Cleanup of Puget Sound mapped out - But $33 million wish list by state agency might be a hard sell
Seattle, WA - 12/11/02 - Cleaning up contaminated nearshore mud and sand, shielding shellfish from raw sewage, and protecting fish and their spawning grounds are key goals in a two-year strategy for restoring the health of Puget Sound.
The $33 million state budget request by the Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team is expected to be finalized today in Olympia.
"This is a key ecosystem for our lifestyle, for our economy, for our natural world," the Thurston County Democrat said. "If you care about the state of Washington, you should care about the Puget Sound."
The plan sets goals for 10 government agencies and two state universities working on projects that monitor the creatures living in the Sound, control pollution and regulate shoreline development.
But the wish list offered by the Water Quality Action Team, a state agency that has had trouble fulfilling other Sound-restoration initiatives, is hardly a shoo-in in the Legislature, given the depths of the current budget deficit.
"The budget is very tight," said Rep. Helen Sommers, a Seattle Democrat who is chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. "Everything is going to be a big challenge."
Fraser said the amount of state money being requested is short of what is needed to address the many environmental threats facing the Sound. "Thirty million dollars is a drop in the bucket," she said, urging the public to make it a top priority.
"How much (money) will be there depends on our will," she added.
By 2005, the plan aims to:
Scientists worldwide are supporting this approach to reviving threatened marine species. Reserves give fish a chance to grow older and reproduce more.
In the '80s, nearly 33,000 acres of commercial shellfish beds in the Sound were given harvest restrictions, largely because of bacteria-tinged waste from farmers and leaking septic systems.
Toxic pollution from cars, animal waste, garden pesticides and fertilizers washes into the Sound with storm water. It's blamed for dirtying at least one-third of the state's waterways that don't meet water-quality standards.
About half of the proposed budget is earmarked for Ecology Department programs, including environmental monitoring, pollution permits and response to oil spills.
Many of the goals are vague, prompting criticism for some environmentalists and legislators such as Fraser and others.
"It's not being made very clear . . . how far behind we are and who needs to do what," said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of the environmental group People for Puget Sound. "There's a huge accountability issue here."
"We need measurable and quantifiable performance measures for the accomplishment of specific goals," said Rep. Phil Rockefeller, a Silverdale Democrat and member of the Puget Sound Council, which advises the Water Quality Action Team.
But while the plan has flaws, it's still progress, said Scott Redman, the action team's acting chairman.
"The work plan . . . really breaks some great ground in identifying some benchmarks," Redman said, adding that for the first time there are "concrete goals."
No one, however, has the power to force affected public agencies to achieve the goals. Many of the items on the latest to-do list were on there when the first major efforts to rejuvenate the Sound were unveiled in the 1980s.
Redman acknowledged that the restoration he envisions will require unprecedented, widespread support in order to succeed. "It will be a difficult thing for us to do to try to hold the community of Puget Sound accountable," he said. But "we have to do that; the time has come."
The public is invited to comment at today's meeting, held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Department of Information Services, Forum Building, 605 E. 11th Ave. in Olympia.
A five-part special report about the effects of pollution on the
waters of Puget Sound.
The P-I series "Our Troubled Sound" can be found online at seattlepi.com/specials/sound/. Reprints are available by mail for a fee by calling 206-448-8399, or can be picked up free in the P-I lobby.
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