Puget Sound

Enviros urge last-minute calls to legislators to pass stormwater-cleanup bill; oil, agriculture interests opposed, with lawsuit threatened

Some interesting twists are developing in environmentalists’ campaign to convince the Washington Legislature to pass a tax on hazardous chemicals and petroleum products to clean up the No. 1 pollution source of Puget Sound, stormwater. Enviros say they need a flood of last-minute calls from constituents to prod legislators into action before they adjourn their annual session in Olympia Thursday night.

While Puget Sound is the focus of the debate, stormwater runoff is the largest source of pollution for many waterbodies nationwide, if the truth be told. That's one reason the machinations in Olympia are interesting – they may presage similar fights elsewhere in the future.

On one side are the enviros, city and county governments, labor, Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate. Sounds formidable, eh? On the other side are the oil industry, farm groups, and possibly other opponents I haven’t learned about yet.

Not long ago I brought up how this bill to boost the tax on petroleum, fertilizer, pesticides and other hazardous substances was a bit of a pig in a poke. Collecting $225 million a year in the name of cleaning up Puget Sound and other water bodies, the legislation (HB 3181 and SB 6851) would have funneled more than two-thirds of the revenue straight to the state’s general fund in the first year.

To sue or not to sue? Cleaning up Puget Sound's copper problem

Three Sheets Northwest is an online boating magazine that has explored the delicate -- and often perturbed -- balance between environmental and economic interests during the all-hands-on-deck cleanup of Puget Sound.

Reporter Deborah Bach has been delving into the conflict between the bottom line and the health of the Sound by chronicling conflicts between the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and five boatyards that the environmental watchdog group has threatened to sue for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

The Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, which is accusing the boatyards of failing to prevent copper (which, in strong concentrations, can kill fish) from leaching into Puget Sound, says it is stepping up to enforce pollution provisions that the state Department of Ecology improperly waived.

The boatyards say that the legal threats are devastating their financial health at a time when they can least afford it.  And they’re angry that the suits ruptured a fragile and voluntary coalition between businesses, regulatory agencies and environmentalists.

Sailors and reporters Marty McOmber and Deborah Bach, formerly of The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, launched Three Sheets Northwest to focus their reporting chops on boating in the Puget Sound region.

Taxing pollutants to pay for water pollution cleanup -- too simple to pass Washington Legislature?

It's a little tough to tell, but it sounds like the idea of raising taxes on petroleum products and other toxic materials to pay for cleaning up stormwater runoff could have trouble getting through the recession-battered Washington Legislature this year. Taxing pollutants to pay for pollution cleanup may be too simple an idea, I suppose.

Today enviros are calling for green-minded citizens to e-mail their representatives in Olympia in support of what they’re calling the Clean Water Act of 2008 (HB 3181/SB 6851). It would raise taxes on petroleum and other toxic products that represent the biggest single environmental threat to Puget Sound (not to mention putting a whole bunch of other Washington waterways into violation of the federal Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act passed in 1972. The one that was supposed to control water pollution by 1985.

Right now the Leg is barreling toward a supposed conclusion – but with nothing even close to agreement on how to balance the budget. The Senate raised its hand for an increase in the sales tax. But Gov. Christine Gregoire and House leaders appear to not like that idea, although they’re careful politicians all and haven’t ruled it out, either.

Now, I’ve been writing about the need to clean up stormwater – in particular to rescue Puget Sound, but also as a nationwide program – for going on a decade now. Never before has the Legislature gotten this close to putting into effect such a large, ongoing and broadly based revenue source for stormwater cleanup.

Thousands of lost crab pots in Puget Sound harm marine wildlife

Sitting on the floor of Puget Sound are thousands of pounds of derelict fishing gear. Lost fishing gear in a large body of water doesn't really sound like a big deal at first, but when looked at a bit more closely the effects can be shocking.

Jennifer“Derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound is a problem. There is an estimated - maybe - 15,000 crab pots that have been lost in the last 5 years in Puget Sound,”  Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, told the Agriculture and Natural Resources committee earlier this week, in support of House Bill 2593.

If passed, the measure would direct the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to solicit a $2 donation every time a recreational fishing license is purchased. The money would go into a grant program that would fund organizations to remove derelict shellfish pots.

In addition to being essentially garbage at the bottom of Puget Sound, derelict crap pots have an enormous impact on the marine ecosystem. Lost crab pots continue to catch and kill crabs long after the bait is gone, as well as other marine life, for up to two years. Crab larvae is also a large portion of Chinook salmon diet in certain areas of Puget Sound.

“The average lost crab pot will catch 30 crabs in a year and will kill 21 of those crabs," Ginny Broadhurst of the Northwest Straights Commission told the committee. "That amounts to about 256,000 crabs that are wasted annually."

The Northwest Straights Commission has received $4.6 million in stimulus money to retrieve derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound.

Sightline highlights need for continued cleanup of US's No. 1 water-pollution problem, stormwater

rm iwest mugIt was good to see former Dateline Earth denizen Lisa Stiffler out today with a new report  (PDF) on the country's No. 1 water pollution problem:  Stormwater.

As longtime Dateline Earth readers will know, Lisa and I worked together on a bunch of stories over the past decade highlighting the need to protect Puget Sound.

Puget Sound fouled by West Point sewage

Last spring, PBS's Frontline aired an episode called Poisoned Waters that investigated major U.S. waterways in “peril” due to pollution. Among them was Puget Sound.

“We thought all the way along that [Puget Sound] was like a toilet: What you put in, you flush out...We  [now] know that's not true. It's like a bathtub: What you put in stays there,”Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire told Frontline.

Puget Sound just got a little dirtier. Beginning Monday night and lasting until Tuesday morning, around 10 million gallons of sewage flowed from the West Point Treatment Plant, located in Magnolia, into Puget Sound.

“This situation is unacceptable,” wrote Christie True, director of King County's Wastewater Treatment Division, on the King County website.

According to King County's website, “the overflow began as employees prepared the plant for high flows during last night’s rainfall. Standard operating procedures during wet weather entail readying an emergency bypass gate that can open automatically to prevent flooding inside the plant that could harm workers and damage equipment.”

A switch malfunctioned, activating the bypass gate and diverting the untreated wastewater into Puget Sound. Pam Elardo, the plant's manager, told the Seattle Times that it took three hours to repair the switch in order to close the bypass gate.

King County immediately closed nearby beaches out of concern for public health and inspection. The county took samples of the water and will continue to monitor the water over the next couple of days.

"Salish Sea:" WA inland waters name now official

The Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia will collectively be known as the Salish Sea by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

The Bellingham resident who proposed the name change hopes that recognizing those 5,500 square miles of inland waters as a cohesive ecosystem will lead to enhanced protection of the Salish Sea as an internationally significant natural resource.

The name Salish Sea pays homage to the Coast Salish peoples who've lived on the shores of the waters from Olympia to Desolation Sound for thousands upon thousands of years.  None of the passageways' existing names are to be changed.

The naming board's website is rather wonky so I've reposted their reasons for the rename in their entirety below:

WASHINGTON

Salish Sea: bay; 5,500 square miles; extends from the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca eastward and northward to include Puget Sound and Georgia Strait, and their associated bays, coves, and inlets; Clallam County, Jefferson County, Island County, San Juan County, King County, Kitsap County, Pierce County, Snohomish County, Skagit County, Whatcom County, Thurston County, and Mason County, Washington; 49°00’00”N, 123°00’00”W; USGS map – Point Roberts 1:24,000 (center);

Not: Sqelateses, Western Sea.