Sunday, October 8, 2017

Little Progress Made Towards A Puget Sound "Fishable, Swimmable, Diggable," Says Partnership After 10 Years

[Encyclopedia of Puget Sound]
Governor Christine Gregoire 10 years ago coined the awful clunky phrase "fishable, swimmable, diggable" to describe the progress to be made to Puget Sound recovery by the year 2020. Sadly, the next State of the Sound Report presented to the Partnership’s Leadership Council late last month pretty much tells the same story of previous progress reports: "We have done many good things, but the system has not yet responded positively." Why not?

In brief: Not enough money, not enough popular awareness of problems, not enough protection of what exists, and not enough attention to a growing economy and population.

Here in the Partnership’s own words from the September 15 draft State of the Sound report (with thanks to the indefatigable Pete Haase of Skagit County who actually attends Leadership Council meetings as a concerned citizen and reports back on what he hears)--

“1 . We are not investing at a level necessary to achieve recovery. We simply have not prioritized Puget Sound recovery at a level that results in adequate spending on restoration and protection projects.

2 . Too few people understand that Puget Sound is in trouble. We must do a better job of providing credible, hard-hitting information to our citizenry, whom we are confident cares deeply about Puget Sound—and will demand a recovery effort that is successful.

3 . While we have appropriately focused much on restoration projects, we have not focused enough on programs designed to protect what we have. We must support our local governments and state and federal agencies as they go about the extraordinarily difficult task of preventing projects and activities that will harm the Sound.

4 . We have to ramp up our effort to keep pace with our booming economy. It has been reported that 1,000 people a week are moving into the Puget Sound basin. That means housing, roads, and other supportive infrastructure, all of which has the potential to destroy habitat, degrade water quality, reduce stream flows, and lower groundwater tables.”

Such frankness and plain-speaking are appreciated but after 10 years a bit ironic. There’s always the problem with funding but how has the money been spent to make the Sound healthier? And why hasn’t the Partnership effort raised public awareness, focused on protection as well as restoration, and developed strategies to deal with growth?

For at least the last 20 years we’ve known Chinook salmon and resident killer whales were in trouble and that recovery required a spectrum of unified actions dealing with pollution prevention and cleanup, habitat protection and restoration, land use and catch management changes, and an active, involved public constituency that kept the issue of the Sound’s health on the front burner.

There once were non-governmental organizations watchdogging this effort and jumping up and down about what needed to be done for the Sound. Where are they now?

Now there’s an action agenda, a constellation of goals and multiple indicators of success.  So how about sparking some urgency to take action for a Puget Sound whose health is slipping away. Show us the leadership that finds funding, educates and involves the public, enforces existing laws, and grapples with population growth.

The treaty tribes will do what they can but they cannot save Puget Sound. It’s also up to state and local elected officials, agency staff and businesses. That’s what these years of “saving Puget Sound” have been all about. And when there are enough people involved, speaking out and voting for candidates and issues supporting a healthy Sound, action follows. Maybe when that happens, reporters will begin covering Puget Sound issues and Pete Haase will have other citizens joining him at Partnership meetings.

The author of the State of the Sound reports says that “we simply need to summon the will— at multiple levels, all across Puget Sound” to “chart a course for where we must go next.”

Better get going. It’s urgent.

--Mike Sato