Monday, November 20, 2017

Puget Sound 2020: Enforce the Law to Save the Whales

Guest blog by Amy Carey

The last time he was seen alive, beneath a setting sun in September, the two-year-old Southern resident orca calf named Sonic was emaciated and struggling to stay afloat. His mother stayed close at his side, helpless to do anything as he slowly starved to death.

And with seven other whale deaths in recent months, he wasn’t the only one to lose the fight to survive as the salmon the orcas rely on becomes so hard to find.

We know that to grow big and become whale food, juvenile salmon need nearshore marine habitat. State permitting agencies like the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife administer the Hydraulic Code permitting nearshore development in order to protect fish and their habitat. Unfortunately, multiple studies, conducted over the course of decades have found that the laws designed to protect the nearshore during development permitting are often ignored.

Truth be told, the heartbreaking domino effect of habitat loss, forage fish impact, salmon declines, the near extinction of the orcas, and a Puget Sound on the razor-thin edge of being lost forever hasn’t happened despite state agencies doing their job – it’s happened because they
aren’t doing their job.

And unless this regulatory gap immediately changes, we won't win the fight.

Which is why it is always so puzzling to see what should be a critical first step – directing the state agencies to fully apply the law during permitting decisions – missing in every version of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda, State of the Sound reports or near term Actions.

Instead we see tasks related to “evaluating” or “monitoring” for effectiveness of the permit program even though the problem has long been identified.

But the forage fish, the salmon and the orcas don’t need more studies. They need a top-down, boot-on-the-ground commitment to the immediate and consistent application of habitat protecting regulations.

They need a little thing called Action.

Amy Carey is Executive Director of Sound Action, a watchdog group established in 2013 to reform the broken Hydraulic Code permit system. Sound Action reviews every marine HPA issued in Puget Sound – more than 550 each year – taking legal appeal action if a permit doesn’t protect habitat or is issued in violation of state law.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hello? Puget Sound Partnership?

Guest blog by Pete Haase

Hello?  Puget Sound Partnership?  Do you suppose you could take a little break from meetings and planning and strategizing and round up some ammunition to send my way?

I am a volunteer, a “Salish Sea Steward.” I’m just one of probably thousands like me, all over the greater Puget Sound region, on the very front lines of the daily battle for the protection and betterment of our special environment.  During our “work” we collectively see and visit with hundreds of regular folks, every day, and do our best to help them learn to “do the right things.”  They always want to know more about what those “right things” are and they always thank us for the efforts we put forth.  But we rarely have satisfying or proper answers.

It would be a big help if we had some crib notes or cheat sheets or little reminder cards that explain the “right things” in a few words and catchy graphics.

Instead, right now, we are needing to attend talks, read long documents, articles and papers, or try to find someone to enlighten us.  That takes a lot of time and some of the material is awfully complicated. It is too much to ask of volunteers.  I know my brain is already too full.  I wind up “winging it” quite a bit!  So, for me, it needs to be concise, attractive, and stick to the big “Vital Signs – Targets.”  Tell us what we “citizens” need to do to help get to those targets.

I know it is not easy to create these material.  Everything is complex and interwoven and you do find out new things all the time.  Many of the actions the common citizen can take mean advocating for policy and regulation changes and better enforcement of existing regulations – not just rethinking their own behavior.  Sometimes the whole solution is not yet known.  Most things are very costly.  Besides that there is this terrible need to overload every piece of literature with more pictures and more words.

But you did not sign up for the easy work, and some few examples could be done for us to try out and critique.  Possibly the work can be farmed out to regional groups so that the local perspective comes through but with you assuring that the style, the message, and the prescription is consistent everywhere.  Certainly key things for citizens to get active about in King County are not the same in San Juan County.

It is well recognized that the “general public” around the Salish Sea must become much more educated, excited about, and engaged with the betterment of it.  Here is one of many possible ways.  Give it a try.  Guys like me will do our best to make it work.  These things could become collector’s items!!!

(Pete Haase is an environmental volunteer in Skagit County doing citizen science with others in the hope that it will make a difference.)

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.> ]