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Saving Puget Sound

Delivering Results

The Department of Ecology and its state partners have been working diligently on a range of actions aimed at helping restore, protect, and preserve Puget Sound by 2020. These partners include:

Ecology is responsible for improving water quality by preventing and cleaning up water pollution. The department also provides technical, financial, and educational assistance to local communities and partner agencies.

The agency works to reduce toxic threats by preventing and cleaning up toxic soil, sediment, and water contamination under the voter-approved Model Toxic Control Act.

Ecology also is responsible for preventing, preparing for, and responding to oil spills and other emergency incidents that pose immediate and long-term threats to public health and the environment.

Other critical work includes protecting Puget Sound’s 2,500 square miles of marine and freshwater shorelines through the state Shoreline Management Act. Ecology works closely with local communities to update and enforce comprehensive shoreline regulations.

The department also works with Indian tribes, communities, conservation groups, and local governments to protect key habitat such as wetlands and marine estuaries, including acquiring and preserving land parcels.

Ecology protects the region’s water supplies by overseeing water rights, assisting with watershed planning, and helping make sure sufficient water flows for people, farms, and fish in the 19 river basins that drain to Puget Sound.


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Improving Water Quality

  • Ecology is providing $6.3 million in legislatively approved grants to 70 cities and counties in the Puget Sound region to help modernize their existing shoreline policies and development regulations, also called “shoreline master programs.” Shoreline master programs are the cornerstone of the Shoreline Management Act passed by voter initiative in 1972. Under the act, communities develop master programs to guide local decisions about shoreline uses such as ports, ferry terminals, residential neighborhoods, and public access to waterfront areas.

    The local regulations are also designed to protect water quality and critical habitat, control beach and stream bank erosion, and increase flood protection along marine shorelines and shoreline areas around larger lakes and streams. The $6.3 million will be divided among six counties and 64 cities based on factors such as miles of shoreline, number of shoreline types, population and growth rates. The money will protect and restore more than 3,000 miles of marine, stream and lake shorelines throughout Puget Sound.
  • Ecology launches Washington Waters – Ours to Protect campaign, an education and outreach campaign designed to help people change behaviors that pollute the region’s lakes, rivers, wetlands and marine waters. The campaign provides a Web site-based “tool kit” for local governments, organizations, businesses, and citizens working on water quality projects. It focuses on best practices for managing small farms manure, dog poop, yard care, septic maintenance, recreational boats, car washing, and car maintenance.
  • The Washington Parks & Recreation Commission has completed pollution control projects at Belfair, Birch Bay, Deception Pass, Fay Bainbridge, Fort Casey, Fort Ebey, Fort Worden, Illahee, Kitsap Memorial, Larrabee, Possession, Sequim Bay, Triton Cove and Twanoh state parks.
  • Ecology is conducting a water quality study on low dissolved oxygen levels in south Puget Sound .This study will help determine how human activities, along with natural factors, affect low dissolved oxygen levels in South Puget Sound.
  • Ecology has launched a new Clean, Green Boating Web site  to make it easier for boaters to learn how to protect state waters, including Puget Sound. The site gives tips on how to prevent oil spills, properly dispose of sewage, and environmentally safe ways to clean and paint their boats.
  • On Earth Day 2009, Ecology urges everyone residing in Puget Sound to help stop stormwater and polluted runoff – the state’s biggest urban water quality threat. Polluted runoff carries an estimated 52 millions of pounds of toxic contaminants into Puget Sound every year. Ecology is actively cleaning up many near-shore areas that have high levels of toxic chemicals in sediments.
  • The Department of Ecology approves a $970,000 grant to the Stormwater Outreach for Regional Municipalities (STORM), a consortium of five Puget Sound counties and many of their municipalities, to develop and implement a regional media campaign targeting behavior change around a group of best management practices related to yard care, pet care, car care, and home care. (See Puget Sound Starts Here)
  • On April 21, 2009, the PBS Frontline documentary “Poisoned Waters”  put a national spotlight on Puget Sound’s health problems, highlighting stormwater as the number one threat facing Puget Sound and other waterways around the country.
  • Ecology develops a new computer prediction tool that analyzes how toxic chemicals move through Puget Sound's water, sediment, and marine life. The tool will boost the state's understanding of how stormwater pollution affects the environmental health Puget Sound.
  • Stormwater management has improved with 81 communities coming under stronger stormwater management requirements and 19 cities and counties adopting regulations that facilitate low-impact development.
  • $21 million has been invested in on-the-ground actions to reduce nutrient pollution and fish kills in Hood Canal through a multi-agency coordinated response.
  • All 12 Puget Sound counties put in place more rigorous management programs for septic systems.
Much more has been accomplished, more is in progress.

