State waters reported at risk

OUTGOING WARNING: Belcher outlines problems in final report


Susan Gordon; The News Tribune

It's time to stop spoiling Washington's waters, says Public Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher.

Belcher, who steps down Wednesday after eight years as chief of the Department of Natural Resources, used her bully pulpit Friday to release 20,000 copies of a 133-page paperback that details many of the state's water problems.

"Changing Our Water Ways" highlights patterns of decline that Belcher attributed partly to the state's growing population, now more than 5.8 million.

The department released a similar publication two years ago. Called "Our Changing Nature," it cataloged natural resource trends. Department employees did the writing. Each copy of the new book cost $3 to print.

The commissioner said she hopes the new book will persuade people to save the state's waters by changing the way they live and do business.

"It isn't only the number of people. It is the lifestyle we choose for ourselves. I don't think we can continue to grow (at the current rate) unless we are willing to make significant changes in lifestyle," Belcher told reporters at a noon news conference in Olympia.

That means conservation in the form of shorter commutes, smaller houses and protected shorelines, she said.

Belcher named several disturbing trends noted in the book, including:

* A quarter of the state's watersheds can't meet the water needs of both people and fish.

* More than a third of the Puget Sound shoreline, including 80 percent between Tacoma and Mukilteo, has been modified by people.

* More than 3,000 acres of Puget Sound sediments require cleanup under federal law.

* One and a half million pounds of cancer-causing pollutants were dumped into Washington waters between 1992 and 1996. That's more weight than any other state, Belcher said.

"The warning signs in Puget Sound need to be heeded," Belcher said.

Friday's press conference underscored Belcher's reputation as an environmentalist. The outgoing commissioner recently was named Conservationist of the Year by the Washington state chapter of the National Audubon Society. Belcher is the first recipient.

None of the information compiled in the book is new, but Belcher believes the book presents it in a readable way that may motivate action. As it is, she said most Washington residents are blissfully ignorant of the risk to their beautiful surroundings.

"The only solution is to get the public to begin serious discussions," she said.

The lifestyle changes Belcher believes should be made go far beyond what government could require, she said.

"I don't think we can impose a solution," she acknowledged, and said she won't ask lawmakers or her successor, former Pierce County Executive Doug Sutherland, to seek one.

"I'm not going to dictate to the new commissioner," she said.

from the Peninsula Daily News.
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