Sound Off: Partners can restore Sound

With 2,800 square miles of inland waterways, 2,500 miles of shoreline, and rivers and streams winding through 12 counties, Puget Sound is a defining characteristic of our region. For many of us it defines not only where we live, but who we are.

Farmers and fishermen, inland residents and island-dwellers, recreational boaters and sailors serving our country — we all have a strong connection to the Puget Sound. Our community draws its spirit and economic strength from the beauty and bounty the Sound offers.

Not so long ago, much of Puget Sound was practically a wilderness and its waters were clean and healthy. But decades of abuse and neglect that have accompanied our region’s rapid growth now threaten its health. The fabulous place where many of us grew up is in danger of becoming a very different place for our children and grandchildren.

An advisory body was created by the governor in 2005, and worked for a year to develop a strategy to protect and restore the health of Puget Sound by 2020. One of its main recommendations was to create a permanent agency to focus on collaborative efforts to ensure the long-term success of improving the ecology of Puget Sound.

Focusing on that recommendation, the 2007 Legislature developed a solution to address those needs. Working together with input from a variety of community groups, we settled on a plan which passed with broad, bipartisan support.

Senate Bill 5372 establishes the Puget Sound Partnership to pull together existing recovery efforts, develop an action agenda and promote strong involvement by citizens around the Sound. The partnership will be led by a leadership council and will work closely with regional watershed groups around the Sound to provide better collaboration and long-term strategic planning.

With dozens of state agencies, federal agencies, local governments, not-for-profits and other environmental organizations already addressing the environmental health of Puget Sound, it makes no sense to ignore such resources. By coordinating the efforts of these groups, the Puget Sound Partnership will find the gaps and ensure that all work promotes the confidence and cohesion we need to create a healthier Puget Sound.

But what makes this a real “partnership” is the degree to which it will rely upon local communities and stakeholders for input on what needs to be done, as well as how to do it. Groups such as WSU Island County Beach Watchers already have the skills and experience of fostering awareness of our island environments through education, and Washington Shore Stewards have led by example to encourage waterfront and stream-side property owners to apply basic habitat-friendly concepts to create healthier waters and shores for birds, fish and wildlife. Groups like these will be vital in emphasizing that education rather than regulation is what will make the Puget Sound Partnership succeed.

A key part of this partnership is a leadership council that will be responsible for defining an action agenda and setting priorities to make sure we have a healthy Puget Sound by 2020. An independent science panel will also help set goals and benchmarks to measure progress.

Cleaning up the Sound is an ambitious goal, and the Puget Sound Partnership approaches it in the right way. It starts with a blueprint for success by setting specific long-term goals and establishing the objectives by which those goals will be achieved.

The goals which the Puget Sound Partnership will focus on include:

• A healthy human population supported by a healthy Puget Sound that is not threatened by changes in the ecosystem.

• A quality of human life that is sustained by a functioning Puget Sound ecosystem.

• Healthy and sustaining populations of native species in Puget Sound, including a robust food web.

• A healthy Puget Sound where freshwater, estuary, nearshore, marine and upland habitats are protected, restored and sustained.

• An ecosystem that is supported by groundwater levels as well as river- and stream-flow levels sufficient to sustain people, fish, wildlife and the natural functions of the environment.

• And, fresh and marine waters and sediments of a sufficient quality so the waters in the region are safe for drinking, swimming and other human uses and enjoyment, and are not harmful to the native marine mammals, fish, birds and shellfish of the region.

To accomplish these goals, the Puget Sound Partnership will focus on: providing water for people, fish and wildlife, and the environment; improving water quality and habitat by managing storm-water runoff to reduce toxins and pathogens entering Puget Sound fresh and marine waters; protecting ecosystem biodiversity and recovering imperiled species by restoring habitat functions and values; and protecting existing habitat and preventing further losses.

The Puget Sound is our home. It’s a part of who and what we are. It unites us. By bringing together input and action from government agencies, environmental organizations, local community and not-for-profit groups, farmers and property owners, the Puget Sound Partnership will ensure the vitality of the Sound for generations to come.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, represents all of Island County and parts of Snohomish and Skagit counties.

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