts Here” campaign that either paints quite attractive pictures or wanders far afield from the serious issues or else dwells on “Mickey Mouse” issues like dog poop. The general public is not engaged in real problem solving to any extent at all with that.  (“Here – you masses go pick up dog poop and plant trees while we experts get on with the big stuff.”)  At the very least I wish there to be a set of well vetted statements of problems/needs and companion ideas for an average citizen of Puget Sound to go do.  If Herring Recovery and expansion is important, what exactly is the problem and what things can I do to help? – Like maybe talk to my local state representative with some facts, figures and suggestions.  There are several ways to go about this idea – but none are being pursued. There is the following sub-strategy (of 106 of them):  Sub-strategy 27.1 “Implement a long-term, highly visible, coordinated public-awareness effort using the Puget Sound Starts Here brand to increase public understanding of Puget Sound’s health, status, and threats. Conduct regionally scaled communications to provide a foundation for local communications efforts. Conduct locally scaled communications to engage residents in local issues and recovery efforts.”  But not a single one of the 363 Near Term Actions is trying to do that.

Thank you.  Now, Back to Work!

Pete Haase is a happy volunteer for the natural environment in Skagit County with a deep frustration about lack of awareness and urgency. You can comment on his blog directly to him at and directly to his blog in the comment section below.

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