Monday, February 25, 2008

Clean Water and a Thriving Economy


By Diana Gale

Dozens of organizations and hundreds of volunteers are working to restore and protect the Snohomish River estuary and the Stillaguamish River Watershed. It's a race against the clock as Snohomish County's population is projected to grow by more than 50 percent during the next 20 years.

The Snohomish River basin is an abundant ecological system. More than 1,700 rivers and streams drain 2,000 square miles of terrain. The Stillaguamish River Basin is the fifth-largest tributary draining into Puget Sound. Both provide habitat for birds, fish and animals -- and jobs, natural resources and recreational opportunities for people.

But after a century of human intervention, these rivers are suffering. They pick up pollution -- chemicals and toxins -- from roads and roofs, and carry them to Puget Sound. Habitat has been lost to dikes, levees and canals that create farmland and protect homes.

What is ailing these river systems is what is ailing all of Puget Sound -- too much pollution over too much time by too many people.

That's why Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature created the Puget Sound Partnership: to figure out what's wrong, and create an Action Agenda that leads to a clean and healthy Puget Sound.

Many initiatives have aimed at Puget Sound environmental issues, and progress has been made. But work has been uncoordinated and results uncertain. So we are doing something never before attempted: Our Action Agenda is a long-range, broad-based strategy for all of Puget Sound -- from the snow caps to the white caps.

Government cannot do this alone. Everyone must be part of the solution. The Snohomish Basin Salmon Recovery Forum, the Stillaguamish Implementation Review Committee and the Marine Resources Committee serve as examples of the cooperation we need to apply throughout Puget Sound.

The scale and complexity of Puget Sound demand that to be successful, our entire region must work together. There are 2,500 miles of shoreline. Fourteen major rivers, and thousands of streams, feed into its waters. It is home to literally thousands of species of wildlife and marine life.

Despite its size, this vast estuary is ecologically delicate; and hidden from our picture postcard views are signs of serious trouble.

Maybe you remember walking or boating around Whidbey and Camano islands when you were a child -- and seeing herons, sandpipers and other shorebirds. Today there are far fewer marine birds -- nearly a 50 percent decline in the past two decades.

Commercial shellfish beds are closed because the clams, mussels and oysters aren't safe to eat. Some beaches aren't safe for swimming. Our local icons -- salmon and orcas -- are barely surviving.

For more than 100 years we relied on streams, rivers and Puget Sound to dispose of our waste -- everything from industrial byproducts to raw sewage.

Nearly 4 million people live around the Sound now, and 1.5 million more are expected in the next 15 years. With all these people, our need for food, houses, roads and jobs is putting stress on Puget Sound.

But it is also we, the people who live here and care about Puget Sound, who can restore it. Our population is a resource -- full of smart, creative people who know a clean and healthy Puget Sound improves our quality of life and supports our economy.

The Puget Sound Partnership is a community effort of elected and public officials, tribal and business leaders, scientists, environmentalists, parents, friends and neighbors -- all of whom are committed to an effective Action Agenda for a cleaner Puget Sound.

The Partnership is a comprehensive effort that includes local input from every part of Puget Sound. It is a strategic effort that uses science to inform decisions and focus limited resources. And it is a responsible effort with built-in accountability to ensure our cleanup and restoration efforts achieve the intended results.

With a coordinated and strategic effort, we will define what is needed to make Puget Sound healthy again, and create a roadmap for how to get it done.

Your input is important. On Wednesday, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., we will hold a public meeting in Everett about the status of Puget Sound's health and the greatest threats to it. More information can be found online at

Everything around Puget Sound is connected: How we build our homes and businesses, protect our streams and forests, and react to climate change will affect how we leave Puget Sound for future generations.

Working together, we can have both a thriving economy and healthy Puget Sound waterways.

Diana Gale is a member of the Leadership Council, the Puget Sound Partnership's governing body.

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