U.S. Water News Online
SEATTLE -- When Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire was growing
up south of here in Auburn, she fished with her mom on Puget Sound.
She walked along its beaches and boated its waters. But mostly, she
says, she took the natural beauty that surrounded her for granted.
Now that the Puget Sound environment is at risk, the governor is
taking notice in a different way.
The governor has proposed a massive $220 million effort over the
next two years as a down payment on restoring and preserving the
state's inland marine waters.
Gregoire, a former state Ecology Department director, promised to
help make Puget Sound "fishable, diggable and swimmable" by 2020.
She called Puget Sound one of her most urgent priorities and said
state, federal, local and tribal governments must join with citizens
to fix it.
The governor, backed by leaders in the cleanup campaign,
highlighted an ambitious plan she will include in her two-year state
Gregoire's announcement came as the Puget Sound Partnership she
appointed presented its final report on what needs to be done to
restore dwindling habitat and reduce pollution. The report estimates
the total cost to clean up and restore Puget Sound at nearly $9
billion between now and 2020.
Gregoire said that to clean up the sound by then, the state and
its citizens need to act now.
"The sound has not become sick overnight ... so we're not going to
turn it around overnight," she said, adding that the initial infusion
of cash from the state and the federal government will only be a down
Neither Gregoire nor the partnership have identified where the
billions of dollars needed would come from. However, the governor
said once people accept the sound is in an environmental crisis and
realize they share responsibility for the problems, they will be
asked for more money.
"Some of my best childhood memories are of fishing and boating on
the sound, but beneath the blue water, the fish and wildlife are
sick," she said in a statement. "Many people are working hard to
protect the Puget Sound, but they need more support."
Gregoire's plan includes:
Gregoire said she will ask the Legislature to form a new
citizen-led panel to lead the cleanup effort and bring together all
the public and private participants.
Nearly $3.5 million of the $220 million for the next two-year
budget would come from the federal government.
About $8.5 million will come from the state's general operating
budget. The rest will come out of local toxics accounts and earmarked
environmental funds, which have their own source of money, and from
the state construction budget, which is largely financed through bond
sales, her office said.
Gregoire said protecting the Puget Sound must be at the top of the
state agenda, but the state cannot do it alone.
The shift of power in Congress may help, as veteran U.S. Rep. Norm
Dicks, D-Wash., takes over as chairman of a key budget subcommittee.
Dicks -- also a member of the Puget Sound Partnership -- said his
new role in Congress and the state's commitment to invest in the
cleanup will help attract federal money.
"My goal is to make sure the federal government plays its role
here," Dicks said, calling the job of cleaning up the waters where he
fished as a kid "very daunting."
He said he has been assured by the leaders of the Environmental
Protection Agency that the federal government is going to be actively
involved, with support similar to that for cleaning up Chesapeake Bay
and the Everglades.
Puget Sound's problems are well-established scientifically, linked
to the millions of people who live and work on its shores. An
additional 1.4 million people are expected to move to the region by
2020. Erosion from logging and other resource extraction, plus human,
agricultural and industrial waste are slowly poisoning the rich
The report outlines the work yet to be done, but both Gregoire and
Dicks emphasized that Puget Sound restoration was not on hold while
the Puget Sound Partnership was meeting. Earlier this year, Gregoire
set aside $42 million for the improvement of wastewater systems at
state parks and to restore estuaries and salmon habitat.
Eighty percent of the sound's estuary habitat is gone, the report
says. Habitat loss on land and water underscores the need to preserve
what is left, and the report encourages stewardship and acquiring
land from willing sellers.
"The Puget Sound is slowly slipping away from us," said Billy
Frank, Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and
co-chairman of the task force with Gregoire and Bill Ruckelshaus,
former EPA administrator. "We've got to work together because we
can't just let it die."
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