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Reducing Toxic Threats

  • Ecology finalized an agreement with Port Angeles on Oct. 6, 2009, to provide up to $230,000 in Puget Sound Initiative funds for two major projects to help plan for the community's future. The agreement provides funds to integrate the city's combined sewer overflow project with the cleanup of the former Rayonier mill property. It also helps the community continue the visioning process it began in 2007 and expands it to include the entire harbor area. The city is investigating whether integrating Rayonier's unused tank into the city's stormwater system could be part of the long-term solution. Any work on the Rayonier property will require the city to take precautions for dealing with historic contamination from the mill's former operations.
  • On Oct. 4, 2009, Ecology dispatched the state-funded emergency tug at Neah Bay to assist a 100-foot fishing vessel that ran aground near Neah Bay. The Misty Dawn had the potential to carry 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel. The response tug Hunter used a line to help pull the boat back into deeper waters. No fuel was spilled. It was the 43rd time a state-funded tug has been deployed since 1999.
  • Recent sediment samples Ecology collected from the bottom of Puget Sound’s Elliott Bay show signs of improved environmental health compared to samples from identical locations nearly 10 years ago. The new study found reduced levels of toxic metals in sediment such as mercury, lead, and tin and found reductions in polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and some types of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The study also found an overall reduction in sediment toxicity and healthier populations of tiny bottom-dwelling life called “benthic invertebrates.” Scientists from the state Department of Fish & Wildlife and federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service found that liver cancer in English sole in Elliott Bay dropped from more than 30 percent to less than 3 percent in the past decade.
  • Ecology releases results of a multi-year “Control of Toxic Chemicals in Puget Sound” study, marking the beginning of a program to control the sources of toxic substances entering Puget Sound. The ongoing study will help the Puget Sound Partnership know the best steps to take to protect and restore the Sound. It provides initial estimates of contaminant loadings from several of the main pathways to the Sound, such as surface runoff, air deposition, oil spills, combined-sewer overflows, and wastewater dischargers.
  • On the 10th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Gov. Chris Gregoire signs legislation shifting permanent funding responsibility for an emergency response tug at Neah Bay from the state to the private maritime industry. The tug protects Puget Sound from accidental oil spills from international vessels crossing state waters. Every year, vessels carrying 15 billion gallons of oil navigate through the Sound. Since 1999, the publicly-funded tug has stood by or assisted 42 ships either completely disabled or with reduced maneuvering ability and kept them from grounding and spilling oil.
  • By July 2009, Ecology completes cleanup of 732 contaminated sites and is in the process of cleaning up 423 more. There are total of 1,443 contaminated sites within ½ mile of Puget Sound.
  • Ecology publishes two new Puget Sound reports in November 2008: Pollutant Loading Estimates for Surface Runoff and Roadways  and Improved Estimates of Loadings from Dischargers of Municipal and Industrial Wastewater. The reports confirm previous findings that surface runoff is the main pathway for toxic chemicals getting into Puget Sound and that primary sources of toxic chemicals are the everyday activities of people.
  • Ecology launches the Urban Waters Initiative that focuses on the special environmental challenges faced by the Lower Duwamish Waterway in King County and Commencement Bay in Pierce County. The aim is to prevent contamination or re-contamination of these waterways.
  • Ecology delivers mobile oil spill response equipment to local first responders at nearly 40 critical locations around Puget Sound, Hood Canal and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This has already saved more than $1 million in cleanup costs and environmental harm to marine and shore life.
  • Washington Department of Natural Resources removes abandoned and derelict vessels from Puget Sound for removal to appropriate disposal. Derelict and abandoned vessels are hazardous to boaters, and pollution and garbage pose threats to Puget Sound’s aquatic ecosystem and the plants and wildlife that depend on it — as well as people who eat fish and shellfish from our waters.
  • Ecology certifies 13 oil spill readiness plans for refining, oil handling and vessel shipping companies operating in Western Washington. All but one is located in Puget Sound. The approved oil spill contingency plans help ensure the companies handling and transporting billions of gallons of oil in and out of the Sound are prepared to quickly and aggressively respond to any spill they might cause . Companies will have to regularly test and continually improve their spill readiness plans.
  • 1,200 acres of commercial shellfish harvest areas were upgraded by the Washington Department of Health as a result of new pollution controls.
  • Department of Natural Resources has removed more than 800 tons of creosote-coated logs from state aquatic lands since 2006.
Much more has been accomplished, more is in progress.

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Keeping Our Waters Flowing

  • Ecology funds $1.2 million in projects to improve stream flows and fish habitat in the Elwha-Dungeness, Island, Quilcene-Snow and Nooksack watersheds that drain to Puget Sound.
  • Ecology files proposed rule in May 2009 to help protect current water uses and meet future needs in the Quilcene-Snow watershed. The proposed rule encompasses eastern Jefferson County. It will only apply to those seeking new ground and surface water uses after the rule is adopted. It offers protection to existing water users who would otherwise be at risk of competing for water in the future without this rule.
  • Skagit County and Ecology reach a settlement on water management for the Skagit River basin, Puget Sound’s largest tributary. Ecology’s water management rule provides for stream flows necessary to support healthy runs of five salmon species while also reserving adequate water for irrigation and population growth.
Much more has been accomplished, more is in progress

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Protecting Our Shorelines

  • Ecology approves new Whatcom County Shoreline Master Program in August 2008. This landmark effort will significantly increase protection of Puget Sound. The new master program combines planning policies and implementation strategies, based on scientific data that establishes an ecological baseline of the county’s nearly 400 miles of marine and freshwater shorelines, and the upland areas affecting them. It is the result of five years of collaboration among groups representing state agencies, builders, farmers, tribes, local governments, and environmental groups.
  • Ecology also has approved revised shoreline regulations for the Puget Sound towns and cities of Auburn, Coupeville, Darrington, Ferndale, Marysville, Monroe, Orting, Redmond, Port Townsend, and Sultan.
Much more has been accomplished, more is in progress.

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Habitat Restoration and Preservation

  • Ecology secures seven federal grants totaling $5.7 million to help protect or restore 960 acres of marine wetlands and connected freshwater and upland habitat areas in five counties around Puget Sound.
  • After more than a decade, Ecology adopts a permanent rule for wetland mitigation banks establishing criteria and a certification process for mitigation banks across the state. The rule contains provisions to ensure mitigation bank sites comply with and support local shoreline regulations as well as support local salmon recovery, surface water recovery, and watershed management plans.
  • Ecology provides $2 million to nine Puget Sound watershed management groups to protect and restore the health of the watersheds. The funding also will help pay for projects to improve how local water supplies will be managed for future economic growth and environmental quality.
  • In February 2009. Ecology invests $3.1 million in federal grants for wetland preservation projects. These projects help local partners return more than 350 acres of critical and increasingly rare estuarine and connected fresh water wetland habitat in Mason, Pierce, Thurston, and Whatcom counties to natural conditions.
  • Ecology uses $1.47 million in federal grants for wetland preservation projects. These projects help local partners return nearly 500 acres of critical and increasingly rare coastal wetland habitat in Jefferson and Whatcom counties back to their natural conditions. These near-shore estuary areas provide vital nurseries for salmon and other marine life.
  • The Nisqually Indian Tribe held a “Welcoming the Tides” ceremony commemorating the restoration of 100 acres of prime Puget Sound estuary and setting the stage for an even more ambitious project that will restore more than 700 acres of Nisqually estuary.
Much more has been accomplished, more is in progress.