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New agency in US plans new approach to cleaning up Washington's Puget Sound

New agency in US plans new approach to cleaning up Washington's Puget Sound

Mindy Roberts watches as two scientists draw water samples into a long, clear tube while a 25-gallon (95-liter) aquarium is lowered upside down onto the bottom of an inlet in Puget Sound.
The U.S. Department of Ecology is testing for dissolved oxygen in the water, data that will be used to figure out how human factors such as stormwater runoff negatively impact oxygen levels in the water.
Roberts, a project manager at the department, said the information would help scientists test how different factors _ such as a projected population boom _ would impact the sound.
"It's not just studying it for studying's sake, it's studying it to understand who's contributing what," she said. "Once we do that, we can then do different what-if scenarios."
Such research and hundreds of other studies being done by various agencies are meant to determine how to best clean up the troubled waters of Puget Sound _ an arm of the Pacific Ocean extending some 80 miles (130 kilometers) into the U.S. state of Washington.
While research has been ongoing for decades, a cohesive, organized plan to reverse the decline of the sound has been more evasive.
Now the Puget Sound Partnership, created by lawmakers this year, hopes to succeed where others have failed.
"We know a lot about the problems in a lot of parts of Puget Sound," said David Dicks, executive director of the new agency. "What's never really happened is somebody standing above it all and rolling that all together."
The new agency is responsible for determining the health of the sound, and setting priorities so the state can meet the goal of a healthy sound by 2020. A preliminary report is due to lawmakers by September.
The partnership has named a nine-member independent science panel to offer advice and help measure progress.
"What does a healthy Puget Sound by 2020 mean?" Dicks asked. "We've got to define that term in a very meaningful, objective way."
More importantly, Dicks said, was translating the issue for the public, with many people believing the sound is in good environmental health, even after learning about the issues facing the area.
"If there were fish floating upside down, you have a very acute problem, people are willing to do something about it," said Roberts, of the Department of Ecology. But "you want to avoid fish floating upside down. Getting people's attention, that's the key for us in this aesthetically beautiful area."
Attempts to fix the sound are nothing new. In 1985, the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority was formed. It was disbanded and replaced by the Puget Sound Action Team in 1996.
Josh Baldi, special assistant to Department of Ecology head Jay Manning, said things would be different now with the Puget Sound Partnership, particularly because of the 2020 deadline.
The new agency has more authority than previous groups did, he said. While it has no regulatory authority, it has the power to hold the various groups and governments accountable by directing who gets money, he said.
State Rep. Joel Kretz, who voted against creating the partnership, said its goals were good, but that he worried it "will become a cumbersome new bureaucracy that won't function so well."
"I'd like to see these things measured in results, rather than money spent," said Kretz, a Republican. Kathy Fletcher, who led the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority in the 1980s and is executive director of People for Puget Sound, said success would be measured by a change of thinking on development, enforcing water quality permits and turning down projects that may be harmful to the sound.
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On the Net:
http://www.psp.wa.gov
http://www.pugetsound.org
http://www.ecy.wa.gov/puget_sound/index.html


Updated : 2020-12-05 08:32 GMT+08:00