Puget Sound

EPA to unleash $10 million in funding for Puget Sound

The plight of Puget Sound continues its climb to national prominence a la the Everglades, Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes. Today the U.S. Environmental Protection announced it's giving out $10 million in funding for projects to help rescue the Sound.

That $10 million isn't huge compared to the multi-billion-dollar pricetag a full rescue of the Sound probably will cost, or even in comparison to the amounts already spent by the state of Washington and local governments.

But it represents a decent chunk of change, and appears to cement an ongoing spot in the federal budget for restoration of Washington's beautiful but ailing inland sea. Here's what EPA's press release had to say about that:

Additional solicitations for Puget Sound federal funding are expected in the near future.

That's bureaucratese for "there's more where that came from."

Michelle Pirzadeh, acting administrator of EPA's Seattle-based Region 10, noted that the $10 million comes at a particularly handy time, budgetwise: 

This funding will go directly to our local and tribal partners who are on the front lines of protecting and restoring Puget Sound. These dollars come at critical time when budgets are stretched thin and help is needed to recover the Sound by 2020.

The money is to be used to improve shellfish-growing areas, many of which have been polluted by stormwater runoff; clean up contaminated sand and mud in bay bottoms; stanch the flow of pollution into the Sound and its tributaries; and restore and protect saltwater marshes and other so-called "estuarine wetlands" that occur where salt and fresh waters meet.

Local governments, Indian tribes and special taxing districts set up to help the Sound -- such as one envisioned for all the counties that surround the Sound -- are eligible for the EPA grants.

Seattle pledges more pollution control to help Puget Sound

The city of Seattle and King County will step up efforts to prevent raw sewage from flowing into Puget Sound and its tributaries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

But the steps are small compared to those called for by environmentalists who want to see Puget Sound and the Duwamish River cleaned up. The current schedule gives Seattle until 2020 and King County until 2030 to almost completely end pollution from so-called "combined sewer overflows." (PDF)

These sometimes-smelly oopsies result from a piping system that mixes untreated sewage with rainwater runoff. Most of the time it's a good system because the rainwater -- aka stormwater, the largest remaining water pollution source in the country -- goes to a wastewater treatment plant.

But when a lot of rain hits overloaded systems like the one King County and Seattle operate, the whole mess comes shooting out into waterways. Sometimes the stuff backs up into streets or even basements.

Major pollution discharges into the Duwamish River are scheduled to continue for decades, despite today's order and despite what's supposed to be a  major EPA effort to clean up the Duwamish.

Such discharges happened 336 times in the Seattle-King County system in 2007, the most recent figures available.

A surprising number of these overflows happen during relatively dry periods after little or no rain.

Loggers & treehuggers: Old enemies make new friends

In a surprising twist, Lynda V. Mapes of the Seattle Times writes that timber companies and environmentalists are now working together to save Western Washington’s forests. As urban sprawl threatens to swallow the Puget Sound region, logging has been hailed as a sustainable alternative to rising development. Once profitable timberlands are quickly depreciating in value, as developable lands draw more dollars per acre. Legislation filed in Congress last week is designed to help stem the development tide by purchasing rights to build on forested lands. Timber companies could continue to log the land for income.

"We need to hug loggers the way we do farmers,” said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest, who took part in tree-sitting protests in past decades. “Given the choice between a logger and a developer, I'm going to take the logger, even if that challenges some of the notions of my old friends.”

Rule could double distance between boats and whales

Canada and the United States are working on new rules that could nearly double the distance boats must stay away from resident orca whales in Puget Sound to protect them from underwater noise, reports Judith Lavoie of the Times Colonist. Boats must stay just over 100 yards from whales, according to current whale-watching guidelines in Canada and the U.S. The new proposal would increase that distance to 200 yards and set up a half-mile area where boats are not allowed along the west coast of San Juan Island from May through September. The whale-watching industry  is stunned by the development.

"A lot of people are pretty shocked. It doubles the global standard for whale watching. It would be like doubling the speed limit on the freeway or cutting it in half," says Shane Aggargaard, president of the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

– Emily Linroth

EPA approves Puget Sound restoration project

In a move  that formally boosts the restoration of Puget Sound to the status enjoyed by rescue projects for Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today it has approved the Puget Sound project under the National Estuary Program.

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It's a significant step because it means real federal buckaroos for the Sound's restoration: $20 million in this fiscal year alone. Here's how Michelle Pirzadeh, acting administration of EPA's Seattle-based Region 10, described the move in a press release:

This makes official what has been true all along: EPA is fully committed to bringing our resources to bear on the critically important work of protecting and restoring our treasured Puget Sound. We pledge to continue to act hand-in-hand with our partners - the state, tribes, local governments and citizens -- to ensure a healthy Sound for future generations."

 As we've pointed out, and more than once, Washington's charming inland sea looks great on the surface but has been trashed underneath that surface by pollution, overfishing and other woes.

EPA is interested in stemming the tide of polluted stormwater into the Sound. And the press release, significantly, mentions population growth, which brings with it more stormwater and represents the greatest overall threat to the health of the Sound.

Unlike the Chesapeake and the Great Lakes, this environmental rescue takes place all in one state.

Daniel Lathrop's picture

Crowdsourcing a rescue for Puget Sound

In a sign of the new way government and citizens are interacting, the EPA is using its Twitter account to push for Twitizens to submit suggestions on protecting and/or restoring the Puget Sound.

Tell us what you think are the highest priorities to help protect Puget Sound: http://bit.ly/Hf4nW

EPA Web and social media guru Jeff Levy was more blunt on his personal Twitter:

"Anybody care about Puget Sound? Help EPA protect it! http://bit.ly/Hf4nW"

Can Twitter save the Sound? Time will tell. But given the failure of politicians over the decades to come up with solutions, some crowdsourcing is definitely in order.