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


  1. I wouldn't hurt if we had an EPA and a State Legislature to help out. There are many great non-profits working hard on this issue but it's too big for people to do on their own.
    This is a government fail issue.

    1. There's an advocacy saying that, when the people lead, the leaders will follow. Chicken/egg/chicken.

  2. Hi Mike.

    As "the indefatigable one" I should add some comments!

    First, it continues to simply boggle my mind that there is no professional campaign to ignite and involve the public about fixing Puget Sound. I guess none of the many, many participants in the inner circles have wanted to take it on.

    Second, I do like going to Puget Sound Partnership meetings because I learn a lot and retain a great deal of respect and admiration for all of the participants and their efforts. And I can give a voice, which I try to do during public comments time. But a casual drop-in will soon leave out of boredom, as I have often seen. One of the messages I have left many times is that everything written, that comes from the effort, requires years of college and preferably that being in science. A citizen like me is hard pressed to find any nuggets I can convey to casual members of the public who would like to help.

    Third, here is a link to a very recent announcement requesting more effort on the Salmon-Whale problem.

    It is written for a person with about 2 years of college. (By contrast, your blog post if for about 11th grade.)

    In the meantime, everybody keep plugging away in your own ways and keep all the pressure on that you can!

    1. Hey, a sincere thanks for your involvement and reporting.

  3. One place to start would be for our state to enforce existing laws for water quality and shoreline protection, but I guess you know that already ;)

    1. Yes. The three main takeaways from hours and hours of public comment prior to forming the Partnership were: adequate funding, enforce existing laws, and use local resources.

  4. Good thoughts Mike. We must figure out how to sell Puget Sound like Coke (the beverage). Puget Sound is a much better product - but Coke has a much better marketing budget. There is no conservation group or coalition of conservation groups that have been able to summon those kinds of resources to date. Took a run at it once from the non profit side and got shut down by everyone involved. When the Partnership started - they had $1M in their budget for communications on the challenges Puget Sound faces. Even though insufficient, that funding was whisked away before it was even appropriated at the first signs of state budget problems. This is tough nut. Maybe if the SRKWs go extinct it will wake folks up. In 2005 the cost of a sustained and integrated local-state-federal communications campaign for Puget Sound was scoped at $6M. It is probably more now. Maybe we can get the Russians to help with social media.

    1. Thanks, Jacques, for the comment. Communications and engagement has always been an issue but we've also known that everybody ("the public') won't be engaged but that the right people and entities need to be aware and engaged in order for our leaders to show the necessary political will. My concern about the state's new-found urgency about orca recovery is that if SRKW go extinct despite our efforts it would be a greater downer than not meeting any 2020 recovery measure.


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