Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rescue Plan for Sound Falls Short

Scientists: Rescue plan for Sound falls short

New blueprint neglects stormwater, critics say


For a quarter-century, government agencies have been birthing plans to rescue ecologically ailing Puget Sound. They didn't work.

And neither will the latest blueprint, a brand-new stab at the task unveiled by a brand-new agency that fails to deal with the biggest source of pollutants entering the Sound, leading scientists charged on Friday.

That pollution source is stormwater, the fetid mixture flowing off streets and parking lots and other hard surfaces, carrying oil, pesticides, antifreeze, pet waste and so much more into the Sound and its tributaries.

The Puget Sound Partnership's 43-page "internal discussion draft" on how to start cleaning up the waters of Puget Sound devotes just one tentative paragraph to what scientists advising the agency identified as the best solution: "low-impact development."

That involves steps such as "green roofs" that soak up rainwater, "rain gardens" that intercept water before it flows onto hard surfaces, cisterns and porous pavement that allows rainwater to soak into the ground.

None is mentioned in the draft paper, surprising even the group of scientists whose expertise the Partnership supposedly tapped to produce the report. They leveled their critique Friday at a meeting of about 180 scientists, regulators and activists at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center

"It's as disappointing to some of you as it is to us not to see those (concepts) pop up as action items," said Derek Booth, a stormwater expert with Stillwater Sciences. "The time is past to be scratching our heads about every step."

Another panel member, Bill Derry of CH2MHill, a consulting firm, said the techniques need to be put into effect not just in newly developing areas but also in already-built cities such as Seattle.

"Retrofit has to be a major focus," Derry said. "Focusing on new development ... just slows the decline."

State Department of Ecology regulator Bill Moore stunned some participants with his straight-ahead admission that his agency has failed to fix the problem, calling the regulatory system for stormwater "fractured and incomplete and frankly not very effective as a consequence."

Moore, head of Ecology's stormwater unit, said solving the problem "probably means behavioral changes" by citizens, "which the regulatory system is not very well suited to."

A prime culprit in polluting stormwater is cars, which shed pollutants even when they are functioning perfectly -- not to mention leaking oil, antifreeze, steering fluid and numerous other pollutants as they age.

Development patterns also will have to change, said scientists on the panel. And, said panel member Anne Fairbrother, a toxicologist, businesses must minimize wastes.

"Many businesses have found that not only is that better for the environment, but it's also better for business," she said.

David Dicks, director of the partnership, said he was not dismayed to hear complaints -- the whole point of the meeting was critiquing the document.

"This is what we want to happen," Dicks said.

In fact, the document discussed on Friday isn't in itself a plan, Dicks said, but rather an attempt to get people talking about the issue.

The Partnership, which was created by the Legislature last year and got rolling in late 2007, has only until later this year to produce an "action agenda" to save the Sound, complete with surefire methods to check on progress and hold accountable people, businesses and agencies getting in the way.

"We're still figuring this out at the same time we are engaging the public," Dicks said.

The draft document pilloried Friday is one of six coming out to tell people how the agency is thinking about a series of topics. Meetings to discuss these early drafts continue Monday in Bremerton, with an all-day session on land use and habitat preservation at the Kitsap Conference Center, 251 First St.

P-I reporter Robert McClure can be reached at 206-448-8092 or

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