Puget Sound can’t heal itself

On a nice day, looking out from Everett across Port Gardner toward the Olympic Mountains, it is excusable to think all is well. The water is blue, the seagulls soar, and the boats cut back and forth.

Do not be lulled by this vision.

Puget Sound is one of the most unique and productive inland seas in the world. It is home to salmon, steelhead, shellfish and an abundance of sea life. Puget Sound provides a rich source of food and recreation for Washington residents and visitors. It also supports the cultural resources and traditions of Puget Sound tribes.

However, pollution enters the Sound untreated when rain flows across our roads and developed lands. Habitat continues to be lost. Legacy toxins from past industrial practices continue to poison our waters and threaten the sea life that calls Puget Sound home. Consequently, salmon runs continue to decline and whale carcasses are toxic enough to be deemed “hazardous waste.”

Puget Sound is sick and needs our help.

The Washington State House and Senate are negotiating the final budget for 2013-15. Our state leaders recognize the importance of implementing the Action Agenda — the road map outlining the highest-priority, science-based actions to restore the health of Puget Sound.

While there is bipartisan support for many of the highest-ranked Puget Sound priorities, the proposed budgets are not enough to address the large backlog of work that must be accomplished to restore the health of Puget Sound.

Polluted runoff from cars, roofs, roads and other paved areas is the biggest threat to Puget Sound’s water quality. State leaders need to follow the House and Senate budget to fund stormwater retrofits. It is important to remedy problems created over the past 150 years from the development of our cities, towns and industrial areas. Past practices treated Puget Sound as a dumping ground for our waste. We must rebuild these areas so pollution is captured and removed before it enters the Sound. This will take decades and we need to start now.

Destruction of habitat is another significant problem facing Puget Sound. Our state leaders need to follow the governor’s budget to fully fund the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration program. This will create jobs and implement the most important habitat protection and restoration priorities throughout our region. If fully funded, the highest-ranked project will be completed right here in our front yard. The Smith Island restoration project in the Snohomish River estuary will result in 328 acres of restored habitat for salmon, wildlife and the public’s enjoyment. We have worked hard to coordinate our restoration projects with the needs of our agricultural community through the Snohomish County Sustainable Lands Strategy.

There are hundreds of older, larger derelict ships that threaten shellfish growing areas, our working waterfronts, and the health of Puget Sound. Our state leaders need to follow the Senate’s investments to fund the removal of derelict vessels.

Pollutants in the air and water are making our oceans more acidic, threatening our sea life and the local economies that rely on healthy marine waters. State leaders need to follow the Governor and Senate’s investments to implement the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel on ocean acidification.

Natural resources programs and investments make up less than 3 percent of the state budget—benefiting our economy, public health, food and water, tribal treaty responsibilities, and the quality of life we enjoy. In their budgets, the governor and House of Representatives protect the programs that implement the Action Agenda. We need to stay the course while ensuring these dollars are invested wisely.

We have inherited a treasure in Puget Sound. We have a responsibility and an opportunity to pass this treasure on to our kids and grandkids in better shape than we received it. Further delay will make the problem more expensive and perhaps irreversible.

Past generations can be forgiven for not understanding the negative effects of their actions. We cannot claim the same excuse.

Today, our region has set priorities and is working collaboratively to ensure every dollar is spent more effectively. We need the state Legislature to boldly invest in protecting Puget Sound and our legacy for generations to come.

Dave Somers, a fisheries biologist by training, is a member of the Snohomish County Council.

